By Dr Masimba Mavaza | Zimbabweans in Diaspora ululated and praised the President of Zimbabwe Cde Emerson Dambudzo Munangagwa when he promised to take Britain head on on the issue of the repatriation of the remains of the First Chimurenga heroes.
In a a speech to unveil the statue of Mbuya Nehanda the great Chihera cde President promised to do everything in his power to engage the UK and have the remains of Mbuya Nehanda and other heroes to be returned to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s leader has demanded the return of those killed by the British in the late 1890s during the first uprising against colonial rule.
He made the remarks at the shrine to remember MBUYA NEHANDA in Harare on the 25th of May 2021. This gives weight to the same call made by the former President Robert Gabriel Mugabe in 2014.
President Mnangagwa has excited the Diaspora by his call for Nehanda and other heroes remains to be returned home, because he has shown the world that he delivers on his promises. He has lived to his word in all promises he has made. This has given the diaspora more confidence in what Mnangagwa said. In 2014 president Mugabe said :”We are told that skulls of our people, our leaders, are being displayed in a British museum and they are inviting us to repatriate them,” he told the crowd.
“We will repatriate them, but with bitterness, questioning the rationale behind decapitating them.”
Known as the heroes of the “First Chimurenga”, they were defeated by the British after a protracted battle and the ringleaders were tried and hanged.
What happened to their bodies has always remained a mystery. Chimurenga” roughly translates in Shona as “revolutionary struggle”The “First Chimurenga” refers to the 1896-1897 uprising against British colonialists
The “Second Chimurenga” refers to the liberation war against Rhodesian white-minority rule which led to independence in 1980. During the second Chimurenga Mbuya Nehanda became the driving and encouraging spirit. She was praised in songs and prayers. Her last words echoed through the struggle and each sound and bang of a gun sang her words. “Mapfupa angu achamuka.
The Diaspora welcomed the President’s efforts and feels very vindicated by the promise of the head of state. It was a shame to walk with your head up in London when your heroes are displayed in a museum for all to see that they were defeated. “We carried this shame and humiliation of seeing the heroes of our nation displayed like animals in a museum. The president has made this Africa Day to be a real Africa Day.” Said Paul Mugari from Leicester.
Abide SHUMBA from Leicester commented “ Mnangagwa deserves to be praised. He has now come to the forefront in a fight for the remains to be returned to Zimbabwe “
Princess Eugene Majuru of the Harare Mbari Kingdom and the senior journalist of the news of the South was elated. “We have been hosting conferences talking about this. There was not much help from the Director of Museums in Zimbabwe but now with the president leading from the front we see these remains coming home sooner than later. President Mnangagwa is not like other Politicians. He means what he said and by saying that he will personally take charge I have no reason to doubt him. Finally our heroes are getting a good rest in the soil of their blood”
The UK Foreign Office has now confirmed that talks have been going on since December 2014 over the “potential repatriation of Zimbabwean human remains”.
It said technical experts from Zimbabwe have been invited to meet their museum counterparts in London.
“We await the appointment of the required Zimbabwean experts in order to take this forward,” the statement said.
The Natural History Museum, which has a collection of 20,000 human remains, said it “actively engages in discussions with governments and communities” over requests for the return of human remains.”
Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, has demanded that London’s Natural History Museum returns the skulls of freedom fighters who were killed by British colonisers. But the team set to see this through went to bed.
Mugabe said the missing skulls were those of leaders of “the first chimurenga”, an uprising against white settlers in the late 19th century, that included the spirit mediums Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, who were hanged from a tree in 1898.
Nehanda, was a female powerful and respected ancestral spirit. As one of the spiritual leaders of the Shona, she was one of the leaders of a revolt, the first Chimurenga, against the British South Africa Company’s colonisation of Zimbabwe led by Cecil John Rhodes in 1889. She was a ChiHera of the Hwata Mufakose Dynasty. She and her ally Sekuru Kaguvi and two other fighters were captured and hanged. Zimbabwe commemorated them through the building of statues in her name, street names, hospitals, songs, novels, and poems were made to immortalise the name of great Chihera. The legacy of the medium continued to be linked to the theme of resistance, particularly the guerrilla war that began in 1966. Her name became of increasing importance to the nationalist movements in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe always commemorate Heroes’ Day as it remembers the suffering and sacrifices made by our heroes in the fight against the evil colonial system.
In the war against the colonisers not even one person could begin to understand what our heroes went through and the suffering they endured in order to free this country. It is with great joy that something has been done to honour Nehanda by erecting this imposing statue.
Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana also known as Mbuya Nehanda born around 1840 and died in 1898. She was a svikiro, or spirit medium of the Zezuru Shona people. She was the first woman recorded to take a leading role in a war to free Zimbabwe. When they were defeated they were hanged. Proffessor Martin Maparadza said
“The first chimurenga leaders, whose heads were decapitated by the colonial occupying force, were then dispatched to England, to signify British victory over, and subjugation of, the local population,” Mapara said this week, during Africa Day commemoration in hosted By The News of the South virtually. “Surely, keeping decapitated heads as war trophies, in this day and age, in a national history museum, must rank among the highest forms of racist moral decadence, sadism and human insensitivity.” Commented cde Robert Mugabe in 2014.
