Review of Re-Living the Second Chimurenga - Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle - Journal of Southern African Studies

Re-Living the Second Chimurenga:
Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle

Fay Chung
2005: (pp: 358)
ISBN: 1779220464

Journal of Southern African Studies

Vol. 32, No. 3, September, 2006

Reviewer: Judith Todd

Fay Chung and I, compatriots, overlapped at university in 1962. We both reacted against the authority of colonial Rhodesia, the racism and injustice of which inevitably culminated in war. By 1971, Fay was in voluntary exile teaching in Zambia. In 1972, after six months’ detention in Rhodesia, I also left for exile.

In February 1980, detention orders were lifted and I was able to return home before the elections that led to Zimbabwe’s independence that April. Fay, by now part of the elite of Robert Mugabe’s victorious party ZANU(PF), was one of a small group flown home from Mozambique in May, entering Zimbabwe without passports, met by ZANU’s military supremo Solomon Mujuru, and taken to ‘houses that ZANU(PF) had bought with contributions it had received for accepting independence along the lines advanced by the Western allies’ (p. 254).

I started reading Fay’s opus with enthusiasm, interested in her empathy with those hurt by white supremacy and her growing identification with ZANU, which she joined in 1973. ‘I had come to the conclusion’, she writes, ‘that it was essential for the intelligentsia to play a role in the liberation struggle [with] the peasant guerrillas’ (p. 75). Her sketches of ZANU politics, personalities and life within their guerrilla and refugee camps are fascinating. She herself emerges as a modest but heroic and dedicated figure totally committed to the struggle, eventually being elevated to ministerial posts in Zimbabwe’s government. However, not long into the book, I was so discomfited that I started reading the narrative all over again, thus now able to identify the fatal flaw throughout. The memories, a stream of ideas, are authoritatively but often wrongly presented as fact.

Fay’s grandfather came to Rhodesia from a ‘Chinese peasant family’ in search of land only to find ‘his ambition thwarted by the racial laws instituted by the colonialists [which] forbade the sale of the best land to anyone but the whites [who] were greedy and would not allow other races to own land’ (p. 27). He arrived in 1904. The iniquitous Land Apportionment Act was passed only in 1931. Later she states that ‘[i]t was a colonial rule that all the property of politically active blacks who joined nationalist parties would be confiscated’ (p. 54). Yet none of my friends, who are lawyers and/or were politically active then, can recall any such ‘rule’. Towards the end of her narrative she claims: ‘Most people who witnessed the confiscation of the property of peasants and of black businessmen who supported the liberation movements … do not see anything wrong with the confiscation of white-owned property’ (p. 328). However, ‘Most people’ did not include the Courts of Zimbabwe, which found the seizures illegal and unconstitutional. Their consequent judgments led to their pulverisation by the one person whose integrity seems never doubted, the consequences of his actions seldom questioned – Robert Mugabe.

In 1985, Mugabe was angered that election results did not give ZANU(PF) sufficient seats to amend the Constitution and introduce a one-party state. He broadcast to the nation in Shona inciting violence – ‘goborai zvigutswa!’ – telling supporters to stump their fields. Fay explains the violence, without mentioning the incitement, as an example of ‘traditional concepts’ under which the poor of ZANU(PF) wanted to celebrate victory by beating up the ‘middle-class’ opposition ZAPU (p. 263). She alludes to the crushing of ZAPU in the 1980s as a civil war, specifying a tribal conflict (p. 320) and ignoring the reality evident even in her own Harare constituency where the ZAPU candidate Nevison Nyashanu was not only Shona-speaking but, like Mugabe, a Zezuru. After being defeated, Nyashanu was abducted and temporarily disappeared. Continuing violence inflicted by ZANU(PF) eventually resulted in the one-party state declared in 1987, which ‘Almost everyone believed … was the right solution, as such a state would guarantee national unity’ (p. 262).

Fay repeats the myth that Britain reneged on providing funds for purchase of land for redistribution. She then unwittingly explodes this myth by putting her finger on the precise reason Britain pulled out of the process – the misappropriation of such land, once acquired, by ZANU top brass from the intended beneficiaries. A prime mover in the establishment of the Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production (ZIMFEP), Fay was involved in the purchase of farms which she registered under government ownership. ‘I did not realize then that this would cause ZIMFEP immense problems in the future, as local politicians manipulated government ownership of the farms to take away the farms from the schools’ (p. 279).

Fay often reflects the contempt ZANU(PF) has demonstrated for Zimbabweans. She writes of the malnutrition of children in the camps being partly due to the fact that ‘the guerrillas felt that through their participation in the war they had risen above the peasantry’, and that their new status was reflected in what they fed their children – tea, sugar and biscuits rather than traditional food (p. 193) – as if there was a choice of food in the camps. Her contempt extends to democratic processes. ‘ZANU(PF) became captive to its electorate’s wishes … Enthusiastic white farmers soon integrated themselves into the party at all levels. In subsequent elections … black peasants were quite capable of eagerly electing … white farmers or Indian businessmen’ (p. 260). Finally, while she states that ZANU captured the support of 100,000 ‘peasants’ by (temporarily) granting them land (p. 264), she doesn’t mention the hundreds of thousands of farm workers and their families who lost their livelihoods and who, like the majority of their fellow Zimbabweans, are now starving.

Fay’s Chung’s book, an important personal record, is also a valiant attempt to justify the grim fortress within which Robert Mugabe shelters from the onslaught of the ‘negative forces’ she fingers throughout. I couldn’t help laughing when she described one of those negative forces, the opposition press, as having been ‘generously funded by big business and foreign interests’ (p. 330), as I remembered how our silenced Daily News started off with exacting contributions of $2,000 each from the now exiled editor Geoff Nyarota and five of his friends.

© The author/publisher