The Sunday Mail
The arrival of white colonial settlers in Zimbabwe in 1890 set off a chain of events whose consequences are still felt today – 130 years later.
However, six years after occupation, locals put up fierce resistance to assert their freedom and sovereignty, which was violently put down.
Traditional leaders such as Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Chief Mashayamombe, Chief Makoni Chingaira – who had ignited and stoked the revolutionary flame – were subsequently captured, executed and beheaded.
While the architect of colonial Rhodesia, Cecil John Rhodes’ grave is nestled atop the sacred “Malindidzimu” (dwelling place of the spirits) mountain in Matopos, the shrines of the First Chimurenga/Umvukela heroes are still not known.
Their heads were actually shipped as souvenirs to the UK, where they have been kept for the past 122 years.
But all this could be changing.
The Handa Project, which is led by its pioneering director Cde Ottoman Magaya, has since assembled eight families of the First Chimurenga heroes, whose heads are believed to be still in the UK, to push for their repatriation.
“The starting point is to bring our realities closer to the young generation by advocating for the popularisation of those who fought in the First Chimurenga, to remove fiction from the mentally colonised youths and remove the burden from concerned families of our slain heroes and the nation,” said Cde Magaya.
“It is high time we start giving due recognition to our First Chimurenga heroes, it is the right of every citizen to have the correct information about our heroes.
“How can the youths be fooled to think that Britain, USA and the entire Europe stand for human rights, democracy and rule of law when they have human heads in their displays in this day and age?”
Repatriation efforts have been ongoing for the past 12 years.
The Handa Project, whose motto is “turning war pains into gains”, was given the green light by Government and Zanu-PF to work with the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) to lead the effort.
They have since enlisted the support of some Zimbabweans in the Diaspora.
From 2013, the push has been gaining traction.
“In 2013 we started advocating seriously for the repatriation of our First Chimurenga heroes . . .
“Since we started, we have managed to regroup concerned families one after the other to join the advocacy.
“It took us long from 2013 because we had no resources to fund all our outreach programmes to regroup families,” said Cde Magaya.
Families that are now on board include Hwata Mandere Chawonza – where Mbuya Nehanda hailed from – and is being represented by Mr Weston Mandere Chawonza.
Sekuru Kaguvi (Gumboreshumba)’s family is being represented by Mr Tobias R. Gumboreshumba.
Other families are the Mutota family led by Mr Peter Chisunya, and Chief Makoni, who is representing Chingaira Makoni.
Chief Mashonganyika’s family is being represented by Chief Nenguwo, Chief Mashayamombe’s family is fronted by Chief Mashayamombe, while the Sanhewe family is being represented by Mr Kuda Makosvo.
The family of Chief Gwangava is being led by Chief Musarurwa, while the family of Pasipamire Mambo Chaminuka is being represented by Chief Rwizi.
Mr Tichadii Zivengwa is standing in on behalf of the Chiwashira family.
Overall, Chief Makoni leads traditional leaders on the repatriation committee and is deputised by Mr Weston Mandere Chawonza of the Hwata clan from Mazowe.
“We are also working with other Zimbabweans in the UK and we managed to put pressure on the British government,” added Cde Magaya, a history teacher whose organisation’s goal is to reclaim the country’s history.
Those who are organising the repatriations are mulling a big reception in Chitungwiza – the area where Sekuru Chaminuka came from – to receive the remains.
NMMZ executive director Dr Godfrey Mahachi told The Sunday Mail that the repatriation of the remains was “imminent”.
“The issue of repatriation of human remains in the United Kingdom is imminent. I cannot give a specific time-frame but we are moving at a fast pace,” said Dr Mahachi.
“It is a matter that we have been working on for some time now and a lot of progress has been made as I speak.
“We have been communicating with our counterparts that side, and all the researches to ascertain the origins of the remains have been done and it is confirmed they are from Zimbabwe.”
Dr Mahachi is expected to lead a delegation from Zimbabwe to the UK soon to formalise the process.
Mr Peter Mavhunga, who lives in the UK and is helping with the process, said there has been a positive response from the British authorities.
“The information I have seen suggests a positive and ready response from the British authorities concerned,” said Mr Mavhunga.
The issue of repatriation of human remains of African heroes who fought against colonisation, including looted artefacts, has been a topical issue.
In 2018, Namibia welcomed 27 human remains from Berlin, Germany.
German imperial soldiers massacred thousands of Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1908 in what is referred to as the “first genocide of the 20th century.”
Cecil John Rhodes also reportedly took several birds from Great Zimbabwe to South Africa in about 1906.
Four of the stolen carved birds were returned to Zimbabwe by South Africa after independence in 1980.
However, the pedestal of one bird was taken by a German missionary who sold it to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin in 1907.
When Russian forces occupied Germany at the end of the Second World War, it was reportedly taken from Berlin to Leningrad, where it remained until after the Cold War, when it was returned to Germany, the BBC claims.