The Sunday Mail
A few days before Africa Day, Zimbabwe lost one of its illustrious sons – Cde Dumiso Dabengwa affectionately known by compatriots as “The Black Russian” or the “Intelligence Supremo”.
One by one, these illustrious sons of our soil are being called by the creator leaving a huge void of institutional memory desperately needed as an inspirational springboard for future generations.
Describing the late nationalist as principled and resourceful, President Mnangagawa said Cde Dabengwa’s heroics rank high among the pioneering generations of early nationalists and freedom fighters.
Summarising Cde Dabengwa’s life history, President Mnangagwa said, “As we mourn his untimely departure, our whole nation is lifted by the story of his life and that of his generation, a story which neatly interweaves with our own story as a people in the struggle for independence and Statehood.”
Herein lies the problem.
Most liberation struggle stalwarts are rich reservoir of our country’s history but very few have taken their time to document their stories so as not only to enrich our struggle narrative but to work as inspirational springboards for future generations.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara has in the past expressed his exasperation about the lack of a writing culture in the country.
Mutambara said it was a tragedy of monumental proportions that former President Robert Mugabe has to date not written a single book about the journey he has travelled thus far.
For the exception of just a few like Joshua Nkomo, Cephas Msipa, Maurice Nyagumbo, Didymus Mutasa, Dzinashe Machingura, Agrippa Mutambara, Fay Chung, Freedom Nyamubaya, Alexander Kanengoni, Edgar Tekere and Edison Zvobgo – there has never been a culture of writing among comrades.
Someone needs to remind these cadres the value of storytelling. Chinua Achebe put it succinctly when he says:
“. . .only the story. . .can continue beyond the war and the warrior.
It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters.
It is the story. . .that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence.
The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.
Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns us and directs us.” – Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
While in years gone by we used to have griots that were custodians of a nation’s historiography, the advent of the written word has made it easier for one generation to bestow to the next its experiences, trials and tribulations. It has made it possible to pass on the national memory.
In Achebe’s words, the written word is beautiful in that when handed down, it gives us a second handle on reality. We need as Africans in general to learn something from Achebe’s advice for it is true that the written and literature in general have both social and political importance.
The written word is much more than a creative ornament in that it provides a necessary critical perspective on everyday experience, educates us on the meaning of our actions and offers us greater control over our social and personal lives.
We need to develop a culture of writing for such a culture serves a dual purpose.
It educates both Africans and other nationalities wishing to have a better understanding of us as a people and also reinstate a sense of pride in African cultures. By documenting their own personal histories and contribution in the liberation of the country, nationalists like Cde Dabengwa would not only be helping society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of years of denigration and self-debasement.
Imagine how much of knowledge and history we would have lost if Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Almicar Cabral, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Thomas Sankara and even Muammar Gadaffi had not written anything about their lives, their philosophies, inspiration and general perspective on a number of issues.
The written word is important. It is the written word that to this day still inspire millions of people who follow Jesus Christ for his word is enshrined in the Holy Bible.
It is sad that Cde Dabengwa has passed on without having authored his memoirs. His death must surely be a wake-up call for other nationalists, freedom fighters and the general populace in documenting their stories for future generations.
We need to continue writing our stories from our own perspective. No one story is absolute but combined together they enrich an individual and a nation. We need to move away from what Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie calls the “single story narrative” that is mainly manufactured by those who least understand us or have a forked way of looking at us.
We hope local historians like Pathisa Nyathi will take it as a national duty to document the history of stalwarts like Cde Dabengwa – the man whose dedication to his country was unquestionably beyond reproach. A national icon who sacrificed all for the good of his native land.