By Mary Taruvinga
WHEN the famous statue of Mbuya Nehanda was unveiled in Harare nearly a year ago, authorities said it would serve as a reminder of the occult and historical hero of the First Chimurenga and a major tourist attraction.
But eleven months later, it stands as an abandoned artifact beyond the reach of many.
In fact, everyone but the stern-looking armed police take turns guarding him around the clock.
No one is allowed to climb the massive and expensive scaffolding on which it rests.
Yet this structure was ideally meant to serve as a walkway over the usually congested intersection where Harare’s main roads stood – themselves named after other giants of Africa’s anti-colonial struggle; Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere.
Nor does it help that a fortune was spent on the statue at a time when many were wallowing in abject poverty, at the height of a debilitating Covid-19 lockdown.
The monumental statue of the First Chimurenga war heroine was erected on May 25 last year amid public outcry over misplaced government priorities.
It is a monument to a Zimbabwean medium and heroine of the first Chimurenga of 1896-1897.
The cult figure has remained sacrosanct, albeit mystical, over the generations since she was hanged in 1898 and her head shipped to London where it is still kept as a war trophy.
The monument falls under the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ).
It was erected at the height of the deadly pandemic, as the healthcare industry grappled with shortages of consumables, including basics such as gloves.
It was a period of successive lockdowns in Zimbabwe, which made life unbearable for ordinary people working in the informal sector.
Most Zimbabweans starved to death while locked in their homes.
No measures had been put in place by the same government to ensure that people would have what they needed.
People haven’t fully condemned the significance of Nehanda, but the unveiling of the monument has sparked wide debate on social media, with many questioning non-essential expenses.
“The absurdity and bewilderment of co-opting a historical figure as a partisan symbol and celebrating that symbol in a partisan way in a way that impedes the right of movement of citizens, on a day dedicated to a continental vision, is so fundamental that only a comprehensive transformation will improve Zimbabwe’s prospects,” said novelist and cultural critic Tsitsi Dangarembgwa.
Prominent journalist and government spokesperson Hopewell Chin’ono also said: “Doctors and nurses at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo have to carry sick or dead patients up the stairs as the lifts are not working. not ! That’s why we say it’s illogical to build multi-million dollar statues while hospitals aren’t functioning!
Two weeks after the statue was erected, seven babies were stillborn at Sally Mugabe Hospital overnight after urgent treatment was delayed due to staffing issues.
Nurses were on strike across the country over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other concerns, and maternity wards were overwhelmed.
A doctor who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com at the time said the incident was just “the tip of the iceberg” as such cases were not unusual in the hospital.
Its consumables were imported at a cost of almost ZAR 3 million.
No Zimbabweans are allowed to visit the monument, no tourists have yet been seen at the site.
The entrance to each pedestrian step is guarded by no less than four armed police officers, day and night.
It is still unclear why the public is blocked and why the sidewalks created to help pedestrians remain unused after spending fortunes to create them.
NMMZ executive director Godfrey Mahachi said he would like permission from permanent secretary Aaron Nhepera to give his position on what is happening.
“I can comment, but the best you can do is talk to the permanent secretary first. If he refers you back to me, then I can comment,” Mahachi said.
Repeated calls to Nhepera’s cellphone went unanswered.
A senior government official who chose to remain anonymous said access was still blocked to prevent “vandals like CCC activist Madzibaba Veshanduko”.
However, Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said it is shameful that people have yet to understand the significance of the statue, a year later.
“It’s sad, after pouring in a lot of taxpayers’ money, we expected it to be a major project, a tourist attraction and get a lot of revenue out of it, but clearly these people can’t take any decisions to derive those revenues. ,” he said.
“It is shameful that they are trying to monopolize the monument which belongs to everyone and say the public is still banned from visiting the statue.”
Controversy has always been with the story of the statue since day one.
On behalf of a company called Zimbabwe CRSG Constitution Pvt Limited, the Ministry of Local Government applied for duty-free relief from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) for the importation of consumables for the Mbuya Statue Nehanda.
It was reported that US$100,000 (R1,511,510.00) was used for transport alone, with the total transport and consumables estimated at R3,696,085 million.
Meanwhile, the making of the three meter tall statue was guided by a photograph by Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana which was provided by the National Archives of Zimbabwe.
It was designed by David Mutasa, a bronze foundry artist at Nyati Gallery, and then construction of the entire site was carried out by Zimbabwe CRSG Construction.
Construction began in June 2020 and was expected to be completed in August 2020.
In December 2020, Mnangagwa ordered the statue to be redone after public criticism of the statue’s structure which did not describe how the only known photo of Mbuya looks at the images of the statue went viral on social media during the visit. of the President at the Nyati Gallery.
Zimbabweans had nicknamed the statue “Slay queen”.
Further criticism emerged when the statue had to be redone after the original sculpture was rejected for not resembling Mbuya Nehanda enough.
Money had already been spent on the first statue and another was to be created.
The actual cost of this project remains unknown.
Zimbabweans have yet to appreciate the significance of the statue and people are aware of it.
“I think it was a waste of resources. We can only take a look in passing. For my part, I fear even the police who are sitting at the entrance,” a pedestrian told NewZimbabwe. com as she walked past the artifact on Saturday.
Mnangagwa said the statue was a bold and unabashed statement that Zimbabweans know where they come from, adding “it’s a statement that we are proud of who we are”.
He called on Zimbabweans to respect the national monument saying the place should not be a playground for lovers and selfie addicts.
So maybe the authorities are protecting the monument from selfie addicts, or preventing it from being turned into a love nest, as the good president said.