By Dr Masimba Mavaza | I read with anguish and deep embarrassment when I listened to a question by the Irish Ambassador to Zimbabwe when she visited ZANU PF HQ for a discussion with Cde PA Chinamasa, the Party’s Secretary for Finance & Cde F Chasi. Her excellence was introduced to the pictures littering walls in the party building. These were the pictures,portraits of our late Nationalists & Commanders of the 2nd Chimurenga in pictures. She asked where is Mbuya Nehanda in your pictures. Needles to say that the honourable cde Chinamasa and Mukoma F Chasi could not give a sensible answer. Indeed that question got us thinking. Where is Mbuya Nehanda on everything we value.
In 2017 cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe made a comment and I was present. “ let the dead alone do not trouble them” this was in response to a request for him to visit our shrines in Mozambique Zambia and Tanzania. The answer was not very encouraging, needless to say before the end of the year the President was history.
The same happened with the honourable minister of Tourism then minister Mupfumira. When she visited UK and on he whirlwind tour of UK she was asked about repatriation of Mbuya Nehanda and other Zimbabwean bones back to Zimbabwe. She ignored the request never said anything about Nehanda and we all know what happened on arrival back home.
Many people are so indoctrinated to an extent that they believe that any talk about Nehanda is demonic and satanist. Surely we can not hate our history to such an extent that we equate our history with Satan.
It is deeply depressing and totally flabbergasting that we take the issue of Mbuya Nehanda lightly.
The team of Dr Mahachi has been dispatched to London surprisingly without other ministerial teams. It was a lone team and surely we are going nowhere. The fact that a team is in London and they keep on sending reports. Reports are not what we want. We want Mbuya Nehanda back home.
As Christians we strongly believe that the Dead know nothing. Yes it’s true they know nothing but is Nehanda dead?
The Executive Director of National Monuments and Monuments of Zimbabwe Dr Godfrey Mahachi is the head of delegation in England but he leads a delegation with no stake holders. No chiefs no officials from other organs. What are we doing really.
The delegation led by Dr Mahachi which is aimed at finding a solution in bringing back the bones of one the heroines of the First Chimurenga Ambuya Nehanda was supposed to include Chief Negomo whose chiefdom Nehanda was from Chief Makoni, whose direct relative Chingaira’s bones are in a museum too, it was supposed to include Zimbabweans in the UK like Eugine Majuru of the Mbari clan who has been tireless in fighting for Nehanda to be sent home, Dr Masimba Mavaza, the mhofu who has opened doors and demanded the return of these bones and many people including Barbra Nyagomo and Pastor Richard Tembo Lawyer Pardon Tapfumaneyi among others.
Former President Robert Mugabe is the one who first broke the news that Nehanda’s bones were displayed at a British museum. Then President Mnangagwa pushed for these bones to be returned home.
The sad thing is that in the leadership many are so content with themselves that they have forgotten Mbuya Nehanda.
Addressing a heroes day event Mugabe 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.
“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.”
The British Foreign Office then confirmed that “remains of Zimbabwean origin” were in London and it was waiting for Zimbabwe to send technical experts to liaise with museum staff.
“The issue of the potential repatriation of Zimbabwean human remains was first discussed by British and Zimbabwean Authorities in December 2014. The UK has since invited Zimbabwe to appoint technical experts to meet their museum counterparts in London, in order to discuss some remains of Zimbabwean origin.”
Dr Mahachi has since visited the UK and he is on his second visit but there is nothing happening. For how long will this be allowed to continue. We must remember that,In a sense, Nehanda was taken into bondage in her death that was the very beginning of the captivity of the children of Zimbabwe because for the next hundred years, one of their family was not free to be buried in the land God gave them.
Zimbabwe must stand up to be counted. We cannot allow our heroes to be displayed in a museum somewhere.
The Zimbabwe High Commissioner to the United Kingdom His Excellency Retired Colonel Christian Katsande led in the repatriation negotiations of the first Chimurenga Heroin and Heroes’ remains and gathered interested Zimbabweans to assist in this endeavour. Unfortunately his efforts were not embraced by the team from Zimbabwe.
The work to repatriate Mbuya Nehanda should be a team work and not one man’s job. All UK based Zimbabweans were volunteering to have what belongs to us to be returned to us.
