Review of Becoming Zimbabwe - Dr Wallace Chuma

Becoming Zimbabwe: A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008.

Edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo. Weaver Press/Jacana, 2009.


Review by Dr Wallace Chuma, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Film & Media Studies, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa.



One of the unintended, though certainly logical, consequences of the crisis in Zimbabwe has been the development of a critical body of humanities and social scientific research within and outside the country, and which sheds fresh insight on the political economy of Zimbabwe. The multi-faceted nature of the crisis forced researchers of the Zimbabwe story to question existing narratives of the country’s history, politics and culture.

Raftopoulos and Mlambo’s book is one of these critical new projects. It is the first comprehensive study of the history of Zimbabwe from the pre-colonial era through to 2009. The book is not just a recount of different historical events and great people. The seven chapters in the edited volume present in detail the constraints and opportunities for ‘nationhood’ in each of the different historical phases and levitra promotional coupons how the land’s inhabitants—both black and white, men and women—struggled with nature and amongst themselves, to shape what is now Zimbabwe. 

Gerald Mazarire’s chapter, entitled ‘Reflections on Pre-Colonial Zimbabwe, c.850-1880s’, is an ambitious discussion of the country’s pre-colonial era. It makes the argument that the different transitions at different historical phases in pre-colonial Zimbabwe should not be understood as a linear trajectory of rising and falling states. Rather, he argues that pre-colonial history “is best appreciated from ‘breaking points’—those contexts of build-up and fragmentation already written into the larger narratives of the ‘rise and fall’ of states, when new identities emerged and best viagra buy old ones were transformed, negotiated or accommodated..” (p. 2). Based on vast oral and written data, Mazarire traces the origins and settlement of different pre-colonial groups that occupied the Zimbabwe plateau and shows how their interactions shaped local politics. 

Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s chapter, “Mapping Cultural and Colonial Ecncounters, 1880s-1930s’ provides a critical outline of the introduction and development of Western colonialism in Zimbabwe. He questions what he calls the nationalistic ‘domination and resistance’ paradigm that was popularised in the 1960s, and argues for a more nuanced understanding of the establishment and kamagra price germany consolidation of colonial rule. In his chapter, ‘From the Second World War to UDI, 1940-1965’, Mlambo discusses the impact of the Second World War on the colonial society, in particular the political, economic and demographic changes. Importantly, he discusses at length the transformation of African political consciousness from demands for fair governance and accommodation within colonial rule, to outright demands for self rule. 

Mtisi, Nyakudya and Barnes, in their chapter ‘War in Rhodesia, 1965-1980’ discuss the civil war/liberation struggle in Rhodesia, focusing on both the Rhodesia Front government and the nationalists/guerrilla formations. The social, political and economic context for the struggle is also discussed at length. Muzondidya captures the political economy of post-colonial transition in Zimbabwe in his chapter, ‘From Buoyancy to Crisis, 1980-1997’. The chapter reflects on the changes to the configurations of state that followed the assumption of power by the new post-colonial leadership, issues of redistribution of land, and issues of citizenship and nationhood. Muzondidya does well to reflect on both the continuities and discontinuities of the past within the newly independent state. This chapter provides an important contextual setting for Raftopoulos’s chapter, ‘The crisis in Zimbabwe, 1998-2008’. This final chapter discusses the different facets of the Zimbabwe crisis, including economic decline, political impasse, confrontation over land and property rights, the restructuring of the state in more authoritarian forms, contestations over the history, among others. It identifies both local and global aspects of the crisis. The chapter ends with a brief reflection on the Global political Agreement, signed between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations and President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) in September 2008, giving way to the formation of the inclusive government. 

Becoming Zimbabwe is a timely intervention. It is well researched and written. It departs from—though not necessarily uninfluenced by—both colonial and nationalist renditions of the history of Zimbabwe. There is evidence of fresh research, and one hopes the book will open new conversations about Zimbabwean history, politics and culture. It is not just an asset for history students and researchers at all levels: anybody remotely interested in the Zimbabwean crisis will find this book highly useful.   


Wallace Chuma, 10/02/2010.