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, 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