Thursday, September 25, 2008

Re-Living the Second Chimurenga


Katherine, North Wales, Summer 2008

In the spring of 2008, Mrs Katherine Withers (born 1936) arrived in the United Kingdom (where she had been born and educated at Leeds University), from Zimbabwe, literally starving to death. After almost five decades teaching history in Central Africa, with her pension now worthless, she had been forced to return to her roots simply for something to eat! She weighed a mere 47 kg.

Appalled friends and relatives immediately got to work fattening her up. By September she had started to recover from the trauma that is now a way of life in Zimbabwe.


Katherine taught, over the decades, thousands of pupils in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, both black and white. They include, Hatfield Girls High, Oriel Girls High, Mount Pleasant High (becoming Head of History) and finally, disagreeing with the way the new government tried to make her re-write history, she spent many years as Head of History at the Jesuit private school of St. Georges. (Name dropping here, the author Peter Godwin went to this school.)


She also in 1973 co-wrote the Rhodesian Certificate of Education (commonly known as ‘the mentally taxed kid’s bit of paper to a job’), history text book specializing on post Second World War Africa. It can still be considered as the absolute ‘Dummies Guide to how Africa went down the plug-hole’.


History is her life and so after retirement she decided to write a review of the literature (both fact and fiction) on the Second Chimurenga. (For those not acquainted with the expression, it means, the second liberation war, or from the white Rhodesian point of view, the terrorist or bush war.) To kick start her project she chose the memoir of Fay Chung.


A short summery lifted directly from Wikipedia. More can be obtained at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fay_Chung


Fay Chung (born March, 1941) grew up in a Chinese family in racially segregated Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1950’s and trained as an educator at the University of Zimbabwe (then known as University of Rhodesia) and in 1968 went on to earn her post-graduate degree in education and masters in philosophy in English literature at the University of Leeds.


Her participation in the liberation struggle forced her into exile in Tanzania and Mozambique in the mid and late ‘70’s where she learned to speak Shona fluently. Her initial role within ZANU was in the Information and Media Department she subsequently became the senior official responsible for implementing ZANU’s teacher training and curriculum development in refugee camps through the 70’s.


Fay co-founded ZIMFEP, an NGO that combined education with agricultural production theory to assist war veterans and their families and was subsequently appointed Deputy Minister of Administration of the Ministry of Education at Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Fay was appointed Minister of Education by Mugabe in 1988. During her tenure at the Ministry of Education, Fay developed and implemented a nationwide primary and secondary education program. She resigned from the Ministry of Education after disagreeing with the government.


In 2006, she authored Re-Living the Second Chimurenga: Memories of the Liberation Struggle for Zimbabwe, her memoir.

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Katherine met Fay several times and in her own words is, ‘a lovely, warm woman.’ On another personal note, when her late husband John Withers (a former teacher at Mount Pleasant High School, Harare, Zimbabwe), was seriously ill in hospital, Fay would visit him three times a week.


What you read below is a world exclusive. It cannot be found anywhere, as of yet, on the net. I have been authorized to allow all and sundry to use it as they will. She only asks that, as it IS her exclusive property rights, she requests that you acknowledge her as the author.


ALL feedback is desired. The more the merrier. She has already started on the next one.

Please feel free to comment here, or email me direct at


lastrhodesian@aol.com


and I will pass them on to her. I will filter out any right wing ranting rubbish that might arrive.

Katherine will be returning to Zimbabwe next month to a rather uncertain future. Luckily she can always return here if Zimbabwe continues its collapse and I will always be here to help, for she is my step-mother and brought me up and I love her to bits. Enough, now read on…



Katherine and me, Salisbury, Rhodesia, August 1978



Reliving the Second Chimurenga : Fay Chung (The Nordic Africa Institute 2006 in cooperation with Weaver Press)


Published in 2006, giving time for reflection and the benefit of hindsight, one would have expected Fay Chung’s book, Reliving the Second Chimurenga, to have adopted a revisionist stance. Instead “the memoirs are a partisan statement – putting forward a particular argument from a particular point of view and with particular objectives in mind”. (Prebend Kaarsholm in the Introduction). The title of the Introduction, Memoirs of a Dutiful Revolutionary, summarise her position admirably. Conscientious to a degree, Fay Chung sees the liberation struggle as an attempt by ZANU to achieve a socialist solution for the political, social and economic problems of a future Zimbabwean state.