United Kingdom is believed to have several remains of the first Chimurenga fighters. Of the remains there are remains of the first woman African army General Mbuya Nehanda Nyakasikana who was captured and hanged by the colonisers.
The story of her capture and murder exposes the sadistic demonic war crimes committed against the Africans by the British-in the 18th to 19th century. Mbuya Nehanda who led the first Chimurenga war was captured and subjected to a unlawful hastily scrambled hearing in a court of injustice. She was convicted after a trial which she was not represented neither was she given an interpreter. She was then sentenced to death by hanging.
Mbuya Nehanda Sekuru Kaguvi Chingaira and several others were hanged. Their remains were not accorded the decent burial instead Nehanda was beheaded and he skull taken to England as a trophy. Mbuya Nehanda and her tools of war and her spiritual gadgets were shipped in a sack to England where she has been displayed in a museum ever since. After behind the scenes high level discussions and sometimes heated discussions featuring the unsung heroine Eugene Majuru the UK invited the Zimbabwean delegation led by Dr Mahachi director of Museums to come to the Uk and make arrangements for the repatriation. But since their arrival the team has decided to work on their own. Ambassador Katsande led the delegation which is in England to clear the way for the high powered delegation from Zimbabwe. But there is no working together of these teams. This confusion will delay the repatriation. Whenever there is repatriation of remains Often there was a looting, this looting is in conjunction with war or armed political conflict.
Repatriation claims for objects involved in this illegal trade of cultural property are especially difficult as proof must be established of the illicit extraction of the objects and thieves seldom document their work, especially in war zones. It is because of this that the repatriation has taken this long.
The British government has not been willing to let go of their loot. This is because the remains and artefacts looted symbolised shift of power from the defeated to the victors. Returning the loot will be a public acknowledgment of defeat. Further more repatriation is never easy, the British Museum Act, a law from 1963, prevents the museum in London from doing the same. The law does set out limited exceptions (such as if the object is a duplicate), but returning the loot of empire is not one of them.
In November 2020, a new law was passed to allow the return of 27 artefacts to former colonies. Zimbabwe should take advantage of the new law to have the remains and all the loot back. It is this task where Colonel Katsande is expected to balance his diplomatic skills and his military training. For all the years Nehanda was displayed in a museum the British realised a lot of revenue.
Defending their delay in releasing the remains A director Tristan Hunt remarked “Europe’s museums serve a nuanced purpose and shouldn’t automatically bow to calls to return artworks plundered by 19th-century colonisers” Is there the political will to return pilfered artifacts?
From African cultural treasures to artworks and even human remains, calls have been growing louder to return goods appropriated by colonial powers during their often brutal reigns across Africa. But is it mostly talk? While African nations have long demanded the restitution of poached cultural artifacts, in former colonial powers like France and Germany the debate has recently reached fever pitch as cultural and political figures make the case for repatriation. Many countries like Benin Nigeria and many more have been given their artefacts. Zimbabwe is tied to team work or lack of it.
Addressing a team which was doing the ground work in the UK ambassador Christian Katsande said “Repatriation is about restoring dignity and making right the wrongs of the past.”
Repatriation is important as it shows respect for the dead, for cultural beliefs, and for the hurt that has been caused to source communities as a result of the development of science and museum collections. Repatriation is the return of stolen or looted cultural materials to their countries of origin. Although a belief that looting cultural heritage is wrong and stolen objects should be returned to their rightful owners.
Repatriation claims are based on law but, more importantly, represent a fervent desire to right a wrong—a kind of restorative justice—which also requires an admission of guilt and capitulation. This is what makes repatriations difficult: nations and institutions seldom concede that they were wrong. The repatriation of art and cultural objects is a popular topic in the news and there is a familiar list of arguments on either side of the debate. Without team work Zimbabwe will never achieve its goal.
It took the Irish ambassador to as one question” Where is Mbuya Nehanda in all these photos?”
The 1970 UNESCO Convention allowed for stolen objects to be seized if there was proof of ownership, followed by the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, which calls for the return of illegally excavated and exported cultural property. Without these conventions and treaties, there would be no legal obligation for the return of anything.
If our leadership does not change in their thinking of Nehanda then we are doomed. Ou children will ask us these questions where is Nehanda in all our way of life.