Review of Strife - African Publishing Book Records

Book Review
African Affairs, April 2002, pp. 260-261

Striking Back: The labour movement and the post-colonial state in Zimbabwe
, edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Lloyd Sachikonye. Harare: Weaver Press, 2001 (distributed by the African Books Collective, Oxford). xvii  + 361 pp. Z$1242.00 paperback. ISBN 0-7974-2286-2.

The third in a trilogy on Zimbabwe’s labour history, this edited collection is a timely contribution to understanding labour in the post-independence period. The labour federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), a ruling party creation after independence, became a critical player in the drive to remove the ruling party, ZANU(PF), and President Mugabe. In September 1999 the ZCTU launched a political party, the MDC, to contest the June 2000 parliamentary elections. The MDC displayed strong urban support and won most seats in Matabeleland, despite ZANU(PF) violence and intimidation. In March 2002, MDC presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, will challenge President Mugabe, who has established a dangerous and rigged playing field.
The ambiguities in the development of the labour movement are a recurrent theme. Brian Raftopoulos’ essay addresses these tensions most comprehensively. First, ZANU(PF) and government interventions in labour relations in the first years of independence were positive (for example, establishing minimum wages – though real minimum wages peaked in 1982 (p. 8), protecting workers against unfair dismissals, legalizing unions for all private sector workers), but government repression and party authoritarianism also stymied the development of an autonomous labour federation and collective bargaining. Second, the introduction of structural adjustment in 1989-90 allowed unions the freedom to engage in collective bargaining with employers, but also hurt workers. Third, the ZCTU, led by Tsvangirai from 1988, took advantage of its greater autonomy to improve its organization and educate workers: overall union membership doubled to 25 per cent of about 1.5 million formal sector workers between 1980 and 1990 and remained steady through the 1990s, despite retrenchments and often declining real wages (Sachikonye, pp. 91-2). (The MDC claims one in five workers have lost their jobs since 1999.) Fourth, the ZCTU developed and provided the organizational framework for broad social alliances (for example, with public sector workers, students, human rights groups, white commercial farmers) in support of democratization, the rule of law, and  ‘national ownership’ of a structural adjustment programme. But its alliances diluted its earlier emphasis on class struggle and ended in the late 1980s’ anti-imperialist and pro-socialist rhetoric with calls for redistribution (including land reform). Finally, despite the MDC emerging from the ZCTU, only 21 percent of MDC parliamentarians are unionists, thus creating tensions in the MDC/ZCTU relationship.
Patrick Bond argues that ZANU(PF) is not the ‘Left’ or even a ‘progressive’ social force, that such a force exists within the ZCTU and in and around the MDC, and that its task is to formulate an anti-neo-liberal economic programme to clarify for the masses whether Tsvangirai or Mugabe can best address ‘the more profound conflict over Zimbabwe’s economic future’ (p. 51). Bond predicts, spuriously thus far, that Mugabe will accommodate the international financial institutions (p. 48). Paris Yeros explores the ZCTU’s international politics in the 1990s, showing how its strategy has been to keep all options open, as it has manoeuvred membership in anti-imperialist African labour federations and in the social democratic ICFTU. Yeros’ (and Bond’s) nightmare scenario – ‘multiparty democracy’ with two essentially bourgeois parties (the MDC and ZANU(PF)) arguing over which can best implement the liberal agenda (pp. 85-6) – ignores more menacing futures.
Lloyd Sachikonye provides a useful chapter on unions’ institutional development.  Lovemore Madhuku highlights aspects of law that promote and weaken unions (for example, ‘ridiculous’ strike provisions, denial of union rights to public service workers, lack of constitutional protection for collective bargaining and the right to strike). Richard Saunders traces the capacity of the labour movement to mount effective industrial strikes and finds only some of their goals being met. In a chapter on the inadequacies of labour laws for women, Naira Khan and Niki Jazdowska advocate, inter alia, the need to make sexual harassment at work a legal offence. Blair Rutherford’s district-based study of farm workers documents convincingly how the ruling party supported worker challenges to the ‘domestic government’ of white commercial farmers but then withdrew, leaving workers at the mercy of white farmers until the recent land occupations. Suzanne Dansereau finds that mine-workers benefitted from significant improvements after independence but that most continue to face company barriers against gaining skills, higher wages, and ending their dependence on rural and other income sources. Lastly, Yash Tandon attributes farmworkers’ poverty to global economic structures, and especially industrial oligopolies’ exploitation of the rural areas.
This valuable collection contains interesting differences and agreements among contributors that might have been signalled or explored. Tandon focuses on the ZCTU’s/MDC’s fatal missed opportunity to build solidarity between urban and farm workers in early 1998 (pp. 248-9). Raftopoulos laments that Mugabe’s courting of the war veterans in late 1997 kept them from an alliance with the labour movement (p. 12). These contributions, along with others, raise questions about how war veterans fit into class analysis. The authors also often articulate divergent class conceptions. Tandon sees farm workers as peasants; Rutherford views farm workers as distinct from peasants; Yeros conceives of all workers as peasants; and Dansereau laments that mineworkers are not yet fully proletarian. Arguably, contributors (for example, Yeros, Bond, Raftopoulos) who emphasize the constraints of the neo-liberal global order miss how Mugabe is demonstrating an alternative route, albeit no more likely than previous strategies to promote equity or growth. Finally, many of the essays take leadership ideology seriously even as they document its breathtaking volatility – which ought to raise questions about its importance.