Fay’s Revolutionary Credentials


In spite of this bias, or perhaps because of it, Fay Chung’s memoirs are a valuable source for the historian. To some extent an outsider because of her Chinese origins and privileged background, she was nonetheless a committed socialist, so she was both an eyewitness and a player in the liberation struggle.


The sincerity of her principles can hardly be doubted. Life in the bush war involved great personal sacrifice and physical risk. What she initiated in the camps of Mozambique was put into practice in post independence Zimbabwe. With her revolutionary record, she could have become part of the new elite after independence enjoying a concomitant lifestyle: this she eschewed. With her unassuming dress and open friendly manner, she was accessible to all, remaining “one of the people.” When it was no longer possible to implement her policies because of changes in government policy, she did the honourable thing and resigned her post – a “dutiful revolutionary” indeed, true to her ideology.


Educational Policies


It was in the area of education that Fay Chung made her most valuable contribution to the revolution. As a child and as a young teacher in the townships of Gwelo and Salisbury, she saw the discriminatory nature of the Rhodesian educational system and posits lack of educational opportunity as a major factor in recruitment to the guerrilla armies. Her experiences in Zambia where she taught education at the university convinced her that it was essential for the educated elite like herself “to participate at the grassroots level” (Pg.74) in order to achieve socialism and democracy.


Kaunda’s arrest of the external leadership of ZANU in Zambia forced the university people to flee and imposed on them a political role for which they were unprepared. Together with lifelong colleague, Dzingai Mutumbuka, she set up a ZANU education department in Mozambique. There in the refugee camps, the principles of a future education system were worked out and put into practice: these were intended to implement ZANU’s ideology of democracy, anti-racism and anti-colonialism, to liberate and empower the masses.


Fay is scrupulous in giving credit to those involved in the educational process which led to the organization of teachers and students into “orderly schools” (Pg.205) with as many as 2000 pupils. She gives due praise to the many youthful, able teachers and the “enthusiastic and idealistic young graduates who were willing to leave their universities” (Pg.212) to work in these complexes with all the hardships that that involved.


The educational policies of ZANU were evolved to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding school population of refugees. The system was democratic with primary and secondary education open to all in the camps with opportunities for some to progress to A level and hence to tertiary education. This necessitated a teacher training programme which became a model for the post-independence ZINTEC (Zimbabwe Integrated National Teacher Education Course).


“Education with Production” was a theme dear to the hearts of Mutumbuka and Fay Chung. ZINTEC courses included a choice of practical subjects such as building, agriculture, art and tailoring. Pupils too were expected to do four hours’ manual work after their five hours of schooling a day including building, furniture making, gardening and cooking, so “they felt empowered”.(Pg.225). After independence, when Mutumbuka became Minister of Education, he set up an NGO known as ZIMFEP (The Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production) with Fay Chung as the first Chairperson. The intention was to provide schools for the children from the former refugee camps and even for youthful war veterans whose education had previously been limited by the colonial educational system and the needs of the liberation war. At that level, the system worked well but the attempt to integrate education with production into the curricula of the government schools was not achieved. Fay Chung attributed this to bureaucratic resistance and the departure of ZANU from its socialist principles but there were also more practical difficulties. Education with production had been a response to the situation in Mozambique where building huts and providing food had been essential for survival. Once independence was achieved, such activities were seen as a step backward. Headmasters of the Grade A or former white schools in the towns complained that there was no time in the already crowded school day and regarded the suggestion that sports fields should be turned into mealie patches as little short of blasphemous! This was a predictable reaction from whites but aspiring blacks also felt that independence should bring them the same sort of education that European children had enjoyed in the colonial era – that was one of the aims of the war. It was an African government which closed the F2 or vocational schools as an attempt to confine blacks to the role of hewers of wood and drawers of water. Fay Chung admits as much when she says, “For the black educators, education with production was demeaning” (Pg.277)


Curriculum development was another aspect of educational policy developed in the war years and implemented in the post independence era. Content was to be non-racial and socialist. This involved the provision of new textbooks to correct the Euro-centric views of the colonial period. After 1980, the Curriculum Development Unit, CDU, was set up to provide materials for new and inexperienced teachers: to a large extent these involved suggested lesson plans drawn up by a panel of experienced staff. Teaching methods had to change too. Whereas the old system of African education had been fact based, now it was to be pupil centred and rooted in the experience of the pupils.


