Sunday, November 28, 2010

Patriotic History: A Response to Imperialism

Patriotic History a response to imperialism

Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media, with a Foreword by Terence Ranger, Hochfeldstrasse 32, Peter Lang, 2010. 286 Pages. ISBN: 978-3-03911-989-9 (Paperback)

WHEN this writer was still a student of history in high school, he came across and used extensively a book by Professor Terence Ranger for the African history component, then popularly referred to as Paper 13.

The book was entitled Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 1896-7 and gave quite detailed accounts of the various battles that indigenous Africans fought in an effort to fend off European occupation. One area that Prof Ranger looked at in the book is race-relations during the pacification period.

This writer still recalls a quotation attributed by one native commissioner: "I have never seen a raw African wearing boots".

Mere sight of the introduction by Prof Ranger made me want to look at Blessing-Miles Tendi’s book. This is an open admission that Prof Ranger was, is and will remain quite an authority on African history, especially from this part of the continent.

Tendi’s book is made up of nine chapters, which are preceded by sections on acronyms as well as a detailed glossary.

However, while Prof Ranger’s Revolt in Southern Rhodesia remains a good source on Zimbabwean history, the unique aspect of Tendi’s book is that it comes from someone who is not foreign to the experiences of Zimbabweans. In a way, Tendi seems to answer to incessant calls on people to tell the Zimbabwean story.

Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media is Volume Four of Nationalisms Across the Globe series. The series editors are Drs Tomasz Kamusella and Krysztof Jaskulowski.

In the foreword, Prof Ranger rightly observes that while responses to his article titled "Nationalist Historiography, Patriotic History and the History of the Nation" that appeared in the Journal of Southern African Studies continued to justify the use of the term "Patriotic History", these do not criticise or develop the concept.

The renowned scholar admits that his own article was limited to "newspaper propaganda, television and radio". He did not interview the "creators of ‘Patriotic History’ nor the intellectuals who disliked it but found it difficult to attack" (pxvii).

It is in this respect, Prof Ranger argues, where Tendi’s book is different.

The book "is based on very many interviews in which Zimbabwean politicians, intellectuals, historians and readers talk to him, and through him to each other". This he says results in a "much more complex and subtle picture".

This way the book becomes a major contribution to a "deepening of Zimbabwean historiographical discussion". In the introduction, Tendi spells out that President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have tried to "propagate a repackaged . . . version of Zimbabwe’s liberation history called Patriotic History". He notes that this was necessitated by the central role which the party and its leadership played in the execution of Zimbabwe’s liberation war as well as the country’s radical revolutionary tradition.

Tendi’s depth as a historian is clear as he manages to identify the key factors that buoy the above, namely: "land, race, a dichotomy between ‘sellouts’ and ‘patriots’; and a rejection of Western interference based on what are perceived as ‘Western ideals’ such as human rights" (p1).

The primary theme for Patriotic History is land dispossession, which has been a bone of contention since the First Chimurenga of 1896 that saw Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company rule established on the country.

The Second Chimurenga continued the fight to correct the land grievances. However, even by the year 2000, the issue of land still remained unresolved as large tracts of productive land remained in the hands of the minority white population of the country.

Tendi’s thrust in the book is that Patriotic History emerged as a response to Western imperialism, a feature which the writer says is well captured in Inside the Third Chimurenga, a collection of speeches and writings by President Mugabe.

According to him, the Third Chimurenga was a war to redress colonial land imbalances that existed between the majority black population and the minority white component of the population which enjoyed the support of Western imperialism.

Tendi argues that his book will help readers understand "the implications of the Zimbabwean intellectual community’s role in the construction and dissemination of Patriotic History". It is a source that explores how some professional academics wore the public intellectual garb and became willing advocates of Patriotic History.

In Chapter Two, the writer examines specific nationalist public intellectuals who frequently commented on the country’s politics and liberation history on national television as well as print media.

This group of intellectuals; Tafataona Mahoso, Ibbo Mandaza, Claude Mararike, Vimbai Chivaura, Sheunesu Mpepereki and Godfrey Chikowore, are deemed to be supportive of Zanu-PF. The author contends that his "exploration of their activities in the public sphere uncovers sophisticated uses of history that play on real grievances and painful memories of the colonial period". (p6)

Public intellectuals who were critical of Zanu-PF are the focus of Chapter Three. These include Brian Raftopoulos, Masipula Sithole, John Makumbe, Lovemore Madhuku and Eliphas Mukonoweshuro. Tendi argues that they published articles critical of Zanu-PF in independent daily and weekly newspapers and in the process, "were effective in deconstructing the ‘patriots’ and ‘sell-outs’ distinction and in underlining that land was was one of several grievances that caused the liberation war, but they failed to disentangle a local struggle for human rights and democracy from appeals to and comparisons with supposed ‘democratic’ and ‘human rights respecting’ Western countries".

Chapter Four is an attempt at explaining and critiquing Patriotic History’s elevation of land at the expense of other liberation ideals, for instance civil and political rights.

The writer’s view is that while land was indeed a significant grievance in Zimbabwean nationalism, it is important to place it within the context of the rest of nationalist ideological concerns as well as regional politics.

Tendi argues that Patriotic History tries to create a distinction between civil and political and economic rights. Equitable land redistribution is an example an economic right that Patriotic History promotes. He also introduces the Anyaoku narrative which sought to advance the thesis that the Zanu-PF government delayed land redistribution in the 1990s at the request of former Commonwealth secretary general Chief Emeka Anyaoku since it was felt that rapid resettlement would have coincided with South Africa’s transition from apartheid.

Chapter Five deals with Patriotic History’s treatment of the theme of race starting with the 1980 policy of reconciliation adopted by the Zanu-PF Government. This policy was adopted in order to stimulate "amity, nation-building and economic growth" between the majority black and white minority groups of the country’s population. The author argues, however, that this policy was abandoned around 2000 and the roots of this collapse can be traced to the defective Lancaster House Constitution.

Chapter Six explores the "patriot" and "sell-out" distinction in Patriotic History, while the following chapter concerns itself with the conceptualisation of the Third Chimurenga as a conflict between human rights ideals and Zanu-PF’s national sovereignty thesis.

Chapter Eight explores the MDC’s uses of history in the Third Chimurenga, which subsequently affected its "ideological coherence". (p9) The concluding chapter is basically summing up the arguments that have been brought forward in earlier sections.

The epilogue closes the otherwise thought-provoking text. Its relevance for scholars is underlined by the fact that it has a detailed bibliography at the end which works quite well for the keen researcher and student of history. While some readers may find the book somehow displaying some element of bias, it remains an important contribution to the meagre documented history about Zimbabwe by Zimbabweans.

Blessing-Miles Tendi (D.Phil) is a Zimbabwean researcher in African politics. Tendi was educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Tendi’s research is principally focused on African intellectuals; the uses of history in African politics; the political role of African militaries; power-sharing in Africa; and human rights. He has subsidiary interests in international relations; genocide studies; counterfactuals in historical explanation; and the politics of land reform in Africa.

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