ZIMBABWE – Geoffrey Nyarota Correspondent
AFTER months of uneasy deferment, punctuated by resolute instigation and constant coaxing by sections of Zimbabwe’s vibrant press, former Vice President Dr Joice Mujuru, who was jettisoned from the ruling Zanu-PF party at its December 2014 Congress, finally emerged from the woods to launch.
the manifesto of her long awaited and much anticipated People First opposition political outfit.
What struck me – and I am certain I am not the only one – as a rather bizarre feature of the manifesto published on Tuesday, September 8, 2015, by the now clearly aspiring presidential candidate was the signature appended at the end of the document, which has stimulated much debate and analytical dialogue in the press and on the Internet.
After she made various enterprising pronouncements on People First’s BUILD (Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development), RAMP (Remove All Measurable Pitfalls) and PEACE (Presidential Economic and Advisory Centre for Excellence) facets, the organisation’s interim leader duly signed herself off as Dr Joice Teurai Ropa Mujuru, for the People of Zimbabwe.
The weird nom de guerre, Teurai Ropa, as assumed during the war of Zimbabwe’s liberation by former Vice President Joice Mujuru, is a name that many of her compatriots genuinely experienced difficulty reconciling with when one of Zanla’s most celebrated female fighters returned home from the war in January 1980 while labouring under its weight.
Literally translated her adopted name means “Spill the blood”. In the circumstances then prevailing, this was an exhortation to fellow Zanla guerrillas to ruthlessly dispatch their enemy, the Rhodesian security forces, wherever they engaged them in the bush war.
The objective of military engagement since time immemorial has always been to kill as many of the enemy as possible. So it was with our own protracted war of independence which pitted soldiers of the rebel Rhodesian army against the Zanla and Zipra guerilla armies of the Zanu and Zapu political parties of nationalist leaders, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, respectively.
The adoption of a nom de guerre by freedom fighters, some of the names being quite fearsome, was part of guerilla soldierly strategy. Zanla called them Chimurenga names.
Some of the names, such as former Information Minister Webster Shamu’s Charles Ndlovu, were quite innocuous, being intended merely to camouflage the identity of the bearer. Other names, by far the majority, were, however, calculated to strike terror in the hearts of enemy combatants, whether Selous Scouts or the much detested Pfumo Revanhu (Spear of the Nation).
A few members of the latter category of fighters on the government’s side were surrendered guerillas who became loyal to Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC), an internally-based nationalist party, which struck a premature and ill-fated settlement with rebel leader Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front.
Such names as Comrade Mabhunu Muchapera for “Boers, your days are numbered”, or Comrade Pasi Nevatengesi (Down with sellouts) were also designed to instil fear among villagers in order to deter them from becoming wilful suppliers of information to the security forces about the movements of guerillas operating in their area.
A popular name, Cde Tichatonga (Eventually we will rule the country), inspired hope among otherwise war-weary rural supporters that victory was certain and their indispensable collaboration was, therefore, not in vain.
The name “Teurai Ropa”, unlike a host of other daring Chimurenga names, however, struck a somewhat discordant note, even among battle-hardened veterans. Literally meaning “Spill the blood” this particular nom de guerre far exceeded the required capacity to petrify villagers and Pfumo Revanhu alike.
This name was, to say the least, quite gruesome, especially being the name of a female fighter; not that there was any perception that female freedom fighters were less menacing.
Teurai Ropa Nhongo, as she was then called, acquitted herself commendably in battle by all accounts, having allegedly single-handedly shot down a Rhodesian Airforce helicopter.
Three decades later, during Dr Mujuru’s fall-out with Zanu-PF towards the end of 2014, Ambassador Christopher Mutsvangwa, the voluble chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and, since then, Minister of Welfare for War Veterans, War Collaborators, Former Political Detainees and Restrictees, sought with dogged determination to cast serious aspersions on this remarkable feat on the part of the young female guerilla.
Mutsvangwa confounded fellow Zimbabweans when he candidly disclosed in September 2014 that, contrary to popular perception, Cde Teurai Ropa Mujuru had never shot down any helicopter, after all.
Notwithstanding all this, the average Zimbabwean trembles at the casual exhortation to the wholesale slaughter of fellow human beings that is implicit in the name Teurai Ropa.
The former VP’s Chimurenga name has been the subject of animated debate among her compatriots since her appointment as the youngest cabinet minister in the new government of Zimbabwe back in 1980.
In any case, at independence the majority of returning guerillas hastily and effectively abandoned their Chimurenga names in favour of their original names. They included her own late husband, the late General Solomon Tapfumaneyi Mujuru, whose Zanla name was Cde Rex Nhongo the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe (Sheba Gava) and General Constantine Chiwenga (Dominic Chinenge), all of them successive commanders of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Those who witnessed firsthand precious and mostly innocent blood being mercilessly spilled during Zimbabwe’s war of liberation certainly don’t take kindly to constant reminders of or threats of blood-letting.
It is typically insensitive for an aspiring President to retain such a name as “Spill the blood” in the peaceful environment that envelopes Zimbabwe today, as a prelude to launching a campaign to occupy the highest office in the land.
“Spill the blood” may have been an appropriate or fitting exhortation during a bloody war in the 1970s, it became cold-hearted for anyone to call for the spilling of any blood. Zimbabweans who witnessed these horrific scenes of bloodshed are certainly not keen on constant reminders. For a woman aspiring to be our President, the name Teurai Ropa has simply become particularly inappropriate and a highly insensitive tag.
What is the reason for Dr Mujuru’s continued fascination with such a hideous handle, anyway? If, for some obscure reason, she officially registered Teurai Ropa as her given name at some point after 1980 then in the new circumstances in which she now aspires to be President of Zimbabwe, she must seriously consider rebranding herself in deference to the sensitivities of the peace-loving people of her country and in the template of her new political ambition.
Which people’s blood does the leader of People First want to continue to be spilled, anyway?