Three dead ‘Heroes’: Nkala, Kangai and Karakadzai

This past week Zimbabweans laid to rest three liberation heroes. Though it is inevitable that those who fought in our liberation struggle will soon die, and at a faster rate, because of their advanced ages, I’m sure none expected that three could die in such a short time.

Of the three, two were quite famous, Kumbirai Kangai was a veteran of the struggle, one of the leaders of the second Dare reChimurenga in the seventies and after independence he gained notoriety as a very corrupt person. He was involved in the Grain Marketing Board scandals and it is said that because of him vast lengths of unpaved roads appear as paved on official maps. I suppose he found more pressing needs for the money.

Both factors rightly made him a household name. He collapsed and died a day or so after attending President Mugabe’s inauguration, which led the comrades at The Herald to conclude that he died a “very happy man.”

The second, Enos Nkala, was perhaps not as well known as Kangai but certainly much more controversial. A close friend of President Mugabe, it was in his Highfields house that ZANU PF was formed in 1963. After independence he was critised for his role-or silence- during the Gukurahundi troubles where thousands from his tribe were massacred. He was then defence minister.

Comrade Enos Nkala left government in the late eighties after being fingered in a corruption scandal. The man who exposed the scandal, and whose corruption now needs exposing, Obert Mpofu declared that if Nkala is not a hero then no one deserves to be one. After falling out with ZANU PF Nkala “wrote” his memoirs of the liberation struggle, which he said would only be published after his death. Perhaps that’s why there was so much sadness and panic at his death- secrets may be coming out. He died after a long sickness.

The third, one Mike Karakadzai, I will admit, I only heard of after his death. But it seems he was well known by those who work at the National Railways of Zimbabwe, NRZ, were he was boss. It is said some NRZ workers have gone almost a year without pay. He was accused of being inconsiderate, cruel and harsh.

A Facebook comment from a NRZ “worker” aptly sums the late Air Commodore’s popularity, the worker expressed his pity for the cow killed by Cde Karakadzai when he crashed. However Karakadzai was commented by his ZANU PF comrades for turning the NRZ “into world class company”. That of course was shocking to say the least, we have some of the worst trains in the world. In fact a few years ago the UN urged Zimbabwe to stop using its trains. Clearly the definition of “world class” varies.

These three heroes’ deaths demonstrated how polarised and dishonest our media is. The private media, whilst acknowledging Nkala and Kumbirai’s role in the liberation struggle mainly pointed out their numerous shortcomings after independence. The Herald, as expected, glorified them. Reading the Herald, one would be convinced that the three comrades never did anything wrong in their lives.

These deaths also showed us the dissonance between government officials and the people. Whilst the majority on social networks hardly expressed any sadness, government officials fell over themselves in expressing the nation’s “loss and profound sadness”. When more upright men, such as Joshua Nkomo, died the people were saddened on their own accord, not at the urging of government officials.

More importantly the deaths of Nkala, Kumbirai and the less illustrious but equally notorious Karakadzai remind us that good men can easily go bad when given arbitrary power, money and authority. This is the bane of African liberation movements whose leaders, devoid of any leadership qualities turn to looting soon after independence. All they do is bask in past glories and successes. They are what Fanon calls the “national bourgeoisie” in Wretched of the Earth, which “is not geared to production, creation, or work.”

Regardless of all this, these three men, and others before them, deserve a place in our history books. They earn their places as liberators who were corrupted by power- or whose corruption was exposed by power. They earn their places as men who set out to change the world, but were instead changed by it. From their confused legacies Zimbabwe should learn.

May their souls rest in peace

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