Review of Re-Living the Second Chimurenga - Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle - Professor Luise White

Reviewed for the International Journal of African Historical Studies by Professor Luise White

Fay Chung, Re-Living the Second Chimurenga: Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle. Uppsala, Nordic Africa Institute and Harare, Weaver Press, 2006. Pp. 349; 9 illustrations.   Introduction by Preben Kaarsholm, pp. 20.  SEK 380.

Fay Chung is a Chinese-Zimbabwean (her grandfather arrived in the country in 1904), educated at the University College of Rhodesia and then in England, a lecturer at the University of Zambia in the 1970s and the minister of education in Harare in the 1980s.  She was and is such a ZANU-PF stalwart that the lengthy last chapter is devoted to a defense of the third chimurenga and the policies that have rocked Zimbabwe since the late 1990s.  She is also, I learned from reading her memoirs, quite the  starry-eyed teenager, eager to comment on freedom fighters’ looks, clothes, and a range of social interactions worthy of exclamation marks.  When it comes to the recounting the actual ideas and words that made her such a luminary in ZANU’s left wing, she is curiously vague.

This is not to say this isn’t an important book; it is.  Indeed, scholars would probably have a deeper understanding of liberation movements and their divisions in arms and exile if we had more insiders’ starry-eyed accounts of them.  But since Chung has written the first of this genre, the result is often jarring.  Most of the chapter on Josiah Tongogara, for example, gushes.  “He was over six feet tall, with the upright and muscular figure of a soldier accustomed to the rigors of war....  With a distinctive, pockmarked, light brown face and greeny-brown eyes...”  If he and his fellow militarists enjoyed “sexual favors” from young women guerrillas this was because of their “traditional feudal values.”  Besides, for many of these young women such sexual involvements were “a form of social climbing.”  The rest of the chapter goes to great lengths to explain why he never should have been accused of murdering a man he was known to despise.

It is Chung’s description of the conduct of liberation from exile that makes for the most interesting and frustrating reading.  One the one hand, ZANU in Lusaka and Mozambique and ZANLA in Tanzania are described as such a maze of shifting ideas, opportunities and  loyalties that you can almost feel the fragility of the organization.  On the other, Chung is so quick to tie up lose ends and get on with her triumphant narrative that there’s no serious discussion of what the critical issues actually were.  When Zimbabwean students at the University of Zambia were “tempted” to side with Nhari and Badza in their mutiny of late 1974 she and other Zimbabwean lecturers managed to talk them out of it.  Did these lecturers say anything in particular?  Chung never says.  Once Chung managed to find out who killed whom in the aftermath of the Nhari mutiny, she is ready to close “this sad chapter” in ZANU’s history.  Until 1977, ZANU is a natural truth; it required no explanations.  After 1977, when the right wing dominates the party, making racism and tribalism “acceptable,” Chung is distressed but still sees no need to explain anything.  Even when Chung is fighting for her political and social life, she writes in generalizations.  To be fair, Chung’s does not easily separate her political marginalization from a floundering relationship and being a single parent, but she does little more than list the names of those associated with the rapid fire shifts in ideology, leadership struggles, attempted coups and imagined coups.    
This book has some remarkably cheap shots, and it’s hard to tell if it’s the teenager gossiping or the ZANU loyalist writing.  When a man from ZANU’s Lusaka office was executed for his support of the Nhari rebels, Chung is shocked that someone so “immature and inconsequential” would be thought dangerous enough “to merit execution.”  In a 1974 conversation with Ndabaningi Sithole she realized that he “had the old colonial mind set, which considered sitting next to a light-skinned woman in a social context an honor.”  Later, she realized he was “just like” his friend and mentor, Idi Amin.  Usually sensitive to the questions of race in the struggle, she is at her most superficial when writing about John Conradie, a ZAPU member imprisoned for twelve years with criminals in Rhodesia’s segregated jails.  When he was freed he “knew every thief in town.  They usually greeted him like a long lost friend!”  Wilfred Mhanda comes in for particularly harsh and sustained criticism, except when he arrived at the Geneva conference “dressed in Che Guevara style.”  Other than that he was “short and stout” and too well educated, too doctrinaire, and too intolerant of peasant belief to lead the struggle; worse still, he doubted Mugabe’s ability to lead it.

If you want a history of the nobility and purpose of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle this isn’t the best book, which is why it is so important.

Luise White
University of Florida