HARARE – President Robert Mugabe threw out an appeal by war veterans and the family of ex-freedom fighter Dickson “Cde Chinx” Chingaira yesterday to upgrade the late musician’s standing in death from the lesser liberation war hero status to a national hero, sparking outpouring anger from a cross-section of Zimbabweans.
Cde Chinx, who died in Harare last Friday, aged 61, was late on Tuesday declared a liberation war hero, after days of back-and-forth discussions in the ruling party. As has become the norm, the party was divided on his status along factional and tribal lines.
The leadership from the War Veterans ministry, which had been sent to deliver the message to the Chingaira family had a difficult time, explaining to an emotionally-charged audience why Cde Chinx could not be interred at the National Heroes Acre for his immense contribution during, and after the war of liberation.
In the end, it was resolved War Veterans minister Tshinga Dube; his permanent secretary Walter Tapfumaneyi and Dickson Dzora, the director for administration in Zanu PF were to lodge an appeal to Mugabe on behalf of the Chingaira family and some of the war veterans who had gathered at the late musician’s home for the funeral.
But after waiting for long hours yesterday, Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo emerged from a lengthy politburo meeting around 20:00hrs to inform the press that Mugabe had conferred the liberation war hero status on Cde Chinx.
“His Excellency, the President Cde Robert Mugabe has conferred the liberation war hero status on Cde Dickson ‘‘Chinx’’ Chingaira. Cde Chinx will be buried at Harare Provincial Heroes Acre,” he said.
“He participated in the war. He gave us very stimulating songs as fighters. He contributed to the liberation of the country. It’s not everybody who is given such status. Liberation war hero status is an appreciation of the role he played in the liberation struggle and, after, he was performing at independence celebrations and State functions. He is a hero indeed,” added Khaya Moyo.
The Chingaira family, which had waited since Friday for direction from Zanu PF, had given the ruling party until this morning to make a firm decision, saying they were to proceed to bury the fallen musician in Makoni District, Manicaland, where he hails from, if he did not get the befitting national hero status.
They had also indicated that Cde Chinx was to be buried in accordance with the traditions and rites accorded to descendents of the late Chief Chingaira dynasty.
Chief Chingaira is one of the heroes of the First Chimurenga as he faced the colonialists’ firing squad in September 1896.
It was, however, not clear at the time of going to print if the Chingaira family will proceed to take his body from a local funeral parlour for burial in Makoni District or they will eat humble pie by burying him at the Harare Provincial Heroes Acre, a stone’s throw from the national shrine.
Cde Chinx joins the likes of the late Dendera music maestro, Simon “Chopper’’ Chimbetu, who was accorded the same status and was interred at Chinhoyi Provincial Heroes Acre.
So unpopular was the Zanu PF decision that tempers flared at Cde Chinx’s home on Tuesday evening as his relatives and some disgruntled ex-combatants who had waited expectantly for the “good news” confronted Dube; Tapfumaneyi and Dzora when they learned that the late musician had been denied national hero status.
Following his passing, after a battle with cancer, his body had been lying at a local funeral parlour as his family and the majority of ordinary Zimbabweans — drawn from different backgrounds — awaited Zanu PF’s decision on his status.
Dube confirmed yesterday that indeed emotions ran high among Cde Chinx’s friends and relatives when he told them that he had been conferred with the liberation war hero status.
“They (Cde Chinx relatives and war veterans) were not hostile to us when we arrived but when the news came you can imagine how they felt.
“It was not very friendly; they had expected that he would be conferred with national hero status. It was not well-received,” Dube told the Daily News.
“We can only recommend but the decision is taken at the politburo. It is a pyramid system and it starts at the bottom, we cannot question a decision that has been made by the politburo, all we can do is to recommend,” he added.
Dube paid tribute to Cde Chinx, adding that without musicians like him during the war, the country’s liberation would have been slower and painful.
“I think he played a very important role, not only as a motivator but a morale booster. Most people thought that he deserved to be a national hero,” said Dube.
Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) secretary-general Victor Matemadanda said Zanu PF’s decision reinforced their calls to have the process of granting hero status revised.
“War veterans are not happy because people no longer understand the criterion that is being used to determine one hero’s status, is it only for the educated or those who sit in the politburo?
“If Cde Chinx cannot be buried at the National Heroes Acre then who deserves to be there?” he quipped.
“Mugabe has to explain that decision; they must tell us what criteria they use. But this also explains what we have always said, Zanu PF has been hijacked by people who do not appreciate its history,” said Matemadanda.
The diminutive Cde Chinx, who received a ringing endorsement from opposition and pro-democracy groups — a rarity in the current polarised political environment — inspired the freedom fighters through his musical prowess during the protracted liberation struggle.
However, the decision to deny him the national hero status did not sit well with opposition groups and artistes who were hoping that he would become the first ever musician to be interred at the National Heroes Acre.
Former Zanu PF national political career Elliot Manyika, who is interred at the national shrine, was not a musician although he did collaborate with sculptor and singer Bryn Mteki on the popular song, Norah.
Civic leader and musician Okay Machisa said the decision to snub Cde Chinx smacked of selective approach to who deserves to be a hero.
“In my view, this is a heavy blow to the arts industry. Artists have been complaining that government is not recognising them enough. They thought that by according Cde Chinx hero status it could show government’s appreciation of the role that musicians played during the liberation war.
“Music was the lubricant during the war as it was used in freedom fighters’ camps and the all-night pungwes which Cde Chinx was well associated with,” Machisa said.
MDC said the process to select who deserved to be a hero had long lost credibility because of Zanu PF’s ‘‘privatisation” of the process.
“The buck starts and ends with Mugabe. Not even the Zanu PF politburo has got a say anymore.
“The institution of the State has been reduced into a Robert Mugabe (Private) Limited company. It’s very sad. It’s very tragic indeed.
“If Mugabe thinks that someone doesn’t deserve to be declared a national hero, then that’s it. The die has been cast.
“As the MDC, we have been arguing all along that there should be a non-partisan and inclusive national board that determines heroism or lack thereof. This business of leaving every decision on heroism to Mugabe only is total nonsense; absolute hogwash,” a miffed MDC spokesperson, Obert Gutu, told the Daily News.
“His (Cde Chinx) spirit has been rescued from sleeping with people who stole our freedom. Cde Chinx did more to help shape the national ethos and define what it means to be Zimbabwean in song and dance.
“He is a hero in our hearts and that is far more precious,” weighed in People’s Democratic Party spokesperson, Jacob Mafume.
Cde Chinx leaves behind two wives and 14 children.