Mbuya Nehanda statue ignites debate

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By Vasco Chaya and Anesu Mirisawu

ZIMBABWEANS have reacted with mixed feelings to the Mbuya Nehanda statue, which was recently exhibited for President Emmerson Mnangagwa during a tour of Nyati Gallery near Snake Park, where the sculpture of the icon is being made by sculptor David Mutasa.

Mbuya Nehanda, whose real name is Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, was a powerful spirit medium and heroine of the 1896-87 First Chimurenga war against British settler colonialism. During the exhibit tour Mnangagwa said the government decided to honour Mbuya Nehanda for the heroic rebellion against colonialism in which she paid the ultimate price by being hanged on April 27, 1902.

The statue is set to be placed at the intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julius Nyerere Way in the Central Business District of Harare. After images of the complete statue went viral, debate emerged over the finished product as some people thought Mutasa did not capture the actual features the heroine has been identified with for over the years.

Some feel that the final statue is too bouncy compared to the fairly slim Mbuya Nehanda. Veteran sculptor Tracy Chatsama 51, who is based at Chitungwiza Arts Centre, told the Daily News that indeed sculptors are expected to bring out the true image of the person.

“If sculptors are tasked to carve a statue, their job is to copy the image from the portrait and paste it on stone, steel or wood. People should not be told that this statue is of this person but people should realise on their own.

“However, I am yet to see the Mbuya Nehanda sculpture but all I know is that sculptors should not look different from the original portrait. If it is different, then it ceases to serve the right purpose,” she said. Chatsama told the Daily News that most of Nelson Mandela statues are on point.

“Most of us never got a chance to interact with Mandela but only see his pictures. But, if you come across his statue way after his death, you do not need to be reminded but you just know that it’s Mandela,” she said.

Multi-award winning sculptor Forbes Mushipe agreed with Chatsama in that a commissioned work should come out the way it is. “If we are commissioned to carve out someone, we should try by all means to bring out the correct image unless if it is abstract art.

“In realistic art, we are not allowed to add or subtract physical features but to simple reproduce,” the Gweru based sculptor said.

The statue has had its share of criticism since its initiation as others think such a major project should not have been given priority, especially as we are in the middle of an economic crisis exercabated by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

And during the exhibit tour Mnangagwa responded to some critics who were against the idea of honouring Nehanda considering that the country is now dominated by Christians.

“Those who say that also carry crosses around their necks and pictures symbolising Jesus Christ. Why wear that cross? If they were not part of us, we would have told them to go back to their countries of origin.

“What is wrong with us recognising those who led us during the liberation war? We recognise Jesus Christ because he died for us and we are also recognising Mbuya Nehanda because she led us during the war,” said the president.

He added that if former freedom fighters like him and others don’t document their history and where they came from, “the young generation will not know where we came from. “So, we should depart after making sure that we have recorded our  history.

“Mbuya Nehanda led the war during the First Chimurenga and she led us when we fought during the Second Chimurenga that is why we are recognising her so that the young generation will know who led the war against the colonial regime.”

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