Review of War Veterans in Zimbabwe's Revolution by Ngoni Muzofa

Wordsetc. Issue No. 9

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

Reviewed by Peter Merrington

The Hairdresser of Harare is a very readable, entertaining, engaging and perturbing novel. It opens up a universe of insight into aspects of contemporary Zimbabwe and Harare. Tendai Huchu presents us with a first-person narrative. The narrator is a young woman from the impoverished Budiriro Township in Harare who carried the burden (in a markedly patriarchal society) of real physical beauty. She works as a talented hairdresser in MaKhumalo’s salon. Her life is shaped by accident, from the peculiar blend of opportunity and injustice that seems to exemplify the paradoxical nature of Zimbabwean urban postcolonial modernity. She moves as an ingénue through the sequence of chance and contingency in her life and Huchu succeeds in this by his light touch, his light irony that sets her up even as she candidly tries to reflect on events.

The hair salon is a classic locus in African cultural representations. Huchu lets the vernacular speak for itself – vanity and lotions, curling and braiding, black hair, “European” hair, music, magazines, gossip and the commercial underground network, reputation and word of mouth, petty rivalry and ambition, loyalty, talent and clientele. It is a wonderful alchemical space that blends personal lives, public culture, gross materialism and homespun philosophy.

The narrator, Vimbai, is (like Cinderella) set to rise from her poor roots. Her likeable modesty and naivety make this possible. In the relatively small urban mix of Harare, in the egalitarian world of a people’s democracy, anything is possible for a self-made, determined and talented woman. However as soon as she stands out from the crowd, she attracts attention from the small, elite, closed crony world of disproportionate power and wealth.

Cinderella draws attention and is invited to the ball. Prince Charming buys her expensive new clothes and she goes with him to his magic realm of wealth and privilege. He is all too charming, and decent, and generous, and she fails to read the signs.

She takes him to her only place of entertainment, the independent Pentecostal “Forward in Faith Ministry”. She and her fellow congregants, in their cinema seats are given their wonted emotional extension through four hours of songs of praise and worship, signs and wonders, and the rapture of the pastor’s charismatic voice. His blazing sermon on the un-African and unscriptural evils of homosexuality bound them in a spell, given the deep taboo on sexual discussion of any kind in the traditional conservative African society. But it doesn’t fascinate Prince Charming.

He, Dumi, son of a wealthy self-made businessman, has – like his siblings – a top education, a modern mind, and globe travel under his belt. His family is delighted with the beautiful but modest Vimbai and her little daughter. They see Vimbai as a charmingly pliant addition to their clan. More so, they see her as a “cure” for Dumi.

Vimbai fails to recognize the signs of gayness. Her traditional background prompts her to read Dumi’s sexual modesty towards herself as a most welcome indication of his morals, his sense of respect. Vimbai, as a narrator, is unable to read the many signs that Tendai Huchu puts before us through her own narration. Again and again she misinterprets. We predict the outcome, we are invited by Huchu to do so, and the intrigue falls on how Vimbai will realize, how she will react, how the social implications will be resolved. The implications are also political. Grace Mugabe herself is a client of Vimbai; so is a powerful female cabinet minister whose husband takes to grazing on illicit pastures. “War Veterans” are called in; there is fear and violence; and this is the price others pay as a consequence of Vimbai’s new success and public profile, and her naivety.

The Hairdresser of Harare
is a well-constructed, carefully positioned, but unambiguous critique of the paradoxes of urban modernization, corruption, prejudice and brutality in contemporary Zimbabwe. Huchu’s use of an ingénue as first person narrator, as sole focaliser or interpreter, is well managed and very effective. Despite the violence that takes place, despite the prejudicial actuality that this novel is prepared to challenge, the narrative is gentle, wishful, hopeful, loyal and generous – qualities that are credibly expressed by the narrator as her own.

Huchu almost teases his own story-teller, and almost teasing her, he teases us. For her it is a journey of delayed discovery even as she speaks it.

Despite this overarching structure of irony, Huchu does not mock Vimbai. She grows in stature, she keeps her integrity, and she learns new things about the heart, and love and social values. While we watch and wait, we remain in sympathy with her, and her journey becomes ours too.

I hope that The Hairdresser of Harare will make its mark in southern Africa.

REVIEWER: Peter Merrington is an author and literary historian affiliated to the University of Western Cape, and holds an MA and Ph.D from the University of Cape Town. He is working on a book length study of the Union of South Africa 1910 and questions of public heritage. He also runs his own ceramics studio.

Zimbabwe Independent

24-30 June, 2011

Independent Library 

War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Revolution

Reviewed by Ngoni Muzofa

THIS is the first in a series of reviews of the book War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Revolution.

The book is an eye witness account and scholarly analysis of Zimbabwe’s political history by Zvakanyorwa Wilbert Sadomba, a lecturer in the University of Zimbabwe’s Sociology Department. Sadomba, a participant in the 1970’s guerrilla war is keen on “revealing the foundational philosophies, cosmologies and experiences that are manifest in the war veterans-led revolution”.

“I therefore do not pretend to be neutral and impartial,” Sadomba contends, “since I see myself first and foremost as an African freedom fighter before I am a scholar.”

On the question of the potential bias of his work, Sadomba says social science would crumble under the weight of that question.“The question presupposes that one has first to be male and not a woman in order to study gender, or has first to be European in order to study Africa or vice versa.”

