Review of Becoming Zimbabwe - Mukai

Mukai/Vukani

Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe

No. 53

July 2010

REVIEW

Becoming Zimbabwe, A History from the pre-Colonial Period to 2008
, edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo and published by Weaver Press, 232 pp.



Anyone over forty will remember the excitement of the days surrounding 18 April 1980. We had waited so long that it seemed hard to grasp the truth of it when it came. It was a time marked by reconciliation and hope. Thirty years on we know that these decades have not lived up to the hope we had then but this is no cause for despair. The title of this book expresses our situation precisely. We are ‘becoming’ Zimbabwe. The country may have been born during those salad days but like any infant it battles to become what it wants to be. And we are still searching for an identity, which will only come through a ‘social contract’ hammered out by governors and governed. We are not there yet. 

The book has eight authors, each taking a section of our history reaching back to before there were written records. It is not a comprehensive account of Zimbabwe but it does lay down markers for the rewriting of our history. Up to now we have been saddled with what Terrence Ranger (p. xxxi) calls the ‘patriotic history’ espoused by ZANU PF, with its selective highlighting of the three chimurengas as though nothing else of significance happened. In contrast, a key passage in this book occurs on page 95, where Mlambo writes of the turning point in the mid 1950s:



The multiracial enterprise eventually collapsed when the African elite become frustrated by the unwillingness of the establishment to advance their interests beyond a certain point and they realised that they were being taken for a walk down the proverbial garden path… It was then that they turned their backs on white liberals and joined hands with the masses that they had spurned in the past to build a militant African nationalist movement that was now demanding ‘one man, one vote.’

Up to that point, African leaders such as Nathan Shamuyarira, Herbert Chitepo, Lawrence Vambe, Jasper Savanhu, Stanley Samkange, Enoch Dumbutshena, Charles Mzingeli and even Joshua Nkomo had tried to engage the colonial government in a gradual but substantial recognition of their aspirations. This was a logical approach and if it had worked it might have saved the best in our economic life while ridding us of the racial character of every aspect of life in the old Rhodesia. But the white government refused to listen and from that point on the lines were drawn in a divide that has cast its shadow right into the present. African leaders felt they had no choice but to take an increasingly radical approach and in the process they learnt authoritarian ways. The word ‘sell-out’ came into our vocabulary and anyone in any kind of opposition was labelled a ‘puppet’ and more recently ‘an enemy’, a ‘totemless foreigner’ or simply ‘a traitor.’ ‘The unity of the nationalist movement became synonymous with the subordination of all other Africa associations’ (p. xxi). The preoccupation of the eventual winner of the nationalist and independence struggle (ZANU PF) was to stay in power. In 1999 the National Working People’s Convention decided to form a new political party (the MDC) noting that

The inability to implement any meaningful steps to redress basic economic and social problems emanates from a crisis of government within the nation. The crisis expresses itself in a failure of government to observe the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary; to obey the basic rules of accountability and transparency; to respect human rights and to decentralise power in ways that enable meaningful participation of people in public institutions (p 209).

That was written eleven years ago. What would one write today? This is an important book written in a style that makes it easily available to anyone interested in understanding our story. And for the keener student there are numerous footnotes and an exhaustive bibliography. Postpone going to the hairdresser this month and buy this book instead.