Review of Re-Living the Second Chimurenga - Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle - Brian Raftopoulos

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

Review of African Political Economy

No. 114, pp. 757-68, 2007
Reviewer: Brian Raftopoulos

It is one of the ironies of Zimbabwean politics that even as the ruling party ZANU(PF) has recently steadily imposed a stodgy diet of narrow party history on Zimbabweans, this view of the past has been challenged not only by an increasing flow of critical historiography, but also from within the ranks of ZANU(PF) itself. The latter has taken the form of emerging biographies by critical voices within ZANU(PF) that have added very useful insights into the history of the liberation struggle and the internal battles in the liberation movement. These voices have not so much provided a new paradigm for understanding the liberation struggles as added new information to doubts that have been apparent in both the creative literature and historiography of the struggle for some time.

Of equal significance however is the manner in which such critical biographies have been received within ZANU(PF). The ruling party's response to Edgar Tekere's recent biography A Life of Struggle has been somewhat hysterical. The book has been denounced because it 'clearly and explicitly denigrates and vilifies' Mugabe, and Tekere been expelled from the party for the second time in his lifetime. The overblown response to Tekere's story is a reminder that authoritarian regimes like ZANU(PF) are usually most sensitive to criticisms from within their ranks. The personal bonds formed by such nationalist groupings during periods of prolonged struggle, are most keenly affected by the personal criticisms that emerge from within. Some of the 'myths' of the struggle have began to unravel as key participants tell their stories of the inner workings of ZANU(PF), within the broader context of the intense succession battle taking place within the ruling party and the resurgent opposition to the regime.

It is from this perspective that Fay Chung's book is interesting not only for its valuable discussion of the history of ZANU(PF), but as part of the general rethinking of Zimbabwean nationalism that has been taking place over the last decade. Chung's narrative of her early life is an interesting account of a Chinese youth in colonial Southern Rhodesia, showing the ambiguous status of the Chinese in the colonial racial hierarchy. The author provides an absorbing narrative of her childhood and education in Coloured schools, as well as her move into nationalist politics in Zambia after her time at university.

It is however her narrative of the internal struggles within ZANU in the 1970s that provides the most interesting and contested part of the book. In these chapters Chung takes the reader through the Nhari-Badza rebellion of the mid 1970s and the rise and fall of the left-leaning Zipa group. On the former, Chung argues that the 'rebels' had substantial grievances against the High Command, and that the summary execution of the leaders on the orders of Tongogara were part of the ongoing leadership battles taking place in the party. Wilfred Mhanda (2006), formerly known as Dzinashe Machingura, one time leader of Zipa, has contested this interpretation. In his view the rebellion was ‘a clear attempt at the usurpation of power by Nhari and Badza, chagrined by their demotion’, in the army. He thus concludes that, ‘if the revolt was ill conceived, and if it has been misconstrued by Chung, its suppression was characterized by unparalleled brutality'. On the Zipa period in ZANU, while Fay Chung displays sympathy for the left-wing guerrillas, she argues that the group was ultimately defeated by the old guard because of a combination of poor negotiating skills, 'uncompromising rigidity' and their unwillingness to work with traditional structures. In her discussions of this period Chung also throws some light on the growing rightward shift of the liberation leadership, marked by its own forms of racial intolerance. As Chung was centrally involved in ZANU's education programme in Mozambique, the book provides a very useful insight into the liberation movement's efforts in this area.

The weakest parts of the book are the two concluding chapters on the post-1980 period, and it is in this section that one of the central tensions in the book is most apparent. For while the discussion of nationalist politics in the 1970s is largely a critical examination of the problems of nationalist politics, the post-independence assessment, for the most part, provides an official rendition of the causes of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Issues of state violence, political intolerance, and human rights abuses are largely neglected in favour of a position that, notwithstanding the problems she has tracked in ZANU, the spirit and traditions of liberation politics in the latter provide the best hope for the future. Her position on this is backed by an extremely shallow assessment of post-1990s opposition politics, that in no way matches the nuance she displays in understanding the history of ZANU. Moreover Chung's uncritical view of the figure of Robert Mugabe himself will raise many eyebrows. Preben Kaarholm's very good introduction provides an important context for understanding this and other problems in Chung's narrative.

Several areas of the book can be contested for historical accuracy, and no doubt there are many in ZANU(PF) who will challenge her interpretation of the 1970s struggles in liberation politics. Nevertheless, Chung's critical perspectives on the form and content of the political struggles and conflicts in ZANU have provided the historiography of the liberation struggle with an important new voice, and for the frankness with which she approached her subject she is to be greatly thanked.

© The author/publisher