Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rebirth of an African Genius in Zimbabwe

Rebirth of an African genius

Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Herald

THIS is the first part of a series of articles in which AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER MUTSVANGWA traces the foundations of Zimbabwe and how four centuries of Zimbabwe-Europe interaction have served to sap the country of its ability to chart an independent and prosperous course in global affairs.

THE history of Zimbabwe over the years has demonstrated an African genius that thrived on opening to the outside in the medieval era.

It proved its resilience against two waves of European intrusion, including a military defeat of the Rhodesian offshoot of the British imperial army.

Zimbabwe has just successfully carried out the most far-reaching restitution of indigenous property rights of the post-colonial era by decisively reclaiming land for the majority.

By once again refocusing on the natural human development task of the conscious creation of a genuine African middle class, Zimbabwe is poised to recover its role as the sub-regional driver of civilisation to the benefit of the African Renaissance.

The Founding of the Zimbabwe Nation

Zimbabwe today is a geographical entity that is between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers.

In the east are the Eastern Highlands that form the boundary with Mozambique. The fringes of the Kalahari Desert form the western border with Botswana.

MaDzimbahwe, stone-walled citadels worthy of Unesco heritage sites

The fabulous wealth was used to build granite stone citadels that are an enduring testimony of the stability of Shona Kingdoms over a period of 900 years starting from 800AD.

Mapungubwe, on the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers in South Africa, was the first such citadel. It has become famous because its artefacts escaped the deliberate if philistine destruction of Cecil John Rhodes and other latter day European marauders.

The most famous and majestic is the Great Zimbabwe at Masvingo, also a Unesco heritage site.

Their scope and splendour are testament to a pinnacle achievement in architecture and granite stone-working which awed the merchants from far off lands who visited the rich kings of the time.

Others are Naletale, Dhlodhlo and Khami. These citadels have no parallel in sub-Saharan Africa.

Seen in their totality, they are a testament to a political order of general and sustained stability that could spawn enduring achievements in agriculture, mining, commerce, military arts and language.

This was to mark the golden era of the Dzimbahwe civilisation.

These imposing granite citadels tell a story of advanced scientific tilling of the lands to produce abundant surpluses that freed the human mind and body to pursue other skills in gold mining and other metallurgical activity.

This in turn spawned a great increase in commerce that soon went beyond the Indian Ocean to attract Monsoon seafaring merchants from Egypt, Arabia, Persia (Iran), India and even far off China is indicated by archaeological Ming Dynasty beads.

The law and order of his day, the sense of peace and tranquility was such that gold and other items could be traded at great fairs.

More so it could be safely transported by human porters to the coastal ports to an extent that it assured the monsoon dhows of sure and unfailing cargo.

This type of accomplishment should put to shame the modern day gold and diamond smuggling in Zimbabwe.

The stories of the gold of the Munhumutapas reverberated from the near Orient all the way westward to the ears of the kings of the rising maritime powers of Europe.

There it kindled imagined legends such as the biblical "King Solomon’s Mines" and the "Empire of Prester John.

It was not long before Portuguese seafarers made the groundbreaking sail around Africa on the way to the spices of the East. Such was the pull of Zimbabwe’s fabled gold that they also made a sojourn into the interior of the land of the Munhumutapas and took no time in setting up an embassy at his court.

Greed soon overcame the Portuguese guests as they found the interior of Zimbabwe quite hospitable to those from temperate zones.

Their superior firepower and their increasing numbers soon led them into land grabs. Estates or prazos (mapurazi) were claimed especially along the Mazoe valley.

The military adventurism incurred the wrath of the Shona people. With stretched supply lines of the mercantile empire 17th Century they proved no match to the reorganised Rozvi armies.

The Portuguese interlopers were routed and confined to the coastal zones while their occasional warlords formed ad hoc alliances to retain varying degrees of influence all the way to the arrival of the British challengers two centuries later.

Portuguese mercantilism and the first trade sanctions against Zimbabwe

They in turn retaliated with a naval grip of the coastal ports that destroyed free trade in the Indian Ocean. Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese traders were banished from trading with Zimbabwe, which was effectively now under blockade.

This isolation was the first sanctions ever applied by European power against Zimbabwe.

