Interview: Fungisayi Sasa

No 57 August 2011

Book Review


ALL FOR NOTHING? My life remembered, by C.G. Tracey
Weaver Press, Harare, 2009, 326 pp.

By Oskar Wermter SJ

The late C.G., ‘farmer, entrepreneur, businessman, plant-breeder, racehorse owner and
breeder, sanctions-buster, chairman and director of many companies, husband, father and
gentleman’ finally wrote it all down, relentlessly recording facts and figures. He is not a very
exciting writer. The reader will sometimes nod off, unless he happens to be a passionate
farmer as the author was, interested in cows and crops, in breeding animals and plants,
managing farms and factories.

But this record of what Rhodesian farming was like is valuable. It does show us what a
highly skilled occupation farming was, how much ingenuity, imagination, intelligence, highly
specialized knowledge in many fields, enormous guts and courage as well as sheer hard work
was needed to be a productive farmer and entrepreneur.

It shows very clearly that the post-Independence ‘cell-phone’ farmer is a ludicrous creature
that cannot possibly succeed (nor did his pre-Independence counterpart – not all Rhodesian
farmers were as clever and hard-working as C.G. Tracey – large numbers failed and went

This sober record shows also the blind spots of this remarkably versatile and resourceful man.
We do learn something about the living and working conditions of his farm workers. Like the
better type of Rhodesian farmer he does feel responsible for him, in a traditional, patriarchal
fashion – he defends the old system of giving farm workers ‘rations’ – food rather than cash
wages. Too much money is considered dangerous in the hands of irresponsible natives who
will drink it all away, to the detriment of their families. There may have been some truth in
this. Still, did it never occur to him that an adult worker simply has a right to his wages in
whatever form he wants? That he must be allowed to look after his family in a responsible
fashion. On the long run acquiring this sense of responsibility would have benefited the
family more than control by the employer. I am afraid such thoughts, or any human rights
thinking, would not have been understood by Tracey, though an active member of a Christian

It is also remarkable that this leader of the farming community, so well connected in
Rhodesian society, never met any nationalist leader before Independence. He met Tom
Mboya of Kenya earlier than any Zimbabwean leader. He makes the point that he was not a

racist; he employed graduates of Chibero College as managers on his farm and worked well
with them. But there is no indication that he understood the aspirations of the local majority.

Even though a well-known figure in public life, he followed his father’s advice not to go
into party politics. He distrusted party ideologies. As a very pragmatic person, he believed
in economic success, without getting involved in political power games. He was useful to
politicians because he was remarkably successful as ‘sanctions-buster’, but he had no time for
the political class as such.

Perhaps most surprisingly, there is a chapter on the Unilateral Declaration of Independence
(UDI, 1965), but none on the War of Liberation. He was not involved in the military effort
himself. His contribution to the Rhodesian war was finding loopholes so as to evade trade

What he reports on trade sanctions, by the way, should teach all contemporary Zimbabweans
a lesson who believe that the current restrictions against the ruling class deserve to be
called ‘sanctions’. They don’t. The isolation of Rhodesia in those years, banning all members
of the United Nations from trade with Rhodesia, simply cannot be compared to the little
inconvenience suffered by the ‘elite’ of today.

The last chapters tell the story of the vicious onslaught on farmers, their families and farming
livelihood by war veterans in the years of ‘land redistribution’. Even then the old pragmatist
tried to strike deals. Though on the whole unemotional and sober in his style of recording
events, a certain bitterness and sadness does characterize the last pages.

‘Zimbabwe is in danger of joining the ranks of derelict African countries – its agriculture,
and particularly its tobacco and food sectors, have been mortally wounded. An atmosphere of
mistrust and corruption is widespread’. On a more hopeful note he concludes that those ‘eight
decades cannot be taken away, although the developments of which we were proud have been
so misused’.

The book seems to show that there was much good in Rhodesia, but also much blindness, and
it all ended in tragedy. The question, which the title of C.G. Tracey’s life story poses, remains
unanswered: ‘All for nothing?’

Mukai: the Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe
No 57 August 2011

Book Review


Terence Ranger, Bulawayo Burning, The Social History of a Southern African City,
1893 – 1960.

Weaver Press – James Currey (UK), 2010, 261pp.

Reviewed by Marko Phiri

If anyone is looking for walk-about around Zimbabwe's oldest African ‘township’ Makokoba
from its ‘continuous existence’, between 1894 and 1960, the best place to look could well be
Terence Ranger's 2010 opus – Bulawayo Burning (Weaver Press). The book paints a beautiful
lyrical picture of this place that dwells in the hearts of many Bulawayo natives, be they soccer
players, musicians, businessmen, gangsters or indeed politicians. Ranger begins by telling us
that his effort is a ‘historian's’ response in ‘prose’ to the ‘poetry’ of Yvonne Vera's Butterfly
set in the Bulawayo of the 1940s (p.5), which is why he calls it ‘Bulawayo Burning’.

