Of late I have been interrogating architecture of the megalithic Stonehenge and associated Durrington Walls and other megalithic structures in Avebury and Salisbury in the United Kingdom. I am doing that after watching a BBC programme about research that has been going on there.
Many of the interpretations that researchers are proffering are very interesting, in the main because they are in line with African Thought. It is clear that the builders of the Stone had a culture more akin to African culture than that of contemporary Britons. Stonehenge is largely rock while the associated Durrington Walls are predominantly wood. Stone and wood have known representations and symbolism in African Thought.
It’s those ideas resident in that megalithic monument which is over 4 500 years old that inspired me to pen this article on the occasion of Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo’s death back in 1999. I decided to pen some article relating to his statue in Bulawayo.
July 1 is the day Dr Nkomo passed and on that day every year we celebrate his life. However, my thrust is on the statue with a view to bringing out how the statue expresses, represents and depicts the political, cultural and economic ideas and values that Dr Nkomo stood for and epitomised. As I reflected on the statue, I did see some links and analogies with ideas resident in the Stonehenge and associated architectural structures in that south western part of England.
Apparently, Dr Nkomo’s statue is the only one in Zimbabwe that has been erected to date in honour of a political icon. Our nation seems not to be inspired by ideas of memorialisation. As I seek an appreciation and meaning behind the statue and what it signifies I shall, in the first instance, focus on materials used in the construction of the statue.
Secondly, I shall focus on the size of the statue and, finally, its location in the context of competing structures that lie close to it. Where applicable we shall relate where the statue compares with the megalithic Stonehenge.
The very first characteristic relates to materials used in the construction and erection of the statue. There are two related and similar materials that have been used. The statue itself, is made from bronze, a derivative of stone.
The starting point, therefore, to realise and appreciate the concept of materiality. In stone and metal, both of which are material or physical items, there is embedded therein, some intangible qualities. Both rock and metal are characterised by solidity which render to them qualities of eternity and permanence. Nkomo’s stature is made of bronze, an alloy. The material used is very hard and not easily weathered. It is like rock in terms of what it expresses, represents and symbolises.
On that basis, Dr Nkomo’s statue symbolises eternity, permanence and continuity. That is the second level of appreciation beyond the physicality of the statue. At a higher level still, the statue and its physical attributes represent lofty ideas, ideals and values associated with the individual, i.e. Dr Nkomo in whose physical image the statue was cast. Beyond metal, we see Dr Nkomo and, beyond him, we see and appreciate the values and ideas, the sacrifices, the commitment and dedication to Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence.
There is a Christian church song which refers to “Rock of Ages”. Whereas materials such as wood and grass are associated with transience and perishability, stone and metal symbolise the opposite, eternity, permanence and continuity. Further, the pedestal on which the statue stands, is made of sandstone rocks of varying hue.
In addition to the red sandstones from Esiphaziphazi there is granite. What matters is that rock, like metal, is associated with eternity and permanence. However, in the case of the statue of Dr Nkomo, eternity and permanence relate to the values, ideals, values and sacrifices the iconic leader espoused in word and deed. It is these that fossilised and immortalised through an eternal medium, stone and metal.
It is important to appreciate that it is not every Tom, Dick and Harry who has a statue erected after them beyond their lives. A statue reflects a vote of confidence in the individual being immortalised. Men and women of worth have their deeds immortalised while their opposites are forgotten soon after death.
Eternal respect is accorded by a community to one who deserves well of their nation or community. One must have won respect and admiration out of their deeds while they lived. Undoubtedly Dr Nkomo did display qualities that endeared him to the nation at large. It was his sacrifices that endure in people’s memories that are linked to eternity resident in bronze or stone. It is a way of rendering permanence to ideas and values that deserve being immortalised and perpetuated.
Characters that are regarded as iconic and socio-political beacons of light and stand out for all time. Their words and deeds are given eternal respect and serve as sources of inspiration to future generations. A statue is forever. Dr Nkomo is forever, his deeds and sacrifices are eternalised.