Thus, “the provision of education for children and adults…….proved to be one of the most important achievements of the liberation struggle” which became “the birthplace of the ambitious education programme that followed Zimbabwe’s independence” (Pgs. 227-8) The new Zimbabwe had an educational record of which it could feel proud and the disintegration of the system from the late 1990s must be a source of great sorrow to those who worked so hard to fulfill the aspirations of the African people.


A Dutiful Daughter of ZANU: No Left Turn.


As a socialist and intellectual, Fay Chung might well have been attracted to the Nhari Group in 1974 or the Vashandi in 1975. Both represented the younger, more educated members of the party, often scornful of the earlier recruits mostly of peasant stock: both favoured a Marxist ideology: both saw the leadership as “ideologically bankrupt”. Although her leftist views made her a suspect to the ZANU leadership, she actually avoided too close a relationship with either.


As a lecturer at the University, Fay Chung was a close observer of the Nhari rebellion among the junior officers of ZANLA in Zambia, led by Thomas Nhari. She places ideological considerations as the very last of the causes of the revolt: instead she sees it as a culmination of tensions between the disparate groups within ZANLA caused by its rapid growth from 1972 to 1974. Because of shortages of food and ammunition, thousands of recruits were hungry and unemployed, a frustrating combination which led to resentment of the leadership. Their ire was directed mostly at Tongogara as the head of ZANLA but the leadership generally was considered complacent and corrupt, especially in the abuse of women: they were regarded as living a life of luxury overseas while junior officers suffered at the front. Another thread was the resentment of those guerrillas who came from ZIPRA who objected to their subordination to less well educated ZANLA officers and to their suspicion of the Soviet Union where ZIPRA had received training. Then there was the mysterious collaboration of the Nhari group with junior officers from the Rhodesian army: the author does not see this as infiltration by the CIO but believes the two groups had similar grievances against their respective superiors.


The leadership of ZANU and ZANLA saw the Nhari revolt as extremely dangerous. Their armed attack on ZANU in Lusaka coincided with Kaunda’s threat to the party. The Zambian President was anxious to promote détente and saw ZANU as an obstacle in his path because of its opposition to cooperation with the other nationalist parties in negotiations with the Rhodesian government. Thus, Tongogara quelled the Nhari revolt and Chitepo conducted a trial which imposed minor punishments and ordered the rebels to be handed over to the Mozambican authorities. Acting without the consent of the political leadership, Tongogara ordered the execution of the rebels adding to tensions within the party. When Chitepo was subsequently assassinated by a car bomb, it was inevitable that the military leadership was blamed, though later it was revealed to be a CIO plot. Nonetheless, his death led to Kaunda’s arrest and imprisonment of the ZANU leadership in Zambia and the detention of about a thousand ZANLA guerrillas.


When the Nhari rebels first appeared in Lusaka, the university lecturers saw their claims as “rhetoric” and persuaded their Zimbabwean students not to join them. Although herself well educated, Fay Chung disliked intellectual pretensions and in a later stage of the book, she pointed out that, given the difficulties of obtaining an education in Rhodesia, the early recruits to ZANU should not be excluded from the possibility of leadership in spite of their lack of academic qualifications. The author rarely reveals her personal feelings but she does show revulsion at “the extra judicial executions” of the dissidents believing that Chitepo’s decision to hand them over to the Mozambican authorities was the correct one. In spite of this her support for Tongogara remained firm: she warned him of the arrests in Lusaka and took part in the rescue and preservation of his papers, an operation involving some personal risk. She believed that détente was an attempt to derail the liberation war and that a military solution was vital, making Tongogara the leading player in the struggle. Indeed at a meeting in Lusaka of those members of ZANU lucky enough to have escaped detention she became the leader of a committee responsible for the dissemination of propaganda and information.


Fay Chung saw the Vashandi movement of the following year as arising out of the vacuum created by Kaunda’s arrest of the Lusaka leadership of ZANU and the detention of ZANLA recruits. She paints a vivid picture of its leader, Wilfred Mhanda, dressed Che Guevara style and “bristling with intelligence and ideological righteousness”.(Pg149) This time, the ideological factor was much more important and the study of Marxist-Leninist writings became a regular feature of life in the refugee and military camps which were dominated by the Vashandi. Their name meant ‘workers’ which indicated their political orientation rather than their social class as most of them had joined the revolution straight from school or university. According to Fay Chung, it was their “ideological intransigence and tactical rigidity that was to bring about their downfall” (Pg151). They refused adamantly to take part in the Geneva Conference and branded those who did as traitors. Opposition to the leadership united their political and military superiors against them. Tongogara had them arrested in a show of force in which some of them were tied up in sacks. Their intransigence made it less not more likely that their ideas would be implemented and instead they spent the next five years in Mozambican jails. That they did not suffer the same fate as the Nhari rebels, Fay Chung attributes to the new leaders Mugabe and Muzenda who saw that they were handed over promptly to the Mozambican authorities.