Norma Kriger
Goucher College, Baltimore MD

Shimmer Chinodya
Harare: Weaver Press, 2006.
223 pp. £12.95 pap. ISBN 9781779220585
[African Books Collective]

Strife is the most recent novel from the Zimbabwean writer Shimmer Chinodya, who has also produced short stories, children’s books and secondary school texts, as well as the script for an award-winning film. Strife adds to Chinodya’s accomplishments by having won the 2007 Noma Award for Publishing, an annual competition for books published by African writers in Africa.

Strife explores problems of history, destiny and disease – metaphorical and literal – by relating the multi-generational tale of the Gwanangara family through a complicated plot structure that toggles back and forth between the present (from 1980 onward) and the past (from the mid- 1800s on). As the flashbacks catch up to the present, the storylines merge. The Gwanangara family hails from Gweru, today Zimbabwe’s third-largest city and a centrally located railway hub. In the present-day narrative strand, the protagonist Godfrey (Godi) is one of seven children in a family cursed with maladies of all types. One brother is epileptic (his first fit seizes him on his wedding night), while another is schizophrenic. Their parents pursue both modern and traditional cures to the family’s troubles, trying hospitals as well as “alternative” treatments. The father reluctantly going along with his wife, the “moon huntress,” who “believes in the Holy Ghost and in medicines, but she is convinced that some cases are best left to the traditional healer’s bones” (p.28). Through narrative flashbacks, we learn more about the family history, dating back to the era of Godi’s great-grandfather, where we find a number of unresolved conflicts and troubles. Given its title, some might expect Strife to focus on politics and especially on recent conflicts in Zimbabwe. After all, one of Chinodya’s earlier novels, Harvest of Thorns (1989), which won a Commonwealth Writers Prize, has become the definitive literary portrayal of the independence struggle in Zimbabwe. Those expectations are not fulfilled in this book, which seems to be more about trauma on a personal and family level. Reference to the
independence struggle is dismissive and almost selfmocking: “The story of that bitter conflict has been told elsewhere, many times before,” the narrator asserts (p.7). And later: “Zimbabwe is newly independent; the war of liberation is over and a black government is in power; there is celebration in the air but we’re already beginning to harvest thorns, blah, blah, blah.” Still, the Gwanangara family quest for healing takes place within a larger political context, and as the story progresses the narrative moves through the major upheavals in the past 150 years of Zimbabwe’s history. Godi, the narrator, is a writer by trade, “in love with languages” (p.7), and in some sense the novel is an exploration of the dilemmas of the contemporary African writer in coming to terms with a troubled past. Experimental, slightly difficult, and sometimes too didactic, the story ends with an allegorical stagescript in which Godi encounters the characters of Tradition, Patriarchy, Shame, Modernity, and Education. He concludes that “human nature hardly changes, only its material form does” (p.220) and that “there are some cases which medicine can’t cure” (p.223). Strife should be in any library that maintains a collection of major works of fiction from southern Africa.