The list is dwindling – refreshing the heroes portfolio

As I was writing this Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela was lying in a hospital bed, the life force fighting not to ebb away completely from his body. The world is waiting, terrified of witnessing the transition of a larger than life icon whose concluding days of winter are preparing him to enter a new spring.



Many have been anxious, understandably so. It is not an easy thing to face, having to let go of such a gargantuan symbol of humanity. He has been a representation of resilience, strength, compassion and love for the world, and more importantly for the people of his beloved homeland. A genuine hero, one of the few who actually breathed, talked and walked this earth. There are not that many out there. Most of us have to resort to getting our dose of hope from made-up characters like Superman, or through a constructed reality that only really exists in celluloid, so it makes sense that people still want to hold on, though it seems like he may want to go. Or maybe he is teasing us in that mild humorous manner that we have come to know over the years and he will spring back and live another ten years. Whatever the case it can’t be denied, he will go and we will have to let him go.

We fear the void. The lack of a motivating reference point; the absence of a reminder of the stability that he provides when old insecurities surface. Instead of dwelling on the fear, why not contemplate what he has already given? The possibility of the future, the example of leadership, the road-map to creating new heroes or becoming heroes ourselves. For a while we have needed others to scoop us out of the depths of the deep abyss we call ‘life’ and for a while now we have not realised that we have been rescued and we are standing on firm ground. The darkness has gone and we need to literally open our eyes. This is the 21st century, we live in a transitional, limitless supra-territory, there is no need for us to be afraid, in fact, we have been armed with more ammunition than the Mandela’s, Nkrumah’s or Tutu’s could ever dream of in their day. They have been at it for the better part of the last half century, they have done enough, and by now, we should have done enough studying. We need to take out our pacifiers and stand at the frontline as they have shown us.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Present in this life or not, we need to let our heroes go. They have done their life’s work, with dignity, great sacrifice and enduring humility. Let them rest and let us show them the harvest of what they have laboured so hard to achieve. I attended a recent function where Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another one of our great heroes, was being honoured with a Templeton Prize. It was a grand event, his daughter Reverend Mpho Tutu spoke about the legacy her father has left her, about how sometimes the path was treacherous but how it had made her who she was, strong and grounded. That is what these heroes have given to us, GROUNDING. The Archbishop himself didn’t speak that much, he danced and joked a lot though. He did say something that stayed with me – “A person can be a person only because of another person. A person can be generous only because of the generosity of another person” We need to remember that.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

At another event AU chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gave a lecture on ‘The Next Fifty Years for Africa’ and even she recognised the importance of  learning from our elders. She quoted another hero Kwame Nkrumah, “It is our task to build, to unite and develop”. She was referring to the AU #NextFiftyYears plan for Africa. She emphasised that those that went before had laid the foundation and it was time that we work to complete the task. At the event she was referred to as being part of the ‘formidable generation of African women leaders’. I agree.

The Tongue of the Dumb The Smoke that Thunders

In the last couple of years we have lost many of our own Zambian heroes. Many of them died unknown or forgotten, the gems of wisdom gone forever with them to the graves. Lessons to learn? The need to remember, the need to learn, the need to act so that when it is time for our heroes to go, we are fully equipped to take over.

In the last couple of days another son of the soil has passed on. Dominic Mulaisho, many may not know him but may remember his literary contributions – ‘The Tongue of the Dumb’ and ‘The Smoke that Thunders’. His work gave an interesting insight into transitional Zambia pre and post independence. We continue to learn from him, hopefully, through his books. He also served as Bank of Zambia governor in the 90s.

Tumultuous or not our heroes have left us something to build on and maybe we should start concentrating on adding blocks, rather than willing them to stay on and continue to carry the torch for us. We can carry it ourselves now. Ready or not, the torch is in our hands. Time to add to the list.

Pictures from:,,,


~ by Samba Yonga Writes on July 3, 2013.

11 Responses to “The list is dwindling – refreshing the heroes portfolio”

  1. Samba, that had some deep resonance. The Icons have done their part. Its not fair for us to ask more of them. Time for the next generation to step up!

    • Big shoes to fill Nel but I think we possess the ability to do it. We just need to trust ourselves more

  2. This is such a great post!Speaks volumes of truth,makes me a little sad.How do we create celebrate and nurture future heroes 😦

    • Just by taking the plunge, that’s how they did it. Thank you for reading…

  3. Wow! So true, its our turn to show what we have learned

  4. Wow! That’s so true, we need to take up the flame they carried and run with it. Was thinking about this today also and I posted this on fb:
    In #Zambian politics the strong take advantage of and abuse the weak, using the for their own personal pleasure or advantage at th other’s expense. They forget that in leadership, the strong die for th weak. Those in charge lay down their lives for the ones under their care. Leaders serve and protect. The more powerful or influential you are, the more humble, servant-hearted, and sacrificial you are to become. That should be the Zambian way. That’s respect.

    • Well, time to turn the tables. Unfortunately not all African considered the Madiba philosophy. Hope you are well. 🙂

  5. Great post! Big stride to take for Africans, considering how we are letting the West maufacture and define African heroes on our behalf (á la Morgan Tsvangirai. Our elders are/were selfless and had a different motivation- independence- whereas our generation lacks such characters and often is motivated by own financial gain than the betterment of Africans as a people.

    • Agreed. We seem to have been stuck on independence with no idea where to go next. Time to up the ante and I say only we can switch things up. Time to throw away the mental crutches.

  6. Very interesting and important article. I am just developing a concept of how best we can ensure that the names of our true past and current heroes live on but am appalled to find the gravity of how much careless or irresponsible we have been in record keeping. I CANT FIND ANYOTHER NAMES EXCEPT DR KAUNDA’s on the internet! HOW? please can a Samaritan point me in the right direction.

    • You are right, there is no concrete documented information about Zambian social and political events the truth is we have to just collect the info and start compiling from scratch… that’s the task at hand. Are you based in Zambia?

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