Ironically this suppression of the left coincided with increased propaganda by the leadership asserting their own socialist credentials. The author declares this was “not out of conviction but simply in order to gain support from important allies” especially the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War era. Certainly their propaganda was widely believed by Rhodesian whites who regarded the fight against Communism as justification for the war and ensured their support of the Smith government.


Leaders in Abundance.


Fay Chung is generous in the tribute she pays to a whole host of colleagues. Often described as ‘brilliant’ and ‘charismatic’, they constitute a whole cast of players on the stage of the liberation struggle. However, it is her personal knowledge of the leaders of ZANU which makes her views most valuable to the reader. Any preconceived notion of ZANU as a united, disciplined party must surely be shattered: instead “The reader gets a good impression of internal ZAPU politics as something of a nightmare of rivalries, intrigue, faction building and betrayal” (Pg15).


When Sithole arrived in Zambia after his release from a Rhodesian jail, he was welcomed by ZANU members who were carried away by his emotional speech. However, he soon lost their support. He is portrayed as devious, if not downright dishonest in his use of donor funds, neglectful of the needs of the guerrillas and refugees in the camps but, worst of all, as a traitor to the cause. Committed as she was to the armed struggle, the author condemned his participation in the détente exercise as a betrayal and his cooperation in the internal settlement of 1978 as mere self seeking.


Conversely, she approves of Robert Mugabe, though it is not the wholehearted praise-singing used in the government media after independence: indeed at times, she seems to damn him with faint praise. His choice as leader to replace Sithole is attributed to his position as next in line as Secretary-General rather than to his revolutionary credentials – this in spite of the fact that the Mgago Declaration describes him as ‘outstanding’, praising his commitment by “defying the rigours of guerrilla life in the jungles of Mozambique” (Appendix I). In contrast, Fay Chung respects his political skill, commending him as the best man for the job of welding the disparate parts of ZANU together, a task which began at Geneva in 1976.


It is almost dispassionately that she analyses Mugabe’s advantages. ZANU was dominated by intellectuals from the beginning and Mugabe had not only attended Fort Hare but had earned an impressive number of further degrees during his eleven years’ imprisonment. His approach to problems was didactic and analytical: he was a good listener, but, having listened, “he was able to keep his own opinions to himself. It was not easy to tell what his real opinions were.” (Pg157)This enabled him to dominate all groups. His task was made easier by the fact that he had not been involved in the conflicts of the early 1970s, so, with the help of Muzenda, who is praised as a non threatening peacemaker, he was able to act as a mediator in party disputes for example between the Vashandi and the Hamadziripi groups on the one side and Tongogara on the other. As a result, these ‘dissidents’ were detained by the Mozambican authorities rather than executed, thus neatly disposed of until independence, and with it, Mugabe’s leadership, was assured. Equally, he knew he must not offend the militarists as victory in the armed struggle was essential and in 1976 it was by no means certain that Tongogara and his veterans would accept Mugabe as leader. Because the military distrusted ideology, the party’s Marxist stance became more rhetoric than reality; the Vashandi doubted “Mugabe’s socialist credentials and feared he would become a fascist dictator” (Pg174) which his critics might regard as strangely prophetic. Although the author’s principles were offended by “the racialism, tribalism and populism” (Pg178) resulting from the alliance of the political leaders with the war veterans, she accepted it as necessary for a ZANU victory. Again in the post-independence era, whilst bitterly critical of the opportunism and corruption of his regime, she saw his leadership as necessary to complete the programme of the liberation struggle with land resettlement.