Echoing on Mugabe’s words president Mnangagwa said : “Once the remains were repatriated, the government would consult with traditional leaders about how to bury them at sacred shrines across the country.”
“With the president in the driving seat the heads would be sent back to the country as soon as the logistical issues had been resolved. We know this because the president is the listening and acting warrior.” Commented reverend Idah Bennett of London.
It is sad to know of the gruesome murders of Nehanda, Kaguvi and the Mwari high priest by the former colonial masters.
The British colonised Zimbabwe in 1890, they immediately instituted a regime of rough justice which oppressed the blacks who were the owners of the land. Death sentence was declare on crimes which were very frivolous.
The local peoples’ land, mines and cattle were expropriated without compensation.
On top of that, the local people were forced to work for the English Pioneer settlers on the farms which were taken from them by force,mines and factories under very harsh conditions and without payment. Laziness was rewarded with death.
In short, there was wide-spread misrule throughout the country. Blacks were stripped of their dignity.
Because of this oppression It took less than six years of British colonial rule, for the local people to rise up in arms and declared a bitter war on the colonial settlers.
That declaration of war on the settlers by the people took the British completely by surprise.
They did not understand a bigger reason for the people to rise up in arms – the revolutionary influence’ of the mhondoros or masvikiros – local spirit mediums which they referred to as ‘witchdoctors’. docile and cowardly suddenly declare war.
It was clear that the ‘mhondoros’ did not want whites in Zimbabwe hence spirit mediums were urging people to chase every British settler out. This made the mediums to be targeted by the colonisers.
The high priest of Mwari at Matopo hills in Matabeleland, was credited for the first chimurenga in his area. For that service he was the first spirit medium to be assassinated by the settlers.
Russel Burnham who was an American was paid to take him out and that was done. So the Americans hand in destabilising Zimbabwe started long back.
The second spirit medium on the hit list was one Charwe Mbuya Nehanda who was the spirit medium of a famous guardian spirit called Nehanda.
Charwe Nehanda stayed in the Mazowe administrative district near Harare.
Nehanda was falsely accused of murdering the native commissioner of her district, Henry Howlin Polland, who in fact had been killed in battle.
They then went on, in one of the shortest murder trials in history, to find her guilty and sentenced her to death.
The British High Commissioner based in South Africa at the time once got to know about the death sentence passed on Nehanda, he quickly dispatched a letter to the judge to have her executed immediately.
Below is part of the letter.
“The Queen against Nehanda in custody under sentence of death for murder.
I do hereby certify that a report of all the proceedings upon the trial of the said Nehanda for murder in and before the High Court held at Salisbury on March 1898, hath been transmitted to and laid before me as High Commissioner for South Africa by His Honourable the judge Watermeyer when sentence of death was there and then pronounced upon the said prisoner.
I hereby duly authorise and approve of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda.”
Once, judge Watermeyer had received the above authority, he immediately wrote an instruction to the sheriff authorising him to kill Nehanda.
Below is the instruction.
“To the sheriff of the territory of Rhodesia.
The Queen against Nehanda in custody.
His Excellency the High Commissioner has duly authorised and approved of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda on Wednesday April 27 one thousand eight hundred and ninety eight within the walls of the Gaol of Salisbury between hours of six and ten in the afternoon.
She shall be hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution. This instruction is therefore to command you that cause execution of the said sentence to be had and done upon the said prisoner accordingly and that you keep and detain her in your custody until she shall have undergone the said sentence.”
And so Nehanda was taken to the gallows.
It is interesting to note that although judge Watermeyer instructed that Charwe Nehanada was to be ‘hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution’, respectable written and oral accounts say Nehanda did not die by hanging.
For example, one Geoffrey Bond in his book Remember Mazoe which is based on eye-witness accounts of the First Chimurenga in the Mazowe area says categorically that: “Nyanda (Charwe Nehanda) and the condemned prisoners (such as Kaguvi) were blind-folded and shot dead by a squad of majonis (white officers).”
The above version of how Nehanda was killed tallies well with the popular version given by oral historians throughout Mazowe district who say, “Mbuya Nehanda vakachekwa.”
Now where was she buried then?
One Keith Martin helps us here.
He says the British South Africa Company created a cemetery in Harare christened Pioneer Cemetery.
It is that cemetery west of Mupedzanhamo Flea Market, near the hostels and Rufaro stadium.
It was opened on January 2 1893.
The cemetery was divided according to race and religion as well as military background.
Blacks had their own section to the west called the native section.
It’s a big area where graves are not marked.