It is clear that stone or metal is associated with death. A headstone placed on a grave in honour of the dead. Eternity of metal and stone seems to have been used by many societies. Stone, like metal, bears and eternalises messages. It is very important that the language of stone, the language in stone, the language of metal be understood and intelligible at all times.
Those who lived with the iconic figure have a duty to eternalise the messages. That comes in the form of narratives that must accompany the statue. Only when the narrative is rendered effectively, will the message in stone endure just like the values and ideas represented in the statue that symbolises and represents the man after whose image it is fashioned. When those who lived during the times of Dr Nkomo fail to come up with powerful narratives the statueity.
Size is another consideration that is critically important. Some may remember the noises that we made regarding the size of the statue, particularly in terms of its height. A small statue is representative and symbolic of small ideas, small sacrifices and small values. A statue is erected for prominence of expressed ideas and values.
The size of a statue, in the first instance, represents an equally significant, significant and noteworthy ideas and values.
Size, significance and importance are directly proportional. Good and colossal words and deeds have their magnitude and significance expressed in the size of structures in which they are embedded.
The Statue of Liberty in the USA is not small. It stands out from afar. It is the same with Dr Nkomo whose deeds stand out. They deserve a structure, a statue that stands out not just in terms of aesthetic quality but physical proportions. That formed the basis of objections of the statue whose pedestal diminished its status, role and messages embedded therein.
Deeds of mediocrity do not deserve eternal life; they do not deserve statues nor any form of memorialisation. Statues of clay would be most ideal. In fact a look at garden statues and commemorative buildings the world over are colossal. It is what they symbolise and represent that is colossal and immense and deserve eternal representation. Rock, by virtue of its solidity, is able to express that quality and more importantly, transmit it to future generations. The same is expected of Nkomoist ideas. They are a legacy that should benefit contemporary and future generations.
Location brings out relatedness. A statue has a locational context, which may diminish or augment its relative size in a manner described above. For example, Dr Nkomo’s statue is at the intersection of JMN Nkomo Street and 8th Avenue.
Its context includes the Post Office Building, the Barclays Bank Building, the Stanbic Bank Building and Dolores. In addition, there are lamp posts at the centre of the two intersecting roads. The lofty Stanbic Bank structure has a diminishing effect, and to a lesser extent, the Barclays Bank Building and the Post Office structure do the same.
When the pedestal was low, the diminishing effect on the statue was enhanced. What, in the final analysis, was being diminished was not the statue per se, but the representations, symbols and images beyond the physical attributes of the status. Dr Nkomo was being diminished in stature, so were the intangibles such as political social, cultural and economic values that he represents and epitomises.
Characteristics or attributes of the physical and the material are representative, expressive and symbolic of ideas and values embedded in them. It is all about expressions of materiality. Ideas and values that are linked to metal or stone acquire the characteristics of the material in which they are resident.
Life and ideas in stone/metal acquire eternity and permanence. Stone is associated with the dead, while in terms of African Thought, it is associated more with the living dead, the ancestral spirits whose roles are associated with perpetuation and preservation of progeny.
A statue does not sway to the wind. Rather, it is steadfast, an all weather sculptural rendition. Besides, a statue stands erect rather than lying prostate on the ground or on a pedestal even. Something erect stands out for all to see and admire, shining the way for all to see and be guided and follow in the footprints of iconic figures such as Dr Nkomo. Beacons of light shine the way, giving eternal guidance and direction to those who come after iconic figures so that they do not lose direction but keep in the small and straight paths cleared by the likes of Dr Joshua Nkomo.
Next time you walk past Dr Nkomo’s statue, take a pause and interrogate what the metallic and megalithic structure portrays. As you do so, go beyond physicality and aesthetics and fathom the Nkomoist ideas, values and ideals that should light your way and inspire you in your own life’s travels.