Tongogara stands out in the memoirs as a formidable figure larger than life and highly respected by friends and enemies. There were many contradictory aspects to his personality. On the one hand he loved his family and was solicitous of the mothers and babies in the camps: on the other hand, he engaged in and condoned in others, the sexual harassment of the women guerrillas amounting to rape. He had little formal education, yet he enjoyed discussions with the university lecturers. One trait was consistent: he distrusted politicians who he saw as traitors to the cause. His well known opposition to Chitepo, the leader of the external wing of ZANU, meant he was suspected of his assassination and this led to his trial and detention in a Zambian prison for eighteen months until the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. However, he did not hesitate to eliminate those he considered a threat to his leadership and he had the Nhari rebels shot, a move which cost him much support.


Such a man was bound to arouse strong feelings: his veterans idolised him: the traditional religious leaders criticised him: the politicians feared him. Fay Chung’s attitude was ambivalent. She was critical of the execution of the Nhari group and his abuse of women. More seriously, she admired the Vashandi group who had opposed Tongogara and was associated with the Hamadziripi faction through the father of her child, Rugare Gumbo. This group opposed both Tongogara and Mugabe and it was their attempt at a coup in 1978 that precipitated Fay’s removal from Chimoio to a military camp. Yet it was Tongogara who visited her there and made the decision that she could return to her teaching duties. In spite of her reservations, she did support Tongogara. She admired his military skill and his ability to adapt his strategy to the different phases of the conflict turning from guerrilla tactics to conventional warfare when this became appropriate. She applauded his pragmatism (which Rhodesians termed duplicity) when in 1979 he flouted the ceasefire agreement and allowed only some of the ZANU fighters to enter the assembly points, keeping others in Mozambique ready to launch a new attack should one prove necessary, while a third group was deployed in the villages where they could influence the result of the elections. Principles were to be set aside to ensure the military victory that only Tongogara and his veterans could provide.

Fay Chung believed that Mugabe and his political associates were equally convinced that Tongogara was essential to their success and so took care not to offend him: yet he had political ambitions of his own and posed a challenge to their leadership. Given the nature of the internecine struggles within ZANU, it was perhaps inevitable that when Tongogara was killed in December 1979 when the war had been won and a settlement signed, his death was so fortuitous that rumours circulated that it had been ‘arranged’. However, the author insists that it was a “bizarre accident” while the traditional leaders said that it was a judgement of the spirits because he had broken their rules.


The Freedom Fighters: Hardships in the Camps


Because of her personal experiences, Fay Chung is able to paint a vivid picture of life in the refugee camps of Mozambique where conditions were very harsh. After the failure of the détente exercise the bush war assumed a new ferocity in the N.E of Rhodesia leading to the exodus of many civilians. They were joined by thousands of secondary school pupils who became recruits for the guerrilla armies and trainee teachers and nurses for the inmates of the camps. One large camp was set up at Nyadzonia on the banks of the Pungwe about 40kms from the Rhodesian border. As they were unprepared for the influx of refugees, there was a shortage of supplies, particularly food and medicine but they were supported by the UNHCR. Another large camp was set up at Chimoio. There ZANU established the Headquarters of its Education Department and built a school called Chindunduma. There was also a Parirenyatwa hospital.


Because of their proximity to the border, both camps were targeted by the Rhodesian Security Forces in a strategy of pre-emptive strikes. In August 1976, Selous Scouts dressed in Frelimo uniforms invaded Nyadzonia inflicting many casualties while, in November 1977, air force bombers swooped over Chimoio followed by an invasion of paratroopers. Government propaganda always claimed that guerrilla soldiers were present in the camps but Fay Chung says there were no ZANLA personnel present and that the Security Forces refrained from attacking nearby military camps as they feared heavy casualties. The carnage and the fear engendered and the desperate flight of the survivors are dramatically portrayed. Yet in spite of all the difficulties, the rank and file was able “to keep a sense of balance as well as a sense of humour, despite the unbalanced leadership of which we were often victims” (Pg191) One consequence of the bombing raids was that the staff at Chimoio slept with their clothes on even their shoes in case they had to flee into the bush in the night. This precaution stood Fay in good stead when she was abducted and taken to a military camp because she was suspected of supporting the Vashandi and possibly the Hamadziripi group. First she spent some time at Ossibissa, a camp for women guerrillas, which was “the Zimbabwean equivalent of Sparta” (Pg192). Yet there was a strong sense of solidarity so the author had a deep sense of “the dedication as well as the suffering of these women guerrillas” (Pg 193) Rallies and military exercises were part of the daily routine and schools were set up where the better educated were able to share their skills with those who had been denied educational opportunities.


