Review of Re-Living the Second Chimurenga - Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle - The Herald

Re-Living the Second Chimurenga – Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle
Fay Chung
2005: (pp: 358)
ISBN: 1779220464

The Herald
26 August 2006
Reviewer: Wonder Guchu

The only other books that come closer to Fay Chung’s autobiography, Re-living the Second Chimurenga is the late Masipula Sithole’s Zimbabwe: Struggle within the Struggle, and to some extent David Martin and Phyllis Johnson’s The Struggle For Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War.

Sithole’s Struggle Within the Struggle makes tribalism its main focus and exonerates the late Ndabaningi Sithole of wrongdoing in what happened when he renounced the armed struggle, Chung’s account is that of an observer who being Chinese was not part of and to any tribe.

Of course she admits that at one time, events compelled her to take sides but that was never influenced by tribalism. This fact then sets her book apart from any other non-fiction book about the liberation war.

It also gives her room to talk about events from an onlooker’s point of view. She therefore brings about terrifying and shocking revelations about some of the things that went on during the war, things those who were part of the struggle feel should not be said.

Her autobiography, is therefore, a very brave and daring account which is likely to cause discomfort because it lays bare how war can strip men of their conscience and make them absolute masters over other human beings.

Ex-combatants Freedom Nyamubaya and Alexander Kanengoni have written about some of the things Chung mentions in her autobiography. But in Nyamubaya and Kanengoni’s case, their accounts were shrouded in fiction and thus appeared to be nothing but fiction.

Even the movie Flame touched on crucial and disturbing aspects of the war – sexual harassment and tribalism:

'I remember two incidents when I was in Pungwe III, a military camp on the banks of the Pungwe River deep in the heat of Mozambique. I was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of commotion – many angry voices could be heard shouting from the women’s barracks situated a hundred metres from my posto. The next morning I was told by a young commander that Tongogara and his retinue had arrived in the middle of the night and had demanded women to entertain them. Such women were euphemistically called "warm blankets". The sycophantic camp commander had immediately gone into the women‚s barracks and called out the names of several young women for "night duties".' (p. 126)

Although Chung makes these revelations, she points out that such incidents were part of the ‘senior commanders‚ code of morality based on traditional feudal attitudes’. But she says, what was done to women became one of the reasons for the two rebellions in ZANLA – the Nhari and Vashandi rebellions.

She also says despite all this ‘Tongogara displayed a very profound love for his family. Whenever he visited Dar es Salaam, he would phone his wife and children in Lusaka every evening, even though the outdated telephone system in both Tanzania and Zambia in the 1970s made this quite a feat’ (p. 124).

Chung adds new dimensions to the wartime conflicts that were considered to have been restricted to tribes and regions. She also writes about divisions caused by mistrust between the experienced but uneducated and the educated young commanders. There was also some conflict between what she refers to as the traditionalists (masvikiro), who were a very vital cog in the war chain and the senior commanders:
'The traditional religious leaders also condemned Tongogara and his top commanders for breaking the two inviolable ancestral rules of respect for life and sexual purity. Tongogara himself, while not accepting their moral control of his behaviour, was nevertheless seriously irked by their open condemnation of him. On one visit to Pungwe III military camp, he made the traditional leaders stand up one by one in a rally of thousands of camp dwellers, and threatened to imprison them if they continued to criticise him. Despite these threats, they continued to condemn him, on the pretext that the ancestral spirits spoke through them and they could not control what these spirits wished to say.' (p.129)

The other conflict was between old-style nationalists who regarded the senior commanders, Tongogara especially with suspicion because they saw him as a representative of those who would seek a military government‚ after independence. ‘On the other hand, the senior commanders saw the old-style nationalists as untrustworthy, corrupt and liable to betray the military struggle for ephemeral political gains’.

There was also another group, Vashandi that included young militants who, despite their admiration of Tongogara as ‘a new-style leader different from the old-style politicians of the 1960s, disliked him for what they considered a failure according to Marxist-Leninist criteria’.

Chung’s autobiography is a sweeping account that begins with her own family, growing up in the then Southern Rhodesia, education and her feelings towards the whites who had everything while Indians and blacks had nothing.
It touches on the early days of independence when corruption became endemic among some unscrupulous leaders and ends with her vision for Zimbabwe.

Re-living the Second Chimurenga is a very disturbing but informative book about a woman who sacrificed her life for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

© The author/publisher