Martin says: “Two of the Africans buried in that unmarked section with their graves unrecorded are of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi of the First Chimurenga whose heads had been cut off and put in a sack and taken to the UK as trophies.” Thus the heads of the heroes were transported without dignity or any respect. Up to this day they are displayed in a museum.
It is from this background that those in diaspora thanks President Mnangagwa to to be the son of the soil who will put an end to the African humiliation by the colonisers.
It is interesting to note that not only are Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda buried in the old Pioneer Cemetery which is now closed, Judge Watermeyer who sentenced Mbuya Nehanda to death is also buried there. But the irony is the judge was buried there with his body intact while the owner of the soil has a head displayed in a museum.
Furthermore the gaoler of Nehanda, one Patrick Hayden, who should in fact have hung her by the neck is also buried there.
On top of this, in that cemetery, there is a mass grave of Rhodesian soldiers who were killed in the First Chimurenga.
When one looks at the trials of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi who were tried for being the spirits behind Chimurenga, one is left without doubt these so called trials were fake.
One is tried for murder and within a month, found guilty and killed. Was this justice? It is important tho to revisit the murder of Charwe Nehanda NyakSikana Vachihera. On April 27 1898, the brains and power of the First Chimurenga War, Mbuya Chahwe, the medium of the Nehanda spirit, and Sekuru Gumboreshumba, the medium of the Kaguvi spirit also known as Murenga, were hanged by the settler regime for daring to challenge colonial dispossession. Kaguvi was credited for being the spirit of the war. Tis was called the Murenga Spirit. It is from this spirit, that was alternatively known as Murenga, meaning “war spirit”, that the name Chimurenga was derived.
Mbuya Nehanda along with Zindoga, Hwata and Gutsa were arraigned before the courts charged of murder. It is worth mentioning that the murdered person was a brutal white native commissioner, one Henry Hawkins Pollard of the British South Africa Company who lived near Mazowe and terrorised people in that district.Rhodesian legal documents classified Mbuya Nehanda modestly as a Mashona woman residing at Chitawa’s Kraal in the Mazowe District; Zindoga as a native kitchen boy residing at Nehanda’s Kraal; and Hwata and Gutsa as native hunters residing at Hwata Kraal.
The four — along with Sekuru Kaguvi — were arraigned in the High Court of Matabeleland that sat in Salisbury on February 20 1898 and were subsequently convicted on March 2 1898 in a case entered as “The (British) Queen against Nehanda”. They were sentenced to death by hanging.The execution was authorised by the (British) High Commissioner for South Africa, one Alfred Milner, and endorsed by the (British) Imperial Secretary on March 28 1898. The presiding judge was Judge Watermayer, with Herbert Hayton Castens Esquire, as “the acting Public Prosecutor Sovereign within the British South Africa Company territories, who prosecutes for and on behalf of her majesty”.
The warrant for Mbuya Nehanda’s death commanded that she be executed within the wall of the gaol of Salisbury between the hours of 6 and 10 in the afternoon. A Roman Catholic priest, one Fr Richertz, was assigned to convert Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Hwata and Zindoga. It is said the hapless Catholic priest failed to make headway with Mbuya Nehanda but managed to convert Sekuru Gumboreshumba, whom he baptised as Dismas, the ‘‘good’’ thief.Gutsa, Hwata and Zindoga were also converted and similarly hanged.it showed that Mbuya Nehanda refused to compromise on her belief. It is her resolve which made her the pillar of future and present rebellion.
According to Fr Richertz’s account, Mbuya Nehanda “ . . . called for her people and wanted to go back to her own country Mazoe and die there . She was not afraid of death. . Sekuru Kaguvi and all other men were baptised. Nehanda was taken to the scaffold. Her cries and resistance, when she was taken up the ladder, the screaming and yelling were that she wanted to be taken and be buried among her people. Nehanda had always wanted her bones to be buried in her land which is now called Mazowe. The famous words which Mbuya Chahwe said to were that “Mapfupa angu achamuka (my bones will surely rise)”. This phrase became the back bone , the slogan the igniting force in Chimurengas. Those who picked up arms would take comfort that they sere the prophetic bones of Mbuya Nehanda.
The settlers then decapitated Nehanda’s head and transported it to the United Kingdom as a trophy. They displayed her head as they would do the head of a slaughtered animal. They walked tall as they have made a serious achievement.
Finally Nehanda’s head was displayed at a museum in the UK. SHE hangs in a British museum as a defeated vagabond. The woman who was such an influence in the Chimurenga war now stays displayed as a tool.
The diaspora feels lifted by the promise of the president of Zimbabwe. The war vets moved in the bushes hiding behind the powers of mbuya nehanda but today they have been rewarded by the president as he is now doing something about her bones.
Nehanda’s blood was crying from a museum she was saying take my bones home. And today the son of the soil President Mnangagwa has taken the lead. This is true leadership
Now Zimbabwe the bones of Nehanda will be repatriated back to Zimbabwe thanks to the President.
As Diaspora we have no words to say thank you Mr President. We hold dear on your word. The bones of all our heroes are now moving towards home.