Herself the mother of an infant daughter, Chipo, the author was naturally aware of the problems faced by children, many of them born during the bush war. She noted that child mortality was very high, partly because of the shortage of milk but also because of ignorance about nutrition. Freedom fighters fed their children on tea, sugar and biscuits abandoning the traditional diet of the ‘povo’ to whom as ‘comrades’ they now felt superior, a strange manifestation of a new and socialist(?) class system.


The author’s closest experience of the life of a freedom fighter was gained at Pungwe III, a

very large camp in a very remote area of Mozambique to which she was transferred and where she stayed for five months in 1978. Life there was incredibly harsh. There was rigorous military training every day in spite of the extreme physical hardships of life in the camp. Food was in such short supply that fighters received only a mere handful (literally) of mangai (boiled, dried maize seeds) with a little salt. Oil and sugar were luxuries but Fay horded some cooking oil to use as skin cream. Clothes were threadbare and often in rags while blankets were shared between three or four guerrillas. Shoes were a particular problem as, without them, sand lice could burrow into the skin and had to be dug out with needles and razor blades. In these circumstances, gifts of clothes and shoes were greatly appreciated. Parcels were sent by donor groups from abroad and Sally Mugabe (for whom the author had the greatest respect) sent parcels of clothes many of which she had made herself. Poor sanitation and harsh conditions inevitably led to illness especially dysentery and malaria which “took as many lives as enemy bullets” (Pg196). Food shortages and unbalanced diets led to night blindness, while malaria contributed to diabetes. Medical officers, many of whom had received only a few months’ training saved many lives. No wonder, Fay admits, “Those months at Pungwe III were amongst the harshest of my years in the liberation struggle” (Pg196)


The Issue of Violence


Fay’s own experiences and her strong ideological commitment led to a strong bias in favour of the guerrillas. The Security Forces especially the Selous Scouts are always portrayed in the harshest of terms; for example, she maintains that, “The extreme cruelty of the settler forces alienated the populace” (Pg140) and while she admits it is not certain who murdered the missionaries at Musumi and Elim she decides on the flimsiest of evidence that it is more likely to be the Selous Scouts. During the final phase of the war, the SFs ‘slaughtered’ civilians in the villages to try to destroy support for the guerrillas. This bias, combined with her lack of personal experience of life on the front line makes her contention that the freedom fighters eschewed violence in their relations with civilians extremely suspect. Nor does it coincide with the views of other writers especially research scholar, Norma Kriger (Cf Intro. Pg18). Perhaps it is a question of idealising the soldiers who she believed were fighting “a just liberation struggle against colonial oppression” (Pg141) and imagining that the rhetoric was also the reality.

In the early stages of the war, small groups of freedom fighters had been easily beaten by larger groups of better trained and better equipped Rhodesian forces so they had been forced to change their tactics. They adopted guerrilla warfare for which they clearly needed the support of the peasantry especially in the N.E of the country. They were to become ‘the water’ in which the guerrilla ‘fish’ would ‘swim’. A code of conduct was drawn up involving respect for the peasantry along with an education programme by commissars designed to politicise them and analyse their grievances. These tactics and rules are strongly reminiscent of those drawn up by the Chinese Communists for the Red Army during the Long March of the 1930s. There was a Zimbabwean twist: to give meaning to the liberation struggle, discussions were to be centred on land, education (or rather lack thereof) unemployment and poverty. The spirit mediums reinforced this code of conduct along with the ideal of sexual purity. Because of this, the author contends that ZANLA guerrillas did not kill anyone except in self defence and released hundreds of prisoners. Even enemy soldiers were only killed if they resisted capture.


Fay’s own experiences behind the lines tell a different story. ZANLA guerrillas massacred ZIPRA soldiers, political opponents were caught in ‘crossfire’ and the Nhari rebels were executed. The killing of political opponents and lack of sexual purity led the spirit mediums to criticise the guerrilla commander, Tongogara. Many readers will find it difficult to accept such a stark contrast of conduct especially combined with a large body of recorded evidence that the guerrillas did indeed intimidate the peasants. In a later section of her memoirs, Fay Chung considers a culture of violence and admits that, “Violence had been used in the war when ‘sell outs’ who supported the colonial settler regime suffered beatings, or were even executed by freedom fighters” (Pg264). Indeed it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise: their own lives depended on the compliance of the peasantry – they needed food, porterage for their supplies, information and above all, loyalty. The peasants were most likely to give these to the side which frightened them the most. This pattern of violence became entrenched as a feature of ZANU politics in the post independence era and posed an almost insurmountable obstacle to democracy.


