HARARE – A controversial statue of Mbuya Nehanda which became a butt of jokes, literally, has been rejected by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The bronze statue by artist David Mutasa portrayed a youngish-looking Nehanda with a big bottom.
Mnangagwa, who commissioned the statue which will be installed in central Harare, was last month given a first look at the impression of the spirit medium who was hanged by British settlers in 1898 for resisting colonialism.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba told state media on Friday that Mnangagwa had ordered the artist to return to the drawing board after rejecting the Nehanda impression as too youthful.
“When we have that kind of artistic production, there are key features which must ensure that onlookers immediately connect with the production and one key feature has to do with the physical appearance of the real-life figure you are talking about, so the President immediately reacted; he wanted to understand why artistically Mutasa had decided to make Nehanda look a lot more youthful,” Charamba said.
“Then it emerged that the reality is that Mutasa had in fact done something that approximated Nehanda in life but the authorities at the museums and monuments were of a different view, they thought the artistic production must convey and communicate vigour, permanence, youthfulness of the spirit which Nehanda incarnates or personifies so they then suggested that Nehanda be made a lot younger to suggest that buoyancy which they wanted to communicate to the onlooker.
“The President didn’t agree and as it turns out that youthful face of Nehanda will be put away and we’ll have a Nehanda who is closer to how the good lady looked in real life which means a lot more wrinkled and well past middle age but of course showing the strength and stresses of captivity.”
Invoking tradition in the hope that appeals to ancestors would bring about an economic upturn, Mnangagwa’s cabinet earlier this year commissioned the statue of the medium, whose real name was Nehanda Nyakasikana Charwe.
The statue is to be installed in Harare’s CBD, at a spot where, according to the government, the medium liked to drink water – never mind that she had to walk all the way from Mazowe, passing several rivers and streams just to take refreshment at what is now the corner of Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela.
The statue was seen for the first time late last month and immediately went viral after President Mnangagwa visited the workshop where it was cast by Mutasa – and with reason. This was not the thin, dour, elderly-looking Charwe of the history books, who certainly had every reason to look unhappy, given that the only known image of her was captured just before her death by hanging.
Social media was riveted by what they saw as the artist’s bawdy interpretation of the revered spiritual leader. This Charwe had a perky, pointy bosom, and a backside that would be the envy of the best derrière-enhancing plastic surgeon in Brazil. Indeed, while delighting in the “tint” in her short hair, some commented that the only thing missing from the Nehanda “socialite, Slay Queen statue” was a shoulder-length Brazilian weave.
A Nehanda Challenge took off on social media, with women posting side-by-side comparisons of the statue with their own assets.
But it has not been all light-hearted banter. The statue has been condemned as “occultic” by some Christian leaders, including businessman and pastor Shingi Munyeza, who remains presidential advisor despite a now-strained relationship with the Mnangagwa government.-Zimlive