Review of Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future - Blair Rutherford

Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future
edited by David Harold Barry

2004: (pp: 274) 215 x 134 mm
ISBN: 1779220ZX251

Journal of Modern African Studies

Vol. 44/1 2006

Reviewer: Blair Rutherford


This edited volume provides an insight into the analytical frameworks, pilule moral categories, approved and historical narratives informing the ongoing debates, unhealthy descriptions, and emotions articulated by Zimbabweans since the controversial elections, land seizures and redistribution, and rapid economic decline since 2000. The insight comes from both explicit attention and the particular terms used in the fifteen chapters written by variously situated Zimbabweans: some with well known profiles in various national, if not, international academic, literacy, religious, and political public spheres, and others who would be less familiar in these arenas. Although the intended audience of many of these chapters are other Zimbabweans, as the use of plural first-person pronoun is common, the book is useful both to those wanting relatively easy-to-read insights into the political, economic, and moral analyses and debates in Zimbabwe, and to those familiar with the social science literature and media representations who are looking for some examples of thoughtful and, at times, new perspectives.

Brian Raftopoulos provides an insightful sketch of the key moments that have lead to the current political crisis, situating it within historical changes and trends of state formation, including the role of political violence. Eldred Masunungure complements Raftopoulos’s chapter, as he details the emergence and activities of opposition political parties since independence in 1980, and the often brutal responses from the ZANU(PF) government to them. The chapters by David Kaulemu and Fay Chung intersect with these, by also making observations on the political culture of Zimbabwe, but more explicitly drawing on moral frameworks. Kaulemu examines the narrow, zero-sum game of politics in Zimbabwe and it’s extension through many spheres of life and livelihood, while Chung, a former ZANU(PF) cabinet minister, argues that personal greed has undermined the previous legitimacy of the ruling party, and demands that the old guard step aside to let the younger generation within ZANU(PF) try to lead the nation. Geoffrey Feltoe and Anthony Reeler offer thorough analyses of, respectively, the subversion of the ‘rule of law’ since 2000, and how the culture of impunity for political violence since the guerrilla war of the 1970s continues to haunt the political culture of Zimbabwe. Godfrey Kanyeze lays out an excellent analysis of the overall decline of the Zimbabwean economy, particularly from a trade union perspective, situating it within its colonial heritage and regional and international dynamics. Lloyd Sachikonye and Emmanuel Manzungu examine some of the negative implications of the land occupation and redistribution activities since 2000, analysing the active discrimination and further impoverishment of the majority of farm workers who have been working and living on the redistributed commercial farms (Sachikonye), and extensive environmental impacts of the ongoing land-use changes (Manzungu). In contrast, the Zimbabwean novelist Alexander Kanengoni views his receipt of a farm as a veteran of the guerrilla forces as the positive culmination of his personal journey of struggle and sacrifice during the 1970s war and, allegorically, as the liberation of the nation at large. This heroic, nationalist narrative is challenged by the chapters by Duduzile Tafara and by the Zimbabwean Liberator’s Platform, both drawing on different experiences as veterans of the guerrilla forces, emphasising power dynamics and inequalities between leaders and different guerrillas during the 1970s war and since 1980. Finally, Dieter Scholz, Paul Gundani and David Harold-Barry himself each provide different moral analyses of the crisis in Zimbabwe, giving thoughtful examples to bolster their larger points.

While at times I was concerned that some of the contributions rely on reified racial, ethnic and national terms rather than, say, viewing how these terms are themselves contested and deployed in different political and moral projects, I recognise that many of these contributions are engaged in such projects and not simply academic analyses. In short, this book is rich in insightful empirical examples, historical facts, and the very divisive moral terrain that Zimbabweans are marking out, as they examine the struggle through varied understandings of the past and the present to try and achieve a better future.

