There are several versions of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s last moments. One version, discredited by biographers and historians, is that he died a coward, regretting time “wasted” fighting imperialism in Latin America and, briefly, in Africa.
The claim was pushed by General Ovando, chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces, who said a dying Che declared: “I am Che Guevara and I have failed.”
Another is that his last words were to Colonel Arnaldo Saucedo Parada, a senior intelligence officer, who recorded Che’s last words as: “I knew you were going to shoot me; I should never have been taken alive. “Tell Fidel (Castro) that this failure does not mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell Aleida (Che’s wife) to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children studying. Ask the soldiers (his executioners) to aim well.”
Historians are generally divided on the accuracy of the words, but they say they are largely credible.
A third version, which Che’s admirers tend quote more, has the revolutionary’s executioner, Sergeant Jaime Terán, saying when he walked into the cell in which they held the man, he said: “I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.” Other texts say he told Sgt Terán, “Know this now, you are killing a man.”
We may never know which version is true. But the final one, about only killing a man, carries great import. It is that version that informs the statement: “You can kill a person, but you can’t kill an idea.” Revolutions are built on ideas.
Yes, guns help. But they are only a means with which, when absolutely necessary, to advance an idea.
Thomas Sankara, sometimes called “Africa’s Che”, was another man with an idea. Which is why he renamed Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means the Land of Upright People. Blaise Compaoré killed Sankara in the belief that they could extinguish the ideas.
You see, Sanakara’s idea was that the Land of Upright People shouldn’t borrow from the IMF and World Bank. He preached the gospel of economic empowerment. His idea was that Burkina Faso should invest in food and textiles production. He crusaded against male chauvinism and promoted gender equality.
His idea was that universal literacy and higher education would spur the nation forward. He was a man of ideas; ideas that sound remarkably like those of another man called Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
It was because of his ideas that the West had to have him eliminated, like they dispatched of Che, and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Herbert Chitepo here, Salvadore Allende in Chile, Steve Biko in South Africa, and many others.
It is these very ideas that spur the West to want to remove our President.
For more than 50 years, President Mugabe has been at the forefront of advancing the related ideas of empowerment and unity. Those are ideas that have since 2000 faced a serious onslaught from a Western world that cannot countenance African-led progress in Africa.
Blunt tools in the form of opposition parties have been used by the West to fight these ideas.
That has largely failed. Now there is covert and overt infiltration which has brought a visible generational division that seeks to pit younger and older supporters of President Mugabe’s ideas against each other, with both groups claiming to be advancing national interests.
There can be no national advancement in the absence of unity, which is why both youths and war veterans must heed President Mugabe’s words of admonishment in Masvingo last Friday.
It is a straightforward message: the youths should not be fighting the men and women who believed in the idea of liberation and put their lives on the line to advance that idea, and the veterans must respect the fact that guns follow ideas and not vice versa.
Zimbabwe is founded on ideas of liberation, empowerment, equality and prosperity. How does the present divide between youths and war veterans advance those ideas?
In their legitimate censure of youths who want to side line their elders from the country’s mainstream, the war veterans must be wary of taking the national discourse away from the arena of ideas.
And in their genuine calls for greater participation in how the country is run, the youths should beware of becoming the graveyard where ideas are buried simply because they feel their time is now.
Zimbabwe should not become the country that proves Che was wrong and that ideas can indeed be killed.
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