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

Re-Living the Second Chimurenga – Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle
Fay Chung
ISBN: 1779220464


Reviewer: Oskar Wermter, SJ

An Incomplete Liberation

Fay Chung, the ex-convent girl from the tiny Chinese community squeezed between the black majority and the white ruling class in race-conscious Rhodesia, made a momentous decision after graduating in English literature from the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland: she joined the department of African education and taught at African government schools, first in Ascot/Gwelo (now Gweru), and then in Harare (now Mbare/Harare – see pp. 51-7). There she learned an important lesson. ‘I was beginning to understand the opportunism, born of experience of deprivation, that characterized township morality … if one was in dire need, it was correct to utilize any opportunity … to improve oneself.’ This is still so even in 2006.

This choice for the township life led her eventually to the War of Liberation. She spent years in the Mozambiquan bush running schools for Zimbabwean refugee children.

Whenever she writes as a teacher about her work in African education the reader cannot but admire her. A brave woman indeed: having to run for cover, as Rhodesian aircraft mercilessly bomb her school, with her baby daughter on her back (p. 206), together with hundreds of frightened schoolchildren – surely that must have left its indelible mark in her mind. You somehow understand her fierce loyalty to her war-time comrades.

Her option for African education was of course a highly political move. In exile in Zambia, while teaching at Lusaka university, she played a role in the highly dangerous, fratricidal politics of the liberation war. In the end her life was threatened, and she had to flee. That is how she ended up in Mozambique.

‘The rising violence in the townships mirrored the increasing violence with which the colonial regime attempted to suppress any form of protest. [After UDI] it was clear that only armed warfare would bring an end to colonialism. Zimbabwe would be born of blood’ (pp. 63-4). She learned to accept armed violence pragmatically, though she did ask also, ‘Was it possible to change the mindset of millions of people through violent revolution?’ (in China and elsewhere, see p.67). And she regretted the ‘romanticisation of the armed struggle’ (p. 149) by some of her socialist friends in the ‘Vashandi’ faction who, with Frantz Fanon, ‘saw violence as a necessary cleansing of old decay’ (p. 174).

But the critical reader misses a reflection on the long-term effects of violence on a people. ‘The use of violence as a political tool was well entrenched, especially among the poor, for whom violence against the rich was a way of expressing their frustrations.’ (p. 264) With this matter-of-fact statement she more or less excuses the use of violence of some party women against their perceived enemies even after Independence. Since violence is ‘revolutionary’, Chung does not see its horrendous effect on the newly-born state of Zimbabwe.

We hear of executions within the liberation armies and fratricidal bloodshed. We hear almost nothing of violence by freedom fighters against the peasant population within the country. ‘The extreme cruelty of the settler forces alienated the population further, driving them to see the freedom fighters as preferable in every way to the regime in power’ (p. 140). The fighters’ Code of Conduct forbids any harsh measures against the peasants. ‘ZANU and ZANLA have assiduously avoided fighting against or killing civilians, as they regarded themselves as freedom fighters who were fighting against the settler-colonial regime’s soldiers’ (p. 258). But then Chung admits that ‘violence had been used during the war when "sell-outs" who supported the settler colonial regime suffered beatings, or were even executed by freedom fighters’ (p. 264).

Alexander Kanengoni, himself a former freedom-fighter and perhaps the best writer on the war, describes guerilla-against-peasant violence in gruesome detail. Chung never discusses the morality of executing so-called ‘sell-outs’ by fighters. She leaves many questions unanswered.

Chung admired Josiah Tongogara, ‘an ambitious, ruthless and implacable fighter’, and yet a ‘faithful and caring leader’ to whom ‘people entrusted their children and their lives’ (p. 124). Not their daughters, though. He routinely sexually exploited women guerillas (p. 127). She devotes a whole chapter to him, an honour she does not accord Robert Mugabe even though she sings his praises: ‘Mugabe’s professional training and experience as a teacher marked his leadership. He valued intellectual ability. He also believed it was essential to be a morally upright leader, something he had learned from his Roman Catholic tutors, as well as from the tenets of traditional religion, which held that political leaders only held power if they were morally justified to do so in the eyes of the ancestral spirits’ (p. 157).

She does not hide, though, that the socialist faction under Wilfred Mhanda ‘feared he would become a fascist dictator’ (p. 174). It would seem that Mhanda was quite far-sighted.

‘One of the changes taking place in ZANU(PF) was that it was rapidly transforming itself from a liberation movement into a business conglomerate’ (p. 259). The author has many valuable insights to offer. ‘Economic opportunities were available to those who identified with the ruling party and denied to those who opposed the ruling party’ (p. 268). She has no illusions about the corrupt nature of the regime. ‘Patronage from the political elite was now the key to success’ (p. 269).

But, surprisingly and annoyingly, in the end she does not draw the only possible logical conclusion from her insights that the time for this party is now over and a new beginning, indeed a second liberation, a deep moral transformation, is needed.

In the end she remains the loyal cadre, unable to think in new categories. Anyone opposing the ruling party must be the same as its historical enemy, ‘the settler-colonial regime’ (p. 313). That democratic opposition twenty years after independence might herald a new chapter in Zimbabwean politics does not occur to her. She has no word of regret about the suppression of the only independent daily paper. Freedom of expression this freedom fighter apparently did not fight for (cf. p. 330). She scoffs at ‘telephone farmers’, but her ideology does not permit her to question recent destructive land policies. She mentions the ‘ZANU(PF) policy of redistributing existing wealth, but without due emphasis on increasing wealth to cover the whole population’ (p. 287). But she does not link this to our present economic misery.

Like so many of her ‘comrades’ she cannot think beyond the ‘Second Chimurenga’ which she keeps ‘re-living’. The future is closed to her. ‘I think we need to revive some of the principles and values of the liberation struggle, which included looking at the lives and needs of the underprivileged’ (p. 332). The ‘needs of the underprivileged’ have been disregarded in a most scandalous manner by the ruling party’s ‘Murambatsvina’. The party Fay Chung still believes in just does not exist any more.

The author’s loyalty to her old fellow fighters interferes with her political analysis and vision. She is not aware that her party failed fundamentally in building a new state, a much more important task than just ensuring the continuation of the ‘liberation movement’ and its ‘struggle’.

Her party has missed a historical opportunity. It could have become a state builder and creator of a new and lasting constitution. Instead, it is still fighting the same old enemy who is now obsolete. This Chung has not noticed.

This book is unique in that the editor includes his own critical review in the introduction. He asks: ‘Why is it of such importance for Fay Chung as a left-wing socialist to support Mugabe and his turning back of the historical clock to the objectives of a struggle that took place thirty years ago? Why does Chung consider it necessary to distance herself so drastically from the new democratic opposition?’ (p. 13).

That Fay Chung wrote these ‘Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle’ at all is commendable, despite a number of factual errors.1 It is to be hoped that many of her ‘comrades’ do the same before the final curtain comes down on their lives and their period of history. Which cannot be long now.

1. ‘To date, it has not been possible to state definitively which side was responsible for the massacres of missionaries, although there is circumstantial evidence that the Smith regime’s failure to investigate the Makumbe mission massacres indicated that they might have been complicit’ (p. 236). Presumably she means the killing of four Dominican Sisters and three Jesuits at St Paul’s Mission, 6th February 1977. Additionally, Mgr Bruce Kent was never ‘the Roman Catholic papal representative in Britain’ (p. 136).

© The author/publisher