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Was Mbuya Nehanda A Badass or Not? Yes! 

The Mbuya Nehanda title is like a James Bond type of series. It was assumed by a different person from time to time.

A Mbuya Nehanda memorial statue will be mounted in the Harare city centre. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the statue will showcase that Zimbabwe has a rich history on who led the war against the colonial establishment.

Now, there has been a bit of a fuss over the erection of the statue, with some accusing the GoZ of misplacing its priorities when the health and education sectors were staggering. Others even brazenly questioned Nehanda’s badassery, while some are satirising the proposed design, saying Charwe didn’t have a booty that huge.

This, yet again, presents another vivid illustration of the polarised nature of our society. One writer noted that the debate on Mbuya Nehanda’s statue is built on two antagonistic ideological premises — the liberation and neo-colonial underpinned perspectives.

I will leave the intricacies of such to ideologists and historical analysts. What I, however, intend to chop on is if Nehanda was indeed a badass or not (and I’ve already hinted that the answer is yes).

See, I for one still have a lot of thoughts about Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, others have voiced many of which. Whether you agree that her activism was authentic or effective, it is undeniable that her character or role in the liberation of Zimbabwe was dynamic. She wouldn’t have stirred up so much conversation otherwise.

While its accuracy stands a perpetual trial with every entry, history — oral and written — taught us that Mbuya Chahwe, the medium of the Nehanda spirit, was strong, complex, smarter than all the men, and had insane amounts of wisdom and guts. She did whatever she wanted — breaking every rule in the park — and was just an all-around badass. Even if at the end it’s revealed that her choices weren’t actually hers, and just part of her set up in history, that doesn’t take away from how obstinate she was.

She basically saved everyone’s asses hundreds of time and took on literal hellfire. Need I say more? Though she was ultimately captured and savagely executed to dissuade any further revolts, her bravery inspired many subsequent insurrections, and today, a monument commemorating her legacy is being erected.

A womxn of few words — the only quote we know of her is “Mapfupa angu achamuka,” translated “My bones will rise” — she represented the “first” time a womxn a stepped up and take a tough lead in integrating a heavily patriarchal society. Residing around Mazoe, Zimbabwe, Mbuya Nehanda was a powerful womxn devoted to upholding traditional Shona culture.

Now, this is where this shit gets confusing: the Mbuya Nehanda title is like a James Bond type of series. It was assumed by a different person from time to time. Historians have it under their good authority that the original Nehanda was a daughter of Nyatsimba Mutota, the first Monomatapa who was living in the escarpment North of Sipolilo in the 15th Century. Mutota also had a son, Matope, who later became the second Monomatapa.

But how can history be history without mystery, weirdos and unfathomable shit? Historians believe that in a bid to augment Matope’s power, whatever that was, Mutota royally ordered his son Matope to bang his half-sister Nyamhika, who became known as Nehanda.

Anyway, this incest ritual is presumed to have increased Matope’s ruler and his empire, due to this Matope cut over a chunk of his empire to Nehanda who became so influential that her spirit lived on in the human bodies of various spirit mediums over the years until almost 500 years later when we find it occupying the body of the Mazoe’s Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana.

While all the other Nehandas’ stories are lost forever (poor souls), Charwe’s is inbred in the history of Zimbabwe as a symbol of defiance to colonial domination. She led the fight against colonialism and paid the price with her life.

When the white pioneers penetrated the land, sources say a badass Nehanda initially embraced the occupation and counselled her patrons to be friendly towards them. Unfortunately, affairs became stiff when the white folks started levying taxes, relocating niggas, and ordering them to work in their fields, mines and industries. See, that move could’ve riled anyone bruh, even the introvert of extroverts. Like you don’t walk into my house, my space and dictate how I live, unless if you want problems with me.

So, as colonialism made its clutch on the inhabitants of Zimbabwe, there was a military drive to rid of the British settlers. The collective efforts of the locals to get rid of the British colonialist in the period of 1896-7 have become known as the First Chimurenga. Guess who was at the top of that uprising. In Matebeleland a fierce brother named Mukwati was calling the shots, and in Mashonaland, it was a dude named Sekuru Gumboreshumba the medium of the Kaguvi spirit, and the badass Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana who had the game on lock.

For her role for daring to challenge colonial dispossession, they issued a warrant of arrest for Nehanda. As both mysterious and badass as she was manoeuvring — ignore the vhala ngebheju tales you been hearing — she could avoid arrest for over a year. But as what’s meant to be will be, she was eventually captured at the end of 1897 and brought to trial in 1898 accused of murdering a brutal white native commissioner, one Henry Hawkins Pollard of the British South Africa Company who lived near Mazowe and terrorised people in that district. Pollard, a true definition of an SOB, had generated great resentment among Nehanda’s people by thrashing Chief Chiweshe for failing to report an outbreak of Rinderpest among his herds. Niggas ganged up on him and well, he was made to meet his maker like that. Now that shit was gangster; you drop mine; I drop yours.