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Review of Zimbabwe - The Past is the Future - Timothy Scarnecci

Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future
edited by David Harold Barry


2004: (pp: 274) 215 x 134 mm
ISBN: 1779220ZX251

African Studies Review

Vol. 48, price No. 3, mind Dec. 2005

Reviewer: Timothy Scarnecci


This impressive volume brings together the views of influential Zimbabwean intellectuals as well as less well-known Zimbabwean voices to offer an important and much needed insiders’ assessment of the current crisis. Moving beyond the single causation of President Robert Mugabe, health the chapters all written by different authors, offer reflective and scholarly interpretations of the recent events through the lens of the post-Independence period. A common aim is to clarify how the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Font (ZANU(PF)), co-opted some elements and violently repressed others of the popular coalition that had been forged against it from the late 1980s. Six chapters are concerned with locating the historical roots of this conflict in the following areas: trade unions and labour (Brian Raftopoulos and Godfrey Kanyenze); liberation war veterans’ opposition (The Zimbabwe Liberator’s Platform, Duduzile Tafara); and oppositional politics (David Kaulemu, Eldred Masunungure). Eight chapters document and analyse the tragic results of the current crisis in the following areas: the environment and rural livelihoods(Emmanuel Manzungu); land reform and farm workers (Lloyd M. Sachikonye); the courts democracy, and the rule of law (Geoffrey Feltoe, Dieter Sholz); human rights (A.P. Reeler), and within the 'religio-cultural landscape' (Paul Gundani).

The editor, David Harold-Barry, a Jesuit with many years experience in Zimbabwe, expresses the frustrations shared by many of the contributors over the return to a closed political debate. The authors here have not given up on the dream of a more inclusive political climate; they are, however, hard-pressed to see a way forward in order to revive democratic potentials. As Raftopoulos and Kaulemu point out, the nation has lost its ability to imagine an alternative. Kaulemu, for example, criticises the ruling party’s myopic view of 'the ‘inner core’ of Zimbabwean nationalism as Shona historical experience,' but he also notes critically that this is a view that the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), 'appears to share' as well (83).

The land and labour questions are perhaps the most important issues left unresolved by the ruling party in the first twenty years of rule since independence in 1980, and they therefore receive careful attention in this volume. Kanyenze provide a very detailed narrative of how the labour movement became the backbone of opposition politics by the late 1990s. He shows quite effectively the growing confrontation between the ruling party and labour, and the resulting absence of a political middle ground to help restructure the economy. Two groups who have been marginalized by the crisis have been farm workers, whose predicament Lloyd Sachikonye describes, and those war veterans who refused to go along with the ruling party’s tactics in the farm invasions, represented in this collection by the Zimbabwe Liberator’s Platform. An interesting short chapter by Alexander Kanengoni, a veteran, gives his personal account of the emotional release and closure he experienced after receiving land through the Fast Track Land Reform program (FTLRP). The other chapters on the land issue, however, show that although the authors are not opposed to land redistribution, they do object to the hypocritical way the FTLRP has been carried out to serve the ruling party’s interests. Emmanuel Manzungu’s chapter on the environmental impact of the FTLRP reveal the frustration among Zimbabwean experts over how quickly the FTLRP and economic and political failures have destroyed years of progress in areas of water and resource management. He relates how the crisis is creating major health and environmental catastrophes as rural and urban water systems, animal management projects, and the country’s biodiversity are all at risk.

Generation is a central theme running through the chapters. Kaulemu claims that the current national politics have failed both the old and the young. This observation is confirmed quite tellingly in Paul Gundani’s chapter, 'The Zimbabwean Religio-cultural Landscape in the Era of HIV/AIDS'. Gundani shows how the employment of tsikamutanda (witch hunters) has increased with the AIDS epidemic and how the victims of these community witch–hunts tend to be elderly women, often widows whose husbands and/ children have died of AIDS. In addition, recent moves by prominent chiefs to reintroduce the 'traditional practice' of public virginity test of young women has been a direct result of the AIDS epidemic, and as Gundani suggests, the deterioration of health services in the rural areas (101). Generation and gender are important, then, in explaining how both young and old women have become scapegoats in the popular responses to the AIDS epidemic.