It is the only plausible explanation of why the stone citadels afterwards never reached the pinnacle of Great Zimbabwe at Masvingo.

Zimbabweans should thus dismiss with total contempt, the lies and deliberate confusion by British colonial historians as to the real cause of waning Shona influence.

Starved of external trade, the Rozvi Empire went into steady decline effectively marking the close of the golden era of Shona civilisation in the sub-region.

Shona as lingua franca

Historically, the people of modern Zimbabwe have been part of a bigger social grouping which extended further into adjacent Mozambique, Botswana and northern South Africa.

They spoke the Shona language, which is used across varying tribes indicating the overriding influence of sustained socio-political integration over a long period.

Clearly the flourishing internal trade led to the emergence of common lingua franca, more so as that trade expanded beyond borders and across oceans raking in immense wealth.

The heritage of a common medium of communication across tribes and region is perhaps the greatest gift left to modern Zimbabwe by our ancestors.

Courtesy of the Shona language, Zimbabwe was to emerge a more united viable entity in the wake of the 1884 Berlin Conference when European conquerors carved Africa using the age old tactic of ethnic, tribal, religious and linguistic divide and rule.

The glue of a majority language has also made it possible to easily foster national consciousness. Modern Zimbabwe has thus been able to withstand determined efforts directed at national fractiousness by Britain, the post imperial power in concert with its allies.

Monotheistic religion and ‘Vadzimu’ intercession

Closely related to common language was also the practice and belief in the common Mwari religion of one God across the sub-region.

It worshipped one God, Mwari through the intercession of "mudzimu" or "svikiro". It was non-sexist and women could also wield great religious influence.

The departed ancestors acted as the angels. The traditional chiefs performed the role of chief priests. Shrines and burial places all played their part as the physical anchors of worship.

The religious and administrative structure of the Shona chieftaincy was to ensure the survival of this centuries-old tradition.

The resilience and power of traditional religion was so strong that it managed to survive the separation of the people from their historical homes when British colonisers violently expropriated land from the people.

Ndebele Nguni and the new Zimbabwe nation

The capacity of the Zimbabwe nation to withstand external shock and absorb new ideas was to be tested with the arrival of the Ngunis in the wake of the Mfecane of the early 19th century.

The pressure of advancing British imperial power that had finally subjugated the Xhosa after a long series of wars forced the Zulus of King Tshaka to forge unity of the Nguni nation through forced military integration.

One unforeseen outcome was the Mfecane or Diaspora by reluctant smaller tribes who decided to escape even northwards across the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers.

The first group to cross the Limpopo River was that of Zwangendaba.

He raided and killed the Rozvi Mambo before proceeding to cross the Zambezi and settle in parts of Malawi, Tanzania and eastern DRC.

Mzilikazi and the Ndebele followed shortly after. As he wandered northwards, Mzilikazi had incorporated Swazi and Sotho elements into his regiments.

He finally headed for western Zimbabwe.

There he quickly blended Nguni social structures, superior military arrangements and language with the dominant Rozvi traditions of the Shonas to form a powerful kingdom with Bulawayo as capital.

To its credit, within just three generations the new society had become part of a Zimbabwe that would ally with the majority Shonas across the whole plateau into formidable resistance to encroaching British imperial hegemony.

Soshangana and the Shangani in the East

Another Nguni offshoot, the Shangani moved into the Mozambique- Zimbabwe border. Here they fought great anti-colonial battles against Portuguese rule under the great chief Gungunyana.

The British and modern Zimbabwe

The present day Zimbabwe is a product of British imperial rule for over 90 years. Unlike other African countries where the English sent administrators, Zimbabwe was turned into a home by the colonisers.

The fertile soils, the equable climate off the plateau was simply too enticing to the new European invaders thus vindicating the great sense of human geography in the original Shona who had made the plateau home at about the same time as Vikings invaded England and well before the Norman conquest of the British Isles.

At their population height in 1970s, the white settlers were less than 3 percent of the total population. Yet they wielded great power concentrated in a racial minority.

Their numbers have dwindled mainly because of lack of allegiance to Zimbabwe. Britain, the metropolitan power has consistently and persistently manipulated their loyalty to serve a selfish, neo-colonial and increasingly out-dated agenda of pernicious influence on the Zimbabwe body politic.