As he says in an interview elsewhere: ‘Like Yvonne, I wanted to record the joys as well as
the agonies of urban life.’ This work is dedicated to the late award winning Bulawayo author.
And what emerges is an oxymoronic beautiful Bulawayo Burning, a ‘writing of history as
literature.’ He indeed succeeds in his attempts to make the book as readable as possible in
the literary form that he adopts. It moves from the typical historical texts that are usually
heavy reads used mainly as reference fodder for researchers and dwell on dates that lack
action packed pace of the genre of historical novels. Ranger's book is rather page-turning as
Bulawayo Burning is arranged and reads like a series of chapters of a novel, making it an
easy, at the same time compelling read.

No doubt a lot has been written about Makokoba, but Ranger attempts – with superb success I
think – to move his research to areas and crevices of this great historic place where not many
historians have looked and the result is no doubt an invaluable addition to the knowledge
about a place many have come to know merely as a dirty old place – and this is a place
which others have over the years actually suggested must be demolished to make way for
new urban housing. Ranger relies on diverse and very rich sources and juxtaposes Vera's
fictional characters with actual people who lived in Makokoba between 1929-1960. The oral
interviews with old Makokoba residents make this a unique contribution as the narrations give
us first hand insights from people who were part of that history when it was being made.

Ranger adopts a tone and style he says, resonates with South African author Jacob Dlamini's
Native Nostalgia (p.12), which is a historical narrative about South African townships
during apartheid. His then is a social history narrative about a Southern African township
(Makokoba) during the birth of nationalism. Ranger writes, ‘Sentence after sentence, in his

(Dlamini) book resonated with me: Nostalgia does not have to be a reactionary sentiment.
There is a way to be nostalgic about the past without forgetting that the struggle (about
apartheid) was just...’ (p.13).

This is a poignant reminder of approaches to the new world political order by contemporary
politicians whose nostalgia about the struggle sets them against the people as they – the
political elites – lose focus that ‘nostalgia does not have to be reactionary.’ Deriving from
its title, Ranger divides the book into different epochs of ‘Bulawayo’s burning,’ from the
Matebele King's capital (Old Bulawayo ironically was to again burn down in 2010), to the
1929 black-on-black violence to the 1960 Zhii Makokoba burnings which many historians
like to parade as the beginning of nationalist agitations but which Ranger obviously sees

This is a book that Education Minister David Coltart would do well and introduce into the
secondary school curriculum rather than have students waiting until they go to university to
study this piece of history before they pore with their young minds over this important work.
And this at a time when there is resurgence in the demand by the yesteryear nationalists for
a rewriting of the nation’s history, this time seen through pan-Africanist black lenses. It is
precisely Bulawayo Burning’s literary approach that would make it extremely readable for
young minds. But then because it is written by a white historian, so we are not likely to see
this in government schools for obvious reasons as Coltart has already been accused of doing
away with some texts favored by the nationalists from the school curricula!

From the narrative tour of the Landscapes of Bulawayo (p.56,57) on how this great city was
built, to the railways, (p.59), erection of abattoirs, you obviously question how the city has
been run down in the past few decades with the national railways now virtually dead, the Cold
Storage Commission dead, sewers dead.

The country obviously needs a book like this if we are to take a look at history through
lenses untainted by political correctness. For example, while a lot has been written about this
old township being a hotbed for political upheaval and nationalism, trade unionism, tribal
tensions etc, Ranger gives a human face to these events and makes it compelling to read about
such characters as Jerry Vera, Sipambaniso Khumalo, Jasper Savanhu, Charlton Ngcebetsha,
and many others who other historians have not given prominence in the labour activism,
political organisation, journalism of the time when in fact in this work they have starring roles
as central players in the bigger picture that was Makokoba of the 30s, 40s and late 50s.

But perhaps it is the intensive research that went into this work that utilised official council
records, archives and first person narratives that gives it its depth. It is here where we meet
the ‘Ndebele royals’ being forced to move in with common people, princesses and princes
arriving in Makokoba in the 1930s where they set up their new ‘homes’ with the white
governments and local administrators failing to understand that this was the bastardisation
of timeless cultures. It is here where we meet the 1929 Shona-Ndebele tribal clashes
(animosities that remain today), which Ranger says were ‘(a) clash between elements of
society in black Bulawayo and it rose out of the question of who was to determine its culture
and character.’ (p.84) ‘The Mashonas said that the Matebele have killed their people years

ago and that now they intend to kill the Matebele.’ (p.96) Ranger says the fights were
powered by mythic history. ‘But much more important than myth in defining “ethnicity” in
Bulawayo in December 1929 were job differentiation and ethnic hierarchies of prestige.’