So Nehanda, along with Kaguvi and other two, were both charged with murder; Kaguvi was in for the death of an African police officer and Nehanda for the death of Pollard. They were arraigned in the High Court of Matabeleland that sat in Salisbury on February 20, 1898, and were subsequently convicted on March 2, 1898, in a case entered as “The (British) Queen against Nehanda”. They were summarily sentenced to death by hanging.

The warrant for Mbuya Nehanda’s death directed that she be executed within the wall of the gaol of Salisbury between the hours of 6 and 10 in the afternoon. A Roman Catholic priest, Fr Richertz, was assigned to convert Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Hwata and Zindoga. It is said the woebegone Catholic priest failed to make headway with the defiant and badass Mbuya Nehanda, who was like, Nah bruh! That shit doesn’t work here, take it anywhere else. At this rate, they could have promised her to live in turn for converting, and she could still have to say Nah.

Luckily, Fr Richertz managed to convert Sekuru Gumboreshumba, whom he baptised as Dismas, the ‘‘good’’ thief. Poor chap!

April 27, 1898. Eyewitnesses said that drama unravelled at Nehanda’s hanging, which could have been a display of her spiritual powers. They made two unsuccessful attempts to hang her. An African prisoner present at her hanging then suggested that the hangman should remove from her belt a tobacco pouch. This was done and on the third attempt, she was successfully hanged.

Apparently, her dying words were, “My bones will rise again,” meaning they will rise again to fight the settlers.

Now the story of the badass Mbuya Nehanda cannot be fully told without exploring the joy that gripped the colonialists when news of her demise reached London.

Writing in the Herald of April 10, 2014, the late Alexander Kanengoni had this to say:

“Mbuya Nehanda was not a chief or a military commander; she was a spirit medium. And yet her name overshadows all others when the story of the First Chimurenga is told because she was the driving force behind it. It is documented that the day she surrendered to Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company police, the wires to London were hot with the jubilant messages to relatives in England that the Mashona war had ended.”

While her last words were so few, very few could have guessed the import of those prophetic words and how they carried with them the dream and vision of the country that we now call Zimbabwe. Nehanda was a black womxn who reflected the faces and fierceness of womxn who define themselves.

Sadly, such a rich legacy is being forced on a generation that thinks Ammara Brown, Moana, Kikky Badass, Madame Boss, Pokello, Zuva Habane and Mai Titi made or are making more impact than a nameless, faceless and forgotten womxn who had no IG, Tik Tok and was talking about her bones rising up again. Their knowledge of the past seems somewhat threadbare. I mean we are in 2020 and we are erecting a statue of a 19th-century hero? How retrogressive? Anyone who read NoViolet Bulawayo’s “We Need New Names” will know better.

But don’t get them wrong; their views are shaped by the world they live in and the circumstances they found themselves in, ie this situation called Zimbabwe. Their lives have been marked by some of the fastest-moving shifts in the world’s economy, political landscape and culture.

The push into an all-digital world has been key to how we’ve grown, matured and consumed the world around us. From the early days of blogs and instant messaging through the arrival of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we’ve been sharing our lives. Companies like Napster, iTunes and Spotify, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu have democratized entertainment, giving us more choices than ever before. We’re millions of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, effectively raised on the idea that everything we want can, should and will be available at the click of a button.

Tell you what, as we have been rightly termed the “Me Me” Generation, we have created our own heroes and we somehow disregard the old ones. We have a deep sense of moral and social justice but does not trust ancient spiritual and political institutions to deliver the change we want. That change is specific and, compared with the ambitions of previous generations, surprisingly restrained: most millennials do not dream of vast riches or a utopian new world order but of the chance to hold down a decent job in a world that isn’t on fire.

We want jobs, a foot on the housing ladder, and to protect the planet. We are tolerant, support same-sex civil partnership, and give money to charity. We are rational, and put our trust in science and technology to solve our problems, not ancestors and old heroes, regardless of how badass historians tell us they were. We are replacing the cultural and spiritual orthodoxy of our parents and grandparents with orthodoxies of our own.

Disregardful and with a threadbare sense and respect of history and heroes, our generation is far from degenerate: we are driven by an urgent impulse to stabilise society. Given the opportunity, we may yet save the world – and like the war generation before us(the Nehandas and Mugabes), we are also destined to be the next great generation of squares, the solid, conventional adults who future generations will grow up to rebel against. My generation’s ambitions, like our pop stars, are ambitious, bland and bourgeois.

Now you can’t expect us to seriously think Mbuya Nehanda was a badass. Like with Zimbabwe falling down around our ears and eyes, can anyone blame us?

What a long way we have to go!

Picture Source: Harare Post

ImChris Charamba

Head Storyteller/Critic at Large in Culture at Enthuse Afrika

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