The British tradition continues to wane as their numbers have decreased in the aftermath of their military defeat a decade before the 21st century.

But their influence in ushering in the concept of a modern state to the Zimbabwe nation is still there and will endure long after their present if flippant sulkiness.

The English language and international discourse

Besides the management of a modern economy, advanced commercial law and other aspects of a modern state, the enduring contribution is the usage of the English language in national discourse.

With the emergence of the USA as the dominant superpower of the 20th century and beyond, Zimbabwe could ride on the worldwide acceptance of English as the premier lingua franca of international interaction.

The liberal democratic tradition

Another remarkable feature of English colonial rule was the introduction of the liberal democratic mode of governance.

At home, British rule had done its part in advancing constitutionalism as a mode of modern governance. Yet as it went abroad, British imperialism practiced class discrimination that would lead to rebellion by the American colonists. Worse it was the pioneer and practitioner of modern racism against the people of colour.

Nevertheless, with the eventual demise of the imperial adventure, the concept of liberal democratic governance has been avidly adapted by the former subjects.

In Zimbabwe, it took one generation before the black majority shook off the stupor of the shock of military defeat by British conquerors at the end of the 19th century.

Agitation for workers’ rights in the new towns soon coalesced with rural demand for stolen land.

The aftermath of World War II saw this political activism morph into the demand for the non-racial voting and majority rule.

Political parties were formed in the face of growing resistance and increasing white minority settler repression. This was the incubation of the future political leadership that would culminate in a successful military challenge to British imperial rule.

Heroes and the anti-colonial tradition

Just as Walter Rodney postulates in his celebrated book, "How Europe underdeveloped Africa", the natural development of Zimbabwe was stunted and even temporarily arrested by aspects of its negative interaction with Europe.

Changamire Dombo of the Rozvi

The Portuguese who had set up legation at the court of Munhumutapa did not take long to see an opportunity in occupying the well-endowed Zimbabwe plateau for their far away king.

Through the ruse of dabbling in local succession politics, the Portuguese interlopers did not take time to ensconce themselves as imperial arbiters of the Munhumutapa Kingdom.

Though outnumbered with stretched supply lines, they soon turned themselves into rulers taking courtesy of their advantage of superior firepower. However, their imperial adventurism was very short lived as the Shonas from the interior organised a counter offensive.

Changamire Dombo of the Rozvi was the first great hero in the long history of painful encounter with European imperial invaders. His warriors drove Portuguese armies away from the interior plateau to the Indian Ocean coastal zones.

He thus spared the country the fate of present day Mozambique which became a colony of Portugal for so many centuries.

The respite of freedom was to be challenged by more modern and better armed British imperial troops. Under the guise of dubious and deceitful treaties, Rhodes and his Pioneer Column occupied present day Zimbabwe in the wake of the 1884 Berlin Conference on the Partition of Africa.

Lobengula and the Ndebele War

This brazen act of imperial conquest forced King Lobengula of the Ndebele nation into a war against the marauders.

Though he was defeated, the spirit of resistance took another dimension when both the Shona and Ndebele organised a joint resistance that would stretch the new occupiers.

Nehanda and the First Chimurenga

Nehanda, Kaguvi, Mashayamombe, Chingaira and many other Shona and Ndebele chiefs carried out co-ordinated attacks at isolated settler outposts all over the Plateau. Facing stark prospects, imperial Britain had to dispatch fresh reinforcements from Port Elizabeth to go to Zimbabwe through Beira in order to save its embattled settlers from imminent annihilation.

European advances in military technology such as the Gatling gun and the invention of dynamite tilted the equation against native peoples who still fought with spears. Their numbers were rendered useless against such firepower and the war of resistance collapsed into painful defeat.

Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and modern nationalism

The defeat of the people of Zimbabwe cowered a whole generation into submission as fear gripped the land and white settlers did as they wished. They appropriated large estates for themselves while forcing the majority natives into marginal lands.

Indentured labour was the order of the day. So were onerous taxes and other administrative measures intended to force the majority into a new proletariat designed to serve the new masters.

Working conditions in new urban centres, farms and mines were as appalling as the low wages.

The sheer weight of oppression was such that it could only revive the spirit of resistance. By the 1930s the people had taken to strikes and agitation against colonial excesses.

