A former ZPRA combatant Moffat Hadebe says a non-partisan committee should be set up to decide who should be accorded national hero status.
Hadebe (85), is the first man to fire a gunshot marking the beginning of the armed struggle against white minority rule in 1964, but his poor social status does not reflect the contribution he made to Zimbabwe’s independence.
Currently, the ruling Zanu PF’s politburo has the sole prerogative to accord national hero status while benefits follow from the government.
Hadebe’s sentiments were made during a visit to him by the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) Veterans Association on Sunday. The association is on a mission to honour its own cadres, who over the years have become socially and economically disadvantaged.
Hadebe expressed disappointment that the late nationalist and journalist, Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu was not conferred hero status, raising debate on who should confer the national hero status and the criteria to be used.
Hadebe was also of the view that when one was declared a provincial or national hero, their spouse must be buried next to them.
“According to Ndebele tradition, the wife must sleep next to her husband yet with the current setup, only the hero is buried at the National Heroes Acre but what happens to the spouse?” he queried.
ZPRA Veterans Association Secretary-General, Petros Sibanda, concurred with Hadebe adding that there should be a law to supervise where spouses were also buried.
He noted when one was buried at the National Heroes Acre, there were restrictions that prevented the family from visiting the grave as they wished to conduct rituals.
“There should be an amendment constitutionally and it must be corrected that if one is declared a hero, automatically your spouse also becomes a hero. When one is declared a hero, they should be able to make a choice where they want to be buried. There are some procedures when one wants to visit the National Heroes Acre, yet our customs require us to visit graves time and again for different purposes,” he said.
Sibanda also lamented how former ZPRA fighters were living in abject poverty and in poor health.
“Our former comrades are poor, don’t have good accommodation, live like beggars whereas those who are in the government, who know their problems very well and fought with during the liberation struggle seem to have forgotten them. The laws or the systems which are there do nothing to uplift their lives,” said the secretary general.
He indicated former freedom fighters such as Hadebe should have been honoured for their heroism instead of letting them wallow in poverty.
“As ZPRA veterans association, our visit to Hadebe, taking food hampers for him is a token of our appreciation. We still recognise him and other legends who brought liberation independence to Zimbabwe,” Sibanda said.
“The country through the Ministry of Defence and War Veterans must recognise these veterans, take care of them materially, medically and socially then it would be a pleasure to say at least we are taking care of our political parents.”
Sibanda added ZPRA veterans would be going around the country to honour its fellow comrades for their bravery as Zimbabwe is set to celebrate Heroes’ holiday in a week’s time.
“We are to go to other places in Masvingo, Mutare, Harare Highfields, Mashonaland West, where we have our veterans who are still alive but are poor,” he said.
ZPRA veterans have often accused the government of side-lining them during the recognition, compensation and vetting of war veterans unlike their Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) counterparts, whose status they claim is better than them.