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, No. 3, 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, 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.

© The author/publisher