We still get such sentiments in 2011, which have landed some Bulawayo activists in jail for
championing the cause of radical federalism. Ranger even quotes Charles van Onselom and
Ian Phimister’s The Political Economy of Tribal Animosity (Journal of South African Studies
6, 1 October 1979) who noted about the 1929 clashes: ‘Men did not fight each other because
they belonged to different ethnic groups. They fought each other because they had different
and competitive economic interests.’ This book locates these and other developments in a
black colonial township and offers glimpses for the present mapping of the nation-state. It
is here where we meet the birth of Highlanders, the city’s football giants and their ties to
the Ndebele royals (p.196), tensions between the Bulawayo municipality and the Rhodesian
government (p.210), (are we not seeing the same toady?), prostitution, illegal gambling,
gangsterism which ‘grew beyond the power of any policeman or social worker to restrain’
(p.150) and a lot more. Of course we meet Joshua Nkomo as a popular young politician, the
daring Masotsha Ndlovu’s defiance of the pavement laws. These were the racist laws which
prohibited blacks from using city sidewalks, the kind of laws we continue hearing about even
now by the nationalists who insist we must all be grateful to them for bringing black majority
rule now we can walk freely in the city centre! And oh yes, the cover says it all. It just blows
you away, everyone I know who saw the book quickly identified the picture on the cover as
Makokoba, and this picture having been taken more than fives decades ago! It shows just
how little the township has changed over these decades. With the ‘pacy’ Bulawayo Burning, a
picture indeed worth a thousand words.

Marko Phiri is a Bulawayo journalist and writer.

Q&A with Fungisayi Sasa
By Ambrose Musiyiwa, The Zimbabwean, October 6, 2011

Zimbabwean poet and author Fungisayi Sasa lives in Milton Keynes.

She is the author of the children's book, The Search for the Perfect Head (Eloquent Books, 2008).

One of her short stories was published in the anthology, Writing Free (Weaver Press, 2011) while her poems have appeared in places that include the Poetry International Web and Spilt Milk Magazine.

In this interview, Fungisayi Sasa talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

My dad unwittingly led me to writing during my early childhood years. He was very firm about studying and, as children, we weren't allowed to watch television during the week. And he would often take us to the local library.

At first, I didn't like these visits to the library because reading felt like work to me. But eventually I started enjoying it and through reading, my passion for writing grew and I started writing poems and short stories about my family and the annoying things they would have done to me. Instead of ranting and raving at them when they made me angry, I would write a story about them or write an angry poem. Writing was therapeutic.

When I was in Zimbabwe, writing was simply a hobby, I didn't think I could go anywhere with it. Even though I read many books, my mind didn't grasp the concept that I could be a writer.

When the political situation in Zimbabwe forced my family to flee to the United Kingdom, I found loads of career opportunities that included writing. I studied creative writing at the University of Bedfordshire and with guidance and support from my lecturers, I sharpened my skills. I gained the confidence to send my work out and I found that the thing with writing and becoming published is that you have to push and persevere.

I used to spend hours trawling websites and writing down their details, sending work by post or e-mail - hoping that somebody would be interested. I even used to write work specifically tailored for particular magazines and websites. I sent my work out to so many places and received so many rejections but I didn't let this deter me. I was motivated because I knew that my work was of a suitable standard. If I was asked to make changes, I would.

Have your experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My personal experiences are everything when it comes to my writing.

Some of my characters have my personal traits. They talk the way I do.

My writing flows more easily if it comes from my own personal perspective. For example, in the short story, "Eyes On", which was published in Writing Free, the idea of stalking came from the fact that when I am on Facebook, I cannot randomly go on a person's profile and check out what they are doing because, to me, it feels like I am stalking them.

However, it would also appear that one of the wonders of modern technology and social networking sites is they appear to have normalised stalking to such an extent that we are not disturbed when we are followed around. It is probably because of this 'miracle' that the main character in "Eyes On", isn't alarmed when he realises that he is being followed.

What are the most difficult aspects?

Starting writing anything is always difficult. The first sentence is always important to me. It has to make the right impact. If it doesn't, I can't continue.

I can write three pages but if the first sentence of the story or book isn't quite right, I will delete it all.

I don't start writing until the sentence sounds right in my mind. And while I wait for that, I plot the story in my mind and concentrate on characterization.

The moments I enjoy most come after I have finished the work because while I am writing, I can't quite see the piece as a whole. The great thing about finishing a piece is that I can dive back into it and start editing and tweaking it.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Is every word relevant and important? This is what I keep asking myself. This is because as I write I can see a word repeated over and over again. When I see this happening, I remember the time, in my primary school, when my Grade 4 teacher said, "So, then and got are barred from society." And there was this picture of a man behind bars and that phrase was written underneath.

I usually overcome repetitions like these by reading my work out aloud. If the writing flows well and each word sounds right, I am happy. If not, I tweak it a little bit.

Also, sometimes, motivating myself to write is really difficult. Some days I look at the computer and I think, "No, not yet.." It's not writer's block because the ideas are there, always buzzing in my mind.

What will you write about next?

Baboons Š I am working on a re-write of a children's book that I completed sometime ago. I am doing this because I realised the story would work better if it was about humans. I am not saying the baboons evolve into humans, but that when I first wrote the story, I could see humans in my mind but I forced the story into being one about animals.