And……in Conclusion


One interesting question which is posed by Fay Chung’s memoirs is to what extent the Second Chimurenga was in line with African tradition. The very name ‘Chimurenga’ suggests that it was inspired by the rising of 1896 against the early settlers. Time and again the author stresses that the liberation war was a struggle against the oppression of the colonial regime with its discrimination against Africans particularly in matters of land and educational opportunities.


According to Fay Chung, the spirit mediums played an important role as they did in the first Chimurenga when the mediums of Nehanda and Kaguvi were regarded as leaders. The ZANLA commanders sought the support of the traditional religious leaders and persuaded some of them to accompany the soldiers into Mozambique. This resonated well with the peasants who formed about half of the freedom fighters and about seventy percent of the population as a whole. In every camp, the mediums had their own quarters and were distinguished by their dress. Possession by the spirits was a nightly affair and it was the ancestors rather than their mediums who were regarded as the source of teaching. Thus, an important characteristic was “their absolute independence from the political leadership” (Pg198). Because of their influence on the peasants, even those leaders whose education inclined them to regard ancestor worship as superstition took care not to offend their mediums: that is with the exception of Tongogara whom they criticised for killing political opponents and for the abuse of women. The spirits also stressed the importance of the land issue, sexual purity, non-violence and protection of the environment.


The struggles for leadership and domination within the liberation movement echoed pre-colonial struggles. To some extent these followed tribal lines especially the rivalry between ZANLA and ZIPRA which reflected the old Shona – Ndebele conflict and led to the rejection of Nkomo’s leadership. Far from promoting socialism, Sithole strove to be ‘the big man’ of African tradition, rejecting the title ‘Comrade’ and insisting, “I am your President”. (Pg110) The power struggles between Sithole and Mugabe and between Tongogara and everybody else were typical of traditional forms of behaviour rather than an attempt to promote a democratic system of government for a future Zimbabwe.


However in many ways the liberation struggle was a revolt against the African past and what might be termed feudalism. There was for example, a strong socialist element. The Nhari group and more particularly the Vashandi stressed Marxist-Leninist ideas. Fay Chung suspected that the political leaders were old fashioned nationalists but they too spouted socialist rhetoric necessitated by the need for allies in the Cold War era.

To some extent, the Second Chimurenga was a peasant revolt. Most of the early recruits were from the peasantry and they idolised Tongogara. Because of the need for a military victory, the political leaders took care not to offend the ZANLA commander and his veterans.


Women played an important role in the struggle. In the countryside, they prepared food for the Comrades and transported weapons as they aroused less suspicion than men. The women guerrillas portrayed by Fay Chung were highly dedicated. In contrast to this important role was their sexual harassment in Tongogara’s camp which was characteristic of the more traditional status of women.


An important part of Fay Chung’s memoirs is concerned with the post-independence era which lies outside the scope of this review. However, there is a strong case for arguing that it was after 1980 and more particularly in the 1990s that Zimbabwe reverted to its traditional pre-colonial past.


Socialism went out of the window to be replaced by patronage. Fay Chung dates this from the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Programme at the behest of the IMF. Fay Chung saw it as a continuation of RF policies but it was also a reversion to African tradition. In pre-colonial days it was the tribal leaders who distributed favours, now it was the government or the party. “Patronage from the political elite was now the key to political success” (Pg 269). This led to the rise of a class dubbed ‘mafikozolo’ identified by a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. Promotion depended on who you knew not what you could do, which Fay Chung remarked, “was not what we had fought and died for”. (Pg271) Some saw the patronage of important politicians as a way of securing development for their area introducing a tribal or ethnic element. A reverse tendency was to deny development to those who did not support ZANU: in education, Fay Chung resisted this tendency and was supported by Mutumbuka and by Mugabe himself. Patronage was extended to the land resettlement programme where party ‘chefs’ and loyalists were given farms confiscated from white farmers.


Whereas peasants had been a dominant force during the Chimurenga, it was the middle class which now came to the fore. Sophisticated, urban and educated, they had supported the liberation struggle but their aims were different from those of the peasantry. They tended to reject traditional religion as superstition (though politicians still tended to respect the mediums) and disliked the ideas of mass education and distribution of land to the peasants. The middle class benefited the most from patronage politics.


