Every year on the second Monday of August, Zimbabweans take a break in the form of a holiday and reflect on the lives of the heroes whose resilience led to the nation gaining independence in 1980. However, the question I ask today is, do Zimbabweans know who toiled to give our nation freedom?
The world we live in today has seen a lot of our heritage and history being erased and with each new generation focusing on the false realities created by the digital sphere and the fast-evolving landscape of the internet, our youth is easily diverted and distracted. What is supposed to be known by EVERY Zimbabwean is the heritage and background of the people who gave us the freedom to articulate our free will today.
We must learn about and remember the people who fought for Zimbabwe in the liberation struggle and for Zimbabweans to be where we are today.
Tongogara was born in Selukwe on 4 February 1938. He was involved in a fatal car accident which claimed his life on the 26th of December 1979 soon after the Lancaster House Agreement which gave birth to the independent Zimbabwe.
Tongagara grew up in Shurugwi, on a farm which was owned by Ian Smith‘s parents. Tongogara’s parents were employed at this farm and subsequently Tongogara also became an employee on that same farm. He was educated up to Standard Six and after failing to be enrolled for secondary education, he left the country for Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) in 1960.
It is believed that the death of Percy, Tongogara’s brother, influenced Tongogara to join the nationalist movement, becoming a politician-cum-military genius. Percy drowned in the Kafue River and Tongogara believed that this was a result of political foul play.
Tongogara began his revolutionary activities in 1963 in Zambia, working in ZANU PF’s youth wing while waiting to be sent to China to receive military training. After completing his training, he led the first group of people undergoing military training in China, in 1966.
In April 1975, Tongogara was arrested and detained in Zambia. Whilst in prison, he was signed the agreement which was forwarding the formation of a joint military force, the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) which was to be composed of guerrillas from ZANLA and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), which was the military wing of ZAPU. In 1976, Tongogara was acquitted and he managed to attend the Geneva Conference which was held in the same year.
Several myths have arisen regarding the mysterious death of Josiah Tongogara, but what will remain true is the importance of his work and the life of this great hero.
Nkomo was born on the June 19, 1917, in Bukalanga or Bulilima, now referred to as Semokwe Reserve, Matabeleland South and was one of eight children. His father, Thomas Nyongolo Letswansto Nkomo, worked as a preacher and a cattle rancher and worked for the London Missionary Society.
After primary school in Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) he went to South Africa to complete his education in Natal and Johannesburg. Returning home in 1945, he worked for the Rhodesian Railways and by 1951 had become a leader in the trade union of the black Rhodesian railway workers. In 1951 he also obtained an external B.A. degree from the University of South Africa, Johannesburg.
Nkomo became increasingly political, and in 1957 he was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC), the leading Black Nationalist organisation in Rhodesia. When the ANC was banned early in 1959, Nkomo went to England to escape imprisonment. He returned in 1960 and founded the NDP. In 1961, when the NDP was banned, he founded ZAPU. Nkomo helped lead the guerrilla war against white rule in Rhodesia, but his forces are perceived to have played a relatively minor role compared with those of Mugabe, who headed ZANU. The two groups were joined in an uneasy alliance known as the Patriotic Front after 1976.
After white-ruled Rhodesia became black-ruled Zimbabwe in 1979–80, Nkomo and ZAPU were increasingly eclipsed by Mugabe’s ZANU, whose base of support was the majority Shona people. ZANU resoundingly defeated Nkomo’s ZAPU in the 1980 parliamentary elections. The parties’ relationship remained strained, and overt ethnic strife broke out between the Shona and the Ndebele people after Mugabe dismissed Nkomo from the cabinet in 1982. After a complete breach between the two leaders for a few years, they agreed in 1987 to merge their respective parties in order to try to achieve ethnic unity in their country.
In 1990, Nkomo became a vice president under Mugabe, but Nkomo was only a figurehead in this position—genuine political power was wielded by Mugabe, who remained Zimbabwe’s chief executive. In 1996 Nkomo was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His deteriorating health forced him to retreat from public life, although he continued to hold the title of vice president until his death in 1999. An autobiography, Nkomo, the Story of My Life, was published in 1984.
Joshua Nkomo is also known as “Mdalawethu” and is by far one of the most celebrated fallen heroes and his legacy has endured.
SALLY MUGABE nee Sarah Francesca Hayfron
Sally was born in 1931 in the Gold Coast now known as Ghana, then a British colony. Sally and her twin sister, Esther, were raised in a political family, which was part of the growing nationalist politics in the colonial Gold Coast. She attended Achimota Secondary School and she went on to university to study before qualifying as a teacher.
Sally Hayfron Mugabe was a trained teacher who asserted her position as an independent political activist and campaigner. She demonstrated this activism as early as 1962 when she was active in mobilising African women to challenge the Rhodesian constitution which resulted in her being charged with sedition and sentenced to five years imprisonment, part of which was suspended.
She had met her future husband, Robert Mugabe, at Takoradi Teacher Training College where they were both teaching.
In 1978 she was elected ZANU deputy secretary for the Women’s League. In 1980 she assumed a new, national role as spouse of Zimbabwe’s first black Prime Minister. She was elected secretary-general of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Women’s League at the party’s congress in 1989. Amai Sally Mugabe founded the Zimbabwe Child Survival Movement and launched the Zimbabwe Women’s Co-operative in Britian in 1986.
She died of kidney failure on the 27th of January 1992 in Harare. Sally Mugabe left behind the legacy of a nation’s mother figure who had passionate care for the less privileged with a particular focus on women and children. Due to her commendable work through the Child Survival Movement initiative, Sally was posthumously honoured with a Zimbabwe Postage stamp in her honour. A school in Harare was also named after her due to her role as the mother-figure of the nation who had compassion for the less privileged. A residential area in Harare was also named Sally Mugabe Heights due to her commitment towards the empowerment of women particularly widows and single mothers.
There are many more people that helped Zimbabwe achieve independence many of whom we may never know and the work and lives of these fallen heroes and heroines whether highly celebrated or unsung in the public space is appreciated and reflected on Heroes’ Day and it is only fitting that every Zimbabwean know a little bit more about them.