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Many movements select carefully the individuals they want to “put on front street” to represent the preferred “public relations” images of their movement. These are the “PR HEROES”. Usually they are just authentic enough to endure the scrutiny of a mostly supportive press and public. And then there are the “PEOPLES’ HEROES” who are perhaps less photogenic, more complex and harder to manipulate. The Peoples’ Heroes often fight like hell and often die in the background, mourned by other Peoples’ Heroes and their friends and families.
One of the genuine Peoples’ Heroes was buried July 11, 2015 next to a creek on a farm in Marondera, Zimbabwe. Had the government offered it, she would have declined being buried in “Heroes Acre” (the Zimbabwean equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery), an appropriate setting for recurring PR events.
Her birth name is Tichaona V. Nyamubaya and her Chimurenga name is Comrade Freedom. During the liberation war, she reached the rank of Female Field Operations Commander and in 1979 she was elected Secretary for Education by the first ZANU Women’s League Conference. When this writer met her, she was only 24 but she had already been a soldier for ZANLA for several years after quitting school at 15 to join the liberation forces who were waging a guerrilla war against the Rhodesian government from the jungles of Mozambique. In the jungle, she received political education that included Marx, Lenin, Mao, Vo Nguyen Giap, Fidel, Che, Amilcar Cabral, Fanon, Regis Debray and Malcolm X.
She was always humble and generally easy-going. She loved to laugh; she loved music but she was often sad – maybe because sadness was more tolerable than the bitterness she might otherwise have allowed to occupy her soul. Even in 1983, just 3 years after “independence” there were people in Zimbabwe who were already convinced that the severe compromises of the Lancaster Agreement were bound to stifle the real goals of the Zimbabwean revolution – which for the Peoples’ Heroes were clearly intended as a plan to win back the country’s wealth for the people. Yet 3 years after the flag was changed, the same rich land owners still owned most of the best land and the same big corporations headquartered outside the country still controlled the mines and major industries. During his 10 months in Zimbabwe, some 11 years prior to the actual election of Mandela, this writer, more than once, heard someone remark cynically, that the Whites in South Africa should follow the Zimbabwe “independence” model. They should let Mandela out of jail, let him be President while the rich Whites keep most of the wealth, and the petty-bourgeoisie is allowed to drink all the beer they want at the formerly “Whites-Only” bars. When one considers the townships that still exist in South Africa, some 21 years post-independence, one can argue that this is pretty much what has happened. No wonder Comrade Freedom had to find a constructive outlet for some of her scathing humor. She became an internationally known poet. In one of her better-known poems (“A Mysterious Marriage”), she describes Independence and Freedom as a boy and girl who fall so deeply in love during the war, that all expect them to marry once the fighting is over. But when they return home, only Independence shows up while Freedom slips away. Some then say that it was a “fake marriage” where Independence grows old waiting for the return of Freedom – a reconciliation that never happens.
The poet Tichaona Freedom Nyamubaya was always busy and rarely missed an opportunity to speak her mind. She was one of the first war veterans to publically admit that, like her, other young women who risked their lives to join the Chimurenga were physically and sexually abused by top male commanders who turned their bodies into a “a church for high-ranking monks to relieve their stress” (“For Suzanna”).  This is not the kind of secret that a PR Hero would ever reveal. But the Peoples’ Heroes were not afraid of the new elite. Speaking in June of 2014 at a funeral for fellow freedom-fighter Wilfred Mhanda, Comrade Freedom dared to articulate publicly what many others could only whisper in the shadows:
We did not go to war to be rich, we went to the war to free the masses. Everyone participated in the war and not just a few. But then they [the opportunists} took the land from the whites in order to get rich. Why do you beat people to vote for you?… I need an answer why my General Rex Nhongo (Solomon Mujuru) was killed like a Cobra and yet nothing was done and yet when a police Inspector was killed, 29 people were arrested.
Comrade Freedom also said in 2005,
We weren’t fighting against whites; we were fighting for ideals. Part of my job was to inspire young people to sacrifice themselves for the cause of freedom, that is why I am most hurt. Because I motivated people to die for their country and we were betrayed.
In a recent tribute to her, writer Conway Tutani wrote,
With her brainpower and captivating charm, Nyamubaya could have risen to a lofty political post, but she wasn’t one for political prostitution. She had too much self-respect to ever contemplate stooping that low… Zimbabwe is now a banana republic, ruled by a small, self-elected, wealthy, corrupt politico-economic oligarchy. They have no moral values and respect for the nation they are robbing. They use lots of different schemes to fill their pockets, … That is the Zimbabwe tragedy which the likes of Nyamubaya saw coming soon after independence… Nyamubaya saw all this unfolding and had the courage of a genuine freedom fighter to speak out — she said what she meant and she meant what she said. 
Some of us may prefer to admire the PR Heroes and the line of crap that comes with them. Such as, “Zimbabwe and South Africa are free today because legal apartheid was defeated!” Knowing how long and costly the battles were, this writer would like to believe that line also. But faced with the hard realities that a genuine Peoples’ Hero like Freedom Nyamubaya lived and died with (she was only 55 when she died after being hospitalized for hypertension) – this writer would be ashamed to indulge in any further denial. There are some great big upheavals coming again in Southern Africa. The handwriting has been on the walls, in blood, for many years now!
Bernard Nicolas is originally from Haiti. He became a political activist in the 70’s and traveled to Zimbabwe in 1983 with the intention of living there for a long while. But the corruption and disappointment were too much. Nicolas is now a mental health therapist and occasional writer.