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

Journal of Contemporary African Studies
May 2006

Fay Chung, Re-Living The Second Chimurenga.  Memories from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Struggle The Nordic Africa Institute, 2006. 
Published in cooperation with Weaver Press.

Fay Chung’s memoir of her participation in ZANU’s liberation movement in exile and the post-independence government is always absorbing.  For the uninitiated, it makes accessible the byzantine power struggles of the 1970s.  For specialists, it contains fresh perspectives.   However, it is also a disturbing account.  Readers must be careful.  Too many of her assertions are at odds with well established facts.  Chung’s memoir often reads as a creative defense of ZANU (or at least those she favors in it).

Chung provides a compelling account of growing up in a middle class Chinese family in Rhodesia in the 1950s and 1960s.  Despite racial discrimination, she praises the quality of her education.  After graduating from the University of Zimbabwe, she taught African secondary school students.  While teaching in a township in Harare, she observed the internecine rivalry between the two African nationalist parties, ZAPU, and its breakaway offshoot, ZANU, in the early 1960s.  She came to understand that schools were often targets of youth violence because they were seen as exclusive and elitist - only 2% of Africans attended secondary school.  After post-graduate study at Leeds University, Chung accepted a lectureship in education at the University of Zambia in 1971.  Lusaka was the headquarters of the exiled wing of ZANU, and Chung joined the party.

She deftly steers readers through the rivalries that bedeviled both the political wing, ZANU, and its guerrilla army, ZANLA, and also the conflicts  between the two.  Chung’s account of ZANLA’s power over ZANU provides a new perspective on political-military relations.  She describes the power of the predominantly uneducated peasant group led by Josiah Tongogara and his self-styled “veterans” - the earliest military recruits - and their desire to establish military rule after independence.  This group feared that the younger, more recent and better-educated military recruits who often embraced Marxist-Leninism were Rhodesian spies and saw  the relatively well-educated politicians as ready to betray the armed struggle in a negotiated settlement.

Chung attributes the power of Tongogara and his veterans to the politicians’ recognition of the necessity of military victory, which apparently depended on Tongogara’s military brilliance.  Hence, in 1975 when Tongogara defied ZANU chairman Herbert Chitepo’s order to hand over military rebels (a group of younger, better-educated guerrillas) to the Mozambican government for punishment and executed them instead, the politicians refrained from disciplining him because they needed him to win the armed struggle.  Similarly, Chung maintains that when Mugabe became the leader of ZANU he had to abandon his Marxist-Leninism to forge an alliance with Tongogara and his veterans.  According to Chung, Tongogara advocated that ZANU and ZAPU retain their united political front to contest the 1980 election because he would then acquire control of both guerrilla armies and thus unchallengeable military power over the politicians.  However, Tongogara was killed in a car accident and ZANU contested and won the election on its own.

Chung is more sympathetic than most other accounts to the Marxist-Leninist educated elite’s power struggle with the old guard in ZANU and ZANLA.  While Tongogara and other leaders were imprisoned in Zambia on charges of having plotted Chitepo’s assassination, the more educated Marxist-Leninist group took control of ZANLA and, briefly, ZAPU’s army in a new force called ZIPA and resumed the armed struggle.  But when the old guard was released from prison, the Tongogara group used military force to arrest the ZIPA leaders and regain control of ZANLA.  Chung claims  an affinity to the ZIPA group’s socialism but ascribes the resurgence of the Tongogara group to the former’s failure to make political compromises and its miscalculation of Tongogara’s willingness to use force to prevail. 

After the imprisonment of ZANU/ZANLA leaders in connection with Chitepo’s assassination, Chung’s political involvement grew.   She says her greatest contribution in the months after Chitepo’s death was to prevent Reverend Sithole and Bishop Muzorewa, who sought control of ZANLA, from creating confusion and possible “suicidal internal wrangling” among the ZANLA guerrillas. Chung also describes her central role in keeping the world informed of the Zambians torture of the detained ZANU/ZANLA leaders, pressuring the Zambians to bring them to trial, and raising funds for legal representation for the accused.  Tongogara and his co-accused did stand trial on charges of having killed Chitepo but they were released after their lawyer demonstrated that their confessions had been extracted under torture.  After a Sithole guerrilla who turned out to be a Rhodesian agent left incriminating material in her car - the car plays an intriguing role in Chung’s rise to political prominence - she escaped to Mozambique in August 1975.