War veterans, posits Sadomba, are considered homogenous, yet comprise different elements with various social backgrounds and different wartime exposures and experiences. “An important differentiating factor is the varied environments through which actors passed during the three phases of the armed struggle.” These are the 1963-75 Chitepo period, 1975-7 Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) period and from 1977 to the present — the Mugabe era.Each phase is distinguished by the nature and characteristics of its leadership, methods of recruitment, quality of its recruits, politico-ideological thrust and level of military offensive.

Sadomba calls the 1963-75 period the Chitepo era because of the central leadership role of Herbert Chitepo from 1964 when he became the Zanu national chairman.“Of particular importance was his effort to transform Zanu into a Marxist-Leninist organisation, in theory at least, and to shift from conventional to guerrilla warfare,” says Sadomba. It was also under Chitepo’s leadership that a military alliance was forged with the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) to allow guerrilla infiltration of Zimbabwe through Mozambique.Zapu had started much earlier, Sadomba observes, but the focus was on carrying out acts of sabotage. The guerrilla warfare was based on rural mobilisation which was a critical factor in determining the success of the liberation struggle.Mobilisation, propaganda or intimidation lasted longer than the war itself, crystallising into community memory and history whose impact continues to shape society today.

This era also witnessed the separation of powers in Zanu — which occurred only in 1973 — when Josiah Tongogara was elected as Chief of Defence to the Dare, a group containing no civilians. The main method of recruiting fighters during this phase was conscription or press-ganging (enforced induction) and as a result the uneducated recruits had a great impact on the rest of the war.Political education was limited to basic explanations of some nationalist grievances that lay behind the war and the political history of the party. “There was no focus on what systems might replace the settler capitalist institutions and ideology.”Later recruits were indicted from the north-eastern front, a region that had suffered high levels of neglect under the white regime and had a particularly high level of illiteracy. Recruits from such areas as Mount Darwin, Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe and Guruve were of a distinctly lower level of educational than those who came later from Manicaland, Masvingo and Matabeleland.

“This pattern of recruitment had a powerful bearing on ethnic-related tensions throughout the liberation war.” To some extent, Sadomba adds, it still plays a role in current politics. These tensions manifest themselves in the formation of a splinter organisation — the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform — from that of the war veterans.

The Chitepo era ended with his car-bomb assassination but he along with his colleagues in Zapu James Chikerema and Jason Moyo — had been faced with scarce resources as well as struggles on the diplomatic front.

“However, the end of this period was violent and it left a trauma that was to pervade the liberation movement and even the post-independence era.

“The bloody violence, first as the March 11 Movement in Zapu and then the Badza/Nhari rebellion in Zanla and finally the murder of Chitepo himself, saw the triumph of elitist forces over radical elements.” Zipa’s entrance into the liberation movement followed this catastrophic period. Zanla fighters at Mgagao camp in Tanzania wrote and signed a document known as the Mgagao Declaration.The most important proposal of the fighters was the suggestion to unite Zanla and Zipra into Zipa which would have no allegiance to the nationalist leaders.“The fighters stood for revolutionary unity, defined as the unity of committed revolutionaries that enriches and drives forward the revolution.”

It is important to note, Sadomba states, “that only at this point did Zanla and Zipra formally unite, a move that could — had it lasted — have pre-empted the post independence conflicts between them, and prevented the Gukurahundi (massacres)”.

The Mgagao Declaration also helped to challenge “the myth of the omnipotence of the (civil) leaders of the liberation movement”. “These leaders now had to prove their commitment to the struggle by deeds rather than mere words. From this event onwards, nationalist leaders became much more vigilant about the mood of the fighters, and the need to control them.”This then led to the “economic dis-empowerment, social isolation, relegation and victimization” of war veterans when the nationalists gained an upper hand as well as in the post Independence era. “The wheeling and dealing of the factionalised Mugabe era was the antithesis of Zipa solidarity.” 

The Zipa era was however the shortest phase of the liberation struggle. Nationalists, remote from operations, had limited control over the guerrilla forces. “Zipa not only covered a wider area of operations, engulfing more than two-thirds of the country, but also intensified the war. More fatal battles were waged attacking bigger targets and dislocating infrastructure and economic establishments.”

The demise of Zipa started when the young commanders of the Zipa military committee failed to sustain unity between Zipra and Zanla. Such divisions created within the forces were exploited by Mugabe, Tongogara and the released Dare leaders.

“Partisan loyalty was fostered by the nationalists, and the revolutionary cadres failed to establish an effective organization transcending Zanu and Zapu. Zanu nationalists forged an alliance with members of the former High Command and persuaded Samora Machel to arrest the Zipa commanders.

Mugabe was then declared Zanu President and guerrilla leadership, Zipa’s ideology and vision were replaced by nationalist civilians and ideological persuasion. “The Mugabe era had begun.”

The syllabus compiled for political education was banned and replaced by one that emphasized the history of Zanu and the new structure of the Central Committee.

“The whole political programe changed to focus on the personality of the leader. For example, the slogan ‘Pamberi naCde Robert Mugabe’  (Forward with Comrade Robert Mugabe) was first introduced in specific challenge to Zipa’s position that no one would be considered a hero unless he was already dead and had been a revolutionary to the end.”

Political lectures were replaced mainly by lessons that demanded memorising the new structure of the Politburo, Central Committee and High Command. “This became the thrust of political education characteristic of the Mugabe era. Names mattered more than ideas.

“A cult, building up the personality of Zanu’s President Robert Mugabe, developed rapidly from that time, lasting into the independence era, and thereby reversing (in the eyes of the egalitarian cadres) all Zipa’s achievements on the ideological front.”

* Available at Weaver Press and other good bookstores.