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Review of Zimbabwe - The Past is the Future - Brian MacGarry

Zimbabwe: The Past is the Future
edited by David Harold Barry


2004: (pp: 274) 215 x 134 mm
ISBN: 1779220ZX251



Zimbabwe Independent (17 September 2004)

Mukai – the Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe (September 2004)


Reviewer: Brian MacGarry


This book is an invaluable collection of documents on our present situation in Zimbabwe, ambulance under a wide range of aspects, from people of widely different backgrounds and even a range of opinions that we see too rarely within one cover these days. From the opening analytic overview by Brian Raftopoulos to the editor's concluding appeal for dialogue on our future as a nation, it is packed with facts and expresses their significance in people's lives. There are contributions on the political situation from (in order of appearance) Dieter Scholz, the Zimbabwe Liberators' Platform, two very different war veterans, David Kaulemu, Eldred Masunungure and Fay Chung. Geoff Feltoe and Tony Reeler give accounts of violence and human rights abuses, Godfrey Kanyenze analyses the economy – but one can't categorise too neatly; one can't talk about land without politics and economics. It is enough to say that there are thoughtful articles on the fast track land reform and the impact of recent events, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic, on the religio-cultural foundations of our social life. We can only hope that the editor's appeal for dialogue will be heard.

Reviewing the book, I was forced to recognise how difficult that will be. I felt it incongruous that space should be given to Alexander Kanengoni to announce he has found his personal liberation through the fast-track land reform, and to Fay Chung, who has not yet fallen out of love with ZANU(PF), despite hard experience. Surely, I felt, they could get a hearing on platforms that are closed to most of the other contributors to this book? But Fay Chung still has a vision of ZANU(PF) that would never be expressed through that party's publicity organs. She answers her own question: 'Is there an alternative?' by saying: 'Yes, there is. This lies not in the MDC, but within ZANU(PF) itself', but goes on to propose that this will only be possible when ZANU(PF) splits, as it should have done long ago, into its separate ideological component parts. The idea is worth floating, even though now, some time after it was written, I would apply it differently. We see daily evidence that ZANU(PF) is splitting up, but into rival fiefdoms defined by tribal or regional origin or by allegiance to a 'strong man'. It is also clear that ZANU(PF) is a small minority party, although it can get its way by force. We cannot discount the MDC as she does, but we could turn her suggestion round. A free election in the near future would most likely give MDC at least 80% of the seats in parliament, and that would be bad for democracy. Giving any party that much power is bad for democracy and bad for people. Giving the Archangel Michael that much power would be bad for democracy and bad for people. Should we not be hoping that when we have a free election, both the victorious MDC and ZANU(PF) would split along ideological lines and regroup? That sounds an unlikely prospect, but we need to change from a politics based on 'who you know' to one based on policies, and we need to exercise our ability to hope. The editor and contributors to this volume show that someone still has hope, even in our bleak political and economic landscape. For that alone it is worth reading.

The editor has deliberately allowed each contributor's own style to come through. The variety of styles is shown by quoting a few chapter titles, from the academic 'Environmental impacts of the fast-track land reform: a livelihoods perspective', through the plain factual 'Land reform and farm workers' to the evocative 'What happened to our dream?' As a result, this is not an academic work, although it contains academic chapters and all its content is solidly documented, nor is it a campaign tract, though some contributors argue their case passionately on the basis of hard experience. The book is a more effective immersion in Zimbabwe's reality because of this mixture. Everyone should read it, but it will be most use to animators, who can translate the heavier chapters into more popular form. Could Silveira House publish the data in more readable booklets?

If the book is reprinted, I would query one or two minor facts; e.g., the Daily News has printed more than one issue since 11 September 2003. But these points do not detract significantly from a very useful and well presented book.

© The author/publisher