In Mozambique, she became a central figure in ZANU’s education department, expanding education for children and adults in refugee camps and designing student and teacher training curricula.  These programs continued after independence when Chung was in the Ministry of Education and ultimately the Minister.  In early 1978 Chung’s educational work was disrupted.  Rugare Gumbo, a ZANU leader with whom she had a child but no longer a personal relationship, was involved in a coup attempt.  Edgar Tekere, who with Herbert Ushewokunze had been briefly captured in the coup effort, forcibly removed Chung and her infant daughter first to Ossibissa camp for women fighters and then  another military camp.  Chung portrays her months in the military camps, where food shortages were far worse than in the refugee camps, as her harshest life experience.  It is Tongogara who permits her to return to the refugee camp and her educational work.  Chung portrays Tekere and Ushewokunze, who enjoyed a reputation as part of ZANU’s radical left after independence, as members of the extreme right wing (i.e. anti-white and tribalist) which she says dominated ZANU from 1977.

The last part of the book is a whirlwind excursus of the post-independence period.  Chung observes that ZANU became the captive of its electorate.  It shifted from a nominally socialist and peasant-dominated party to a liberal capitalist and black middle class-dominated party.  She tends to blame the economic decline and weakening state in the 1990s on various groups: workers for their unreasonable wage demands (evidently setting a precedent for veterans’ demands), donors for a drop  in aid, mafikizolo (party newcomers) for their asset-stripping, and whites for investing overseas and obstructing black industrialists.   This sounds like ZANU PF scape-goating rather than examining how policies create incentives for behavior.  To transform itself, she advocates that Zimbabwe abandon colonial institutions and values, return to the best values of the liberation struggle, and build a strong state - a prerequisite for democracy.

Though she condemns Tongogara’s execution of the military rebels, she also supports the party’s decision not to discipline him because of its dependence on him for military victory. [She maintains military victory was around the corner from 1972 but when a settlement is made in 1979 she says military victory would have required ZANLA to acquire air superiority.] The military success of the ZIPA leaders while Tongogara was in prison suggests that military progress was possible without Tongogara.  When Tongogara, with the support of ZANU leaders, uses military coercion to arrest the ZIPA leaders, Chung does not protest that there was not even a show trial but instead criticizes the political naivete of the ZIPA leaders and praises Simon Muzenda and Mugabe for rescuing Tongogara’s victims by sending them to “prison” in Mozambique.  Similarly, Chung portrays Mugabe and Muzenda as saving from execution the Rugare Gumbo group, who do have a show trial, by sending them too to prison in Mozambique.

Many of Chung’s assertions read as ZANU propaganda that research has discredited. I offer only a few examples.  Chung  insists that the guerrillas largely adhered to the ancestral spirits’ code of conduct - no violence against innocent civilians, no rape, and no taking of what did not belong to them.  As Preben Kaarsholm says in his valuable introduction, research and guerrilla-authored fiction refute such claims.  She acknowledges that senior military commanders broke the ancestral spirits’ rules of conduct by demanding sex with female guerrillas but maintains, contrary to research, female fighters’ writings and her own text (p.221), that the men recognized all their children from such liaisons and took them home to be raised by their legally married wives. She depicts Ossibissa camp  as a resting place for women fighters; research and female fighters’ writings describe Ossibissa as a place of punishment for pregnant women fighters.

For the ZANU PF-ZAPU and the MDC-ZANU PF conflicts, Chung portrays both sides as equally violent.  Yet research shows ZANU PF to have been responsible for most of the violence against usually hapless victims.  She emphasizes the well-entrenched use of violence as a political tool, especially among the poor, but says nothing about how ZANU leaders incited attacks on their political opponents.  She asserts that ZANU PF did not need to use violence to get peasant support in and after 2000 even though human rights reports have emphasized the effectiveness of ZANU PF violence in its electoral victories in 2000 and 2002.  She portrays the land confiscations as legal rather than retroactively legalized; she spuriously maintains donor aid declined in the early 1990s; and on and on.   These errors systematically protect ZANU leaders.  When Chung says that Roy Bennet, a white MDC parliamentarian  who had once been a ZANU PF member, could have kept his farm had he remained in ZANU PF,  she undercuts her own argument about historical justice motivating  the land invasions.  Whites could have kept their land if they had only supported ZANU!

Chung’s memoir is essential reading for specialists.  It is not recommended for teaching because extensive knowledge of Zimbabwe is sometimes necessary to distinguish between valuable interpretations of the politics of the liberation struggle and the post-independence period and indefensible ZANU propaganda.                 

Norma Kriger
Independent Scholar