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

Re-Living the Second Chimurenga: Memories from Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle, Chung, Fay. Nordic Africa Institute, 2006, 357 pp.

Fay Chung was born to a Chinese shop-keeping family in Zimbabwe. A brilliant student, she made her way through every difficulty to enrol at the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. After graduating she taught in African schools, and then went to take an MA in African Literature in Leeds She ended up in Lusaka teaching at the University of Zambia in the early 1970s. Joining the Zimbabwe African National Union, she was just in time to witness and participate in its fratricidal frenzies in late 1974 and 1975. She was in Lusaka when the so-called 'Nhari' rebels arrived from the front line. These disaffected guerrillas arrested most of the ZANU high command but in the end the revolt was brutally repressed and most of its participants executed. She was still in Lusaka a few weeks later to witness the assassination of Herbert Chitepo, ZANU's National Chairman and the arrest and torture in Zambia of most of  ZANU's old guard. Fay Chung was deeply involved in all this, as the lover of one of those accused of Chitepo's murder, as the rescuer and custodian of key party and military papers, as a relentless propagandist against Kenneth Kaunda's and Zambia's role. Eventually she joined ZANU guerrillas in Mozambique where she was in danger from authoritarian veterans as a supposed member of the party's hated 'left'. She survived by becoming involved in education work in the camps and after independence became first departmental  secretary and then Minister of Education.

Few survivors of these events – and many who took part in them have died – have written any account of them. A standard and authorised ZANU version has emerged, however. In this version Nhari was a 'sell-out' suborned by Rhodesian Intelligence to betray the revolution. White Intelligence officers assassinated Herbert Chitepo and framed the ZANU leaders for his killing. The Zambian government seized upon this as an excuse to wipe out ZANU by arresting and trying its leaders and by expelling thousands of guerrillas. However, through superior heroism and determination, the ZANU veterans survived torture in Zambia and found themselves working with Robert Mugabe in Mozambique. There they managed to discipline over-enthusiastic young men and take control of the ultimately successful guerrilla war. This is the version taught in Zimbabwe today as part of 'patriotic history'.

Fay Chung is the first person to write at length from within the ZANU revolution. In this book she remembers her adventures with startling candour. As she writes in a circular to friends, the book will make her unpopular with everybody.  It is too loyal to the nationalist tradition to give comfort to Mugabe's human rights opponents. But it is too frank and critical to be acceptable to the custodians of Zimbabwe's patriotic history and the guardians of  Robert Mugabe's shrine. Time and time again Chung's version of events is different from – and more plausible than – the established ZANUPF canon.

Thus the Nhari rebels are revealed to have had real and substantial grievances against the high command; their execution was ordered by Tongogara and other military commanders despite the pleas for due procedure by Herbert Chitepo; Chitepo and Tongogara are shown to have been bitter enemies – and Chung was for a time custodian of Tongorara's papers after his arrest in Zambia. The triumph of the veterans is depicted as the victory of the ZANU right wing, espousing a quasi-fascist chauvinism. Chung laments the defeat and suffering of the idealistic young left-wingers, though she judges that they made themselves vulnerable by despising 'traditional' culture. She has little time for ethnic or tribal explanations of conflict within the nationalist movements, preferring to stress ideology.

In short Chung has often been on the losing side within ZANU and sometimes been in serious danger. Recently she expressed sharp criticism of Operation Murambatsvina, the clean-up in the towns which rendered so many thousands homeless. Yet she continues to see ZANU with all its past and present imperfections as retaining fragilely within it radical traditions needed to transform Zimbabwe.

Chung has rendered a valuable service in writing this lucid and frank book. Its turbulent and disputed reception at its launch in Harare shows that it has already created debate and provoked others to promise books of their own, It may have helped to stimulate a process which will break up stereotypes and reveal a revolution in all its ambiguity.


Terence Ranger
University of Oxford