HARARE – Late liberation war fighter and renowned musician Dickson Chingaira, aka Cde Chinx, should be declared a national hero.
While the onus to bestow such an honour lies in the hands of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party, it would be a mockery for them to even declare him a liberation war hero.
Cde Chinx’s war time heroics are unprecedented. He would sing in war zones, deep in dangerous forests.
His unwavering fight for Zanu PF polices post-independence, neatly fits into the ruling party’s template for hero status.
Since independence, the issue of who qualifies for national hero status has been a bone of contention as several deserving personalities were sidelined, mainly because they did not subscribe to the Zanu PF ideology until their deaths.
And superstar Oliver Mtukudzi aptly asks in one of his songs; “What is a hero? What does it take to be a hero? Do you have to die to be a hero? Then what is a hero? To me Safirio Madzikatire is a hero…”
While musicians contributed a lot during the war in terms of boosting the morale of freedom fighters and the masses fighting alongside them, they haven’t received the recognition they deserve from the Zanu PF government.
For years, local artists have been advocating for a standalone Arts ministry with the hope that it would address their plight but that has not been.
As a result, the arts industry, in which music is a component, has been completely ignored by government as it prioritises other sectors at its expense.
With black majority rule in 1980, a number of youngsters took up full time music careers because of the new environment that allowed of artistic freedom and cultural consciousness.
However, their enthusiasm was not accompanied by government and corporate support. The government was reluctant to equip the young musicians so they could compose works reflecting a true liberated Zimbabwe.
Instead, government classified and taxed musical instruments as luxury goods, thereby marginalising young musicians into non-essential and informal workers.
The musicians were expected to develop without government support.
Government failed to look at music education, training institutions, copyright activities, physical infrastructure such as cultural centres and performing halls.
There was need for the music industry at that crucial time to be widened to include human resource development and informal sector activities — broadcasting and advertising.
This week, however, the arts fraternity will be watching very closely how Mugabe and Zanu PF will handle Cde Chinx’s hero status because in according him that honour, they would have done it for the whole industry. And it would be a first for a musician to be interred at the national shrine.
While Cde Chinx could have composed songs drumming up support for the land reform programme, one would forgive him because as a former freedom fighter that is what he had fought for — the land. The manner in which the programme was implemented should not blind us from his artistic contribution towards a better Zimbabwe.
And let us not forget that Cde Chinx was not the only outstanding musician in the fight for freedom through music as some established musicians who lived in urban Rhodesia and had access to recording studios began to rebel against the establishment, singing and releasing militant songs that encouraged masses to fight and pull together.
The likes of Thomas Mapfumo, Mtukudzi, the late Madzikatire and Zexie Manatsa formed part of a group of musicians who stood up and, through prophetic and proverbial songs, fought alongside the freedom fighters.
Their music, mostly with hidden messages, aroused revolutionary sentiment among blacks.
While most of these musicians had all along been singing cover versions of rock ‘n’ roll, soul and pop, new political developments saw changes in their music compositions.
Traditional war and hunting songs assumed new interpretations and so were some popular church hymns. The songs became the new “silent” order for mobilisation in the political struggle for justice as the majority of black people continued to suffer under colonial rule.
These as well deserve the recognition.