The outbreak of the WWII forced a stretched Britain to recruit Africans and other colonial subjects into its war effort against Hitler’s Germany.

The battle cry of freedom had a resonant effect. At the end of hostilities, many were demobilised without as much as a thank you by a broke and penniless England.

To their consternation they noticed their erstwhile battlefield white colleagues being rewarded with even more land which was being expropriated from fellow Africans. The resultant anger and alienation fuelled the spirit of popular resistance eve more.

In the meantime, missionary education had nurtured a more conscious African elite, which could eloquently articulate the issues of concern to the black majority.

This new elite also benefited from interaction with other Africans when they went to South Africa to further their education.

After all, South Africa had the oldest liberation movement, the African National Congress which had been founded in 1912 in reaction to nascent apartheid as the British co-opted Afrikaners into a white ruling condominium.

Joshua Nkomo, the Father of the Nation became the voice of Zimbabweans as he articulated their grievances and formed political parties that urged majority rule and one man one vote.

Robert Mugabe an uncanny intellectual, austere revolutionary and visionary statesman started his political career as Joshua Nkomo’s lieutenant but came into his own as the demands of the drawn out struggle rose.

The two combined into a formidable duet that scaled new heights in the fight for freedom. They did not hesitate to the ultimate choice of armed confrontation with the entrenched settler minority in order to dislodge it from power.

Repeated proscriptions of political parties, imprisonment and detention of the leadership, brazen violence meted out to the agitating populace exposed the futility of non-violent confrontation of the entrenched settler minority.

The nationalist movement came to the painful conclusion that to win freedom and sovereignty, the people had to organise their own defence against the colonial state machinery.

Zimbabwe had to reverse the defeat of Nehanda, Kaguvi and others before they could once again come into their own.

One man one vote, majority rule, a people’s constitution and all that go with the trappings of a modern democratic state were only possible after the people had been organised to answer the settler insolence and intransigence with potent armed power. A terrible new beauty was about to be born.

Herbert Chitepo, J Z Moyo and the people’s war

The challenge to chart the new territory of founding a revolutionary army fell on two, on lawyer Herbert Chitepo of Zanu and Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo of Zapu.

In the relative safety of exile in newly independent Zambia and Tanzania, both took it upon themselves to embrace current thinking on national liberation theory and practice.

They rightly deserve the credit of the formation of an armed political cadreship for the defense of a people under colonial bondage.

This army was built on the bedrock of love of the country and its people. Those who were its initial cadres sowed a tradition were the well-being of the individual was subsumed to that of the nation.

The prospect of one’s life was subordinated to that of a country and its people for eternity.

Good schooling, rewarding work, marrying and bringing up own family as well as quest for self actualisation, including any anticipated fame: all these were to pale in significance and value to the call of patriotic duty.

A great calling that could not reward the self. It inevitably led to maiming, loss of sight or hearing.

Most horribly, it often ended with the brutish claim of that invaluable, once only gift of life. And for the survivors there is the lifelong trauma of war and the consequences of foregone opportunity in a competitive society.

It is no wonder that their invaluable philosophy and praxis of nation building so frightened the enemy that he dedicated all his effort to the personal elimination of both Herbert Chitepo and J Z Moyo among many others of their proud ilk.

Josiah Tongogara, Nikita Mangena and the Samora Machel generation

Zimbabwe’s military genius came into its own under the command of the incomparable Josiah Tongogara of the Zimbabwe African Liberation Army (Zanla) and Nikita Mangena of the Zimbabwe’s African People’s Army (Zipra).

Their military mettle came to the fore courtesy of a new wave of recruits who left the country at the inspiration of the political and military exploits of Samora Machel and his Frelimo of Mozambique.

The armed victory of the people of Mozambique that helped foment a revolution against fascist Portuguese rule was to fire the imagination of youth in the whole of Southern Africa.

All the classrooms of the region starting with those of Soweto burst into open defiance of colonial rule spilling into the streets to demonstrate.

More potently, thousands others melted into the African bush to trek to neighbouring independent countries to seek the much loved gun. Defying the prospect of imminent death they fervently embraced arms with the sole desire to train and go back home to settle the final score with a well-armed and dug-in armed racist oppressor.

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