Brian Moyo examines the significance of commemorating the iconic day by remembering one of Zimbabwe’s gallant fighters, Steven Mkhize

FIFTY three African countries are today celebrating Africa Day. Traditional dance, food and other fanfare will be the order of the day in football stadiums across the continent as each country observes a pan-African holiday to mark the 54th year of self determination declared by the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) in 1963.

That year, 32 countries formed the OAU in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Subsequently, 21 more countries joined the OAU, with South Africa being the last to do so in 1994 after apartheid ended.

The OAU’s original mission was to bring freedom to African countries that were still under colonial rule in the 60s, defend their sovereignty, uphold human rights and restore the dignity of the African people.

Many will have cause to bemoan the direction taken by some African countries and their dismal failure to live up to the aspirations of the Founding Fathers of Africa Day, such as Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.

Those luminaries had a vision for a continent geared towards anti corruption practices, socio-economic development, respect for human rights and the shunning of tribalism and all the other isms which thwart development.

Team Buntu Africa wishes to mark Africa Day by commemorating Steven Mkhize, a Zimbabwean freedom fighter who was buried in London yesterday (24th May 2017). Mkhize left Rhodesia as a young man to join the ZIPRA liberation movement which was operating from bases in Zambia and Tanzania in the 1970’s.

Steven Mkhize...dedicated his life to liberating Zimbabwe
Steven Mkhize…dedicated his life to liberating Zimbabwe

When I first met Mkhize, years back in London, I couldn’t get enough of his reminisces about battles his unit had fought against Rhodesian forces, nor of his remarkable insight into the psyche of liberation movements.

His amiable personality was all the more engaging when he was recounting personal anecdotes and the frequent encounters he had with commanders of Zimbabwe’s liberation movements, such as ZIPRA, ZANLA, SWAPO of Namibia and South Africa’s  Umkhonto Wesizwe, the armed wing of the ANC.

I was a young and impressionable journalist when I first tackled Mkhize about his time as a freedom fighter. It soon became apparent that I was dealing with a man with an encyclopidic mind. He could name the exact dates of certain milestone events connected with the struggle, name men and women who were key players and analyse with the precision of a scientist, why certain political events had panned out the way they had.

Many times I teased Mkhize about when he would write a book about his life in the struggle. But he would answer that with a bountiful chuckle, a shake of his head, a raucous infectious laughter; and that would be that.

Even after Mkhize fell ill 10 years ago and became bed ridden, he never lost his vivacity for a spirited conversation. His critique of African leaders and their penchant for making exaggerated promises to the electorate, was laced with humour and insightful knowledge gained from fraternising with a core of southern African leaders when they were still hot headed young men, long before they emerged as Prime Ministers, Presidents or Ministers of their respective countries.

As Mkhize grew older and it became apparent that he would live the rest of his life in the UK, his one regret was that the cherished dream of returning home, to live in a country he had helped to liberate, had not been realised; thwarted as it were by circumstances beyond his control.

Today as the continent celebrates Africa Today, I can’t help reflecting on how many unsung heroes like Mkhize have been consigned to perpetual exile in Europe and elsewhere, after dedicating a significant chunk of their lives to liberating Africa.

Sadly, for such men and women, discovering that the grand liberation theories which had filled them with a passion to free Africa from colonial rule, had been nothing but a smokescreen of great proportion.

Once, during one of my frequent conversations with Mkhize, about the shortcomings of Africa, he had said: “Don’t you find it strange that when African people are persecuted by their governments for political or religious reasons they prefer to seek asylum in Europe, America or Canada, rather than from another African country? That should tell you a lot about what is wrong with the Africa we forged after the end of colonial rule.”