Legally, the improved position of women in the post independence era reflects the importance of women in the Chimurenga. The constitution forbade discrimination on grounds of gender. Equal pay and terms of service were introduced into the Public Service and all Zimbabweans were regarded as adults at 18 years whereas in the past, African women had always been regarded as minors. These were real and important gains. However, the author claims that, “in practice traditional laws remained powerful” and she is not sure whether the idea of women’s rights resonates with peasant women. This is reflected in the decline of women in political positions which came with the introduction of primary elections when workers and peasants reverted to the more traditional concepts of male dominance with women even voting for candidates who opposed women’s rights. Important laws have been passed to secure property rights for African women and so protect widows from exploitation by their husband’s family but often women are unwilling to resort to the law for fear of upsetting their in-laws who might seek retribution. Traditionally a woman’s status depended on that of her husband and this tended to resurface rather than women trying to prove themselves. “Polygamy, and its more modern mutation of having a number of mistresses, grew among the rich and powerful.”(Pg 295)


The issue of land is linked to both the Chimurenga and to more traditional characteristics. In his capacity as director of land resettlement, Sam Geza, one of the few Vashandi who was reconciled to ZANU at independence, was instrumental in resettling 62 000 peasants on farms bought by the government in the period 1981 – 1987. However, he faced severe opposition and when he disobeyed a minister, it was queried, “Who is this man who has failed to recognize the ruling family of Zimbabwe?” Traditionalists consider that ‘the ruling family’ is above the law. The middle class opposed the giving of land to the peasants and the Ndebele chiefs claimed it was against their system of landholding. Where peasant families did acquire farms, this encouraged polygamy and increased the birthrate to provide more labour, thus reviving a traditional marriage system. People allocated resettled farms were not given title deeds so they were unable to use the land as collateral for loans. This reinforced the traditional concept of the state as the provider. “The traditional concept of ownership was that the Chief…..would allocate land to all in need. In the modern concept, the government was now the chief.” (Pg263) Fay Chung sees the renewal of the land resettlement programme carried out with the assistance of war veterans reinforced by unemployed youths as a revival of the aims of the freedom fighters of Chimurenga. So it is perhaps in this area, that revolutionary socialism and traditional forces most nearly coincide. Be that as it may, the system of patronage created a class of so- called ’telephone farmers’ and destitute subsistence farmers resulting in a catastrophic decline in agriculture production and national poverty.


So, all in all, Fay Chung’s memoirs provide the reader with a unique view of recent Zimbabwean history. As a committed socialist, she sees ZANU as an instrument (albeit an imperfect one) for implementing the aims of Chimurenga. These views do not go unchallenged. In particular contemporary readers will find her views of recent opposition movements most provocative adding to the debate on democracy in Zimbabwe. Assuming a strong ideological stance can be regarded as principled but readers and writers of other persuasions as well as those who seek to be objective historians will no doubt be anxious to contest her position. They can legitimately ask, “Why is it that issues of human rights and democracy, on the one hand, and of social justice and redistribution have become so separate in Zimbabwean radical politics? Why is it of such importance for Fay Chung as a left-wing socialist to support Mugabe and his turning back of the historical clock to the objectives of a struggle that took place thirty years ago?”

(Preben Kaarsholm. Pg13 Introduction: see also the Bibliography on Pg14)



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always had a soft spot for History teachers. This is an excellent if rather chilling account of the "other side's" version of events. It reinforces my belief that nothing is more dangerous than an idealist.

Albert A Rasch said...

Howdy Partner,

Great blog, and fantastic post. Actually one of the first well written and well thought out monographs I've had the opportunity to read, on the Bush War.

I've always had a soft spot for Rhodesia since the 70'. During my misspent youth, I thought I would emigrate, join the Rhodesian Light Infantry, fight the ZIPRA or ZANLA and retire to hunt big game as a PH.

I guess all dreams end.

I'll be stopping by regularly to learn more!

Regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

billibaldi said...

Your mum's review is terrific.

I doubt I am going to put this book on my Amazon wish list, it probably one of those turgid memoirs that will be mined for phD's in African/feminist studies and keep well-meaning scandahooligans off the dole.

While the second chimurenga is important to those who lived through it ( I am one of them), in the broad sweep of 20th century history, it is just a footnote.

Does your mum ever get to review books like 'Hyena’s Belly: A Memoir of My Ethiopian Boyhood by Nega Mezlekia" (as reccomended by the War Nerd)?