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, moral categories, and historical narratives informing the ongoing debates, 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.

© The author/publisher