The Sunday News
Tedious Teddy Ncube
Dr Obert Moses Mpofu has argued convincingly that Zimbabwe should not be dissuaded from going ahead with the nationalist project. In his autobiography, On the shoulders of struggle: Memoirs of a political insider, Dr Mpofu concludes that any dissuasion from the ethos of the liberation struggle presents a clear danger to the possibility of the continued agenda of decolonisation in Africa.
Dr Mpofu further asserts that at an epistemological level, deterrence from anti-colonial consciousness produces knowledge which is detached from the aspirations of the erstwhile colonised. Without doubt, Dr Mpofu’s self-account ignites a fresh debate in the corridors of post-colonial theory, history, economics and other disciplines whose thematic constructs reassert the existence of the African as a decolonial being.
In bringing this out, this Afrocentred self-narration is a game-changer to the art of auto-biography writing in Zimbabwe. What makes it even more interesting is that unlike many who have written autobiographies, they have done so out of “power”, while even those who have biographically profiled our politicians have done so out of “power” as a means of challenging the status quo. Therefore, it becomes more refreshing to have a “political insider” interrogating the status-quo through self-writing.
To this end, Dr Mpofu must be credited for being a symbol of Zanu- PF re-examining its philosophical grounding and unpacking its centrality to what has been theoretically coined as “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness” in the Fanonian reading of the post-colony. Every chapter is punctuated by profound political theory underpinnings which unmask the academic side of a man single-sidely known as a “political animal”
Reconfiguring the making of history
Within our domestic politics of knowledge production, especially in nationalist historiography terms, there have been protracted contestations on who should write history and who should not. This has seen the proliferation of the new normal of discrediting history by those in power.
In Terence Ranger’s historiography which is even subscribed to by our African academics, the commitment to revive nationalist memory is problematised as Zanu-PF propaganda. To this end, Ranger’s protégés of the colonial-centred historiography monopoly have arrogated the making of history as the only legitimate sources of national re-membering.
Due to their proximity to the colonially sponsored knowledge market economy, they endorse what they perceive as authentic history. In the process, any other narrative which is not benchmarked in terms of their prejudice does not constitute historical authenticity.
I am certain that one of the major critical injuries of this book will be facilitated by those academics who find partisan propaganda in anything written from a pro-nationalist/Zanu- PF perspective. However, it needs to be reiterated from the outset that such polarised deconstructions of memory are governed by various limitations, particularly the desire by our academics of incessantly seeking colonial seals.
Dr Mpofu’s publication transcends the manipulation of literature as an instrument to settle political scores, instead, the publication is grounded on the need to define the metaphysical aspects of Zimbabwe’s political-economy. The book goes further to even deconstruct the now fashionable notion that Zimbabwe’s nationalist history has been narrowed by Zanu-PF to offer monolithic narratives aimed at maintaining state power. What this school of thought omits is that in realist terms, history is a commodity for asserting hegemonic interests.
Zanu-PF has authored itself through national memory in a manner which threatens the contemporary neo-liberal aspirations for regime-change in Zimbabwe. At the same time, history as a unit of political reflection reframes national identity. As such, this memoir picks up a new position for Zanu-PF to ideologically self-introspect through Dr Mpofu’s lived experiences as a senior member of the ruling party.
In his introductory chapter, the author regards himself as one belonging to the margins of the early nationalist history. As a result, his memoir is reflective of those peculiar events and experiences of “ordinary cadres who bore the brunt of the real combat operations against the vicious enemy’’. This approach serves as a clarion call for Dr Mpofu’s contemporaries in both ZPRA and ZANLA to start putting together the many tales of our national story for the benefit of those his generation is leaving behind.
The border as a margin for thought
The possible functions of literature and its relevance to society are better understood in the context of the writer’s position and historical period. However, before understanding the writer’s position it is essential to understand the location of the writer. So our question today is who is the Zimbabwean writer? Is a Zimbabwean writer any traveller who marvels at the beauty of our flora and fauna and writes about it?
Is it anyone in Oxford or Harvard who is fascinated with anything about Zimbabwe and writes about it? I argue that the Zimbabwean writer is that writer who is not only located in Zimbabwe physically but is also obliged to remain within the parameters of Zimbabwe’s meta-physical empire. Dr Mpofu’s publication which is imbued in excessive references to Zimbabwe’s territorial boundaries, therefore, call for an unfettered critique to his geographic positionality and how it affects his writing.
His nationalistic conception of territorial integrity contrast with what Patrice Lumumba defines as legitimate historiography. The doyen of Pan-Africanism, Patrice Lumumba, argues that Africa is in a dire need for locally based epistemological references.
He further posits that the absence of indigenously manufactured knowledge(s), opens up the space for the dominance of compromised academics who subconsciously advance compromised narratives as a result of their positionality.
It is in this context that greater emphasis on epistemic correctness should be situated in the positionality of the author. But the puzzle that then emerges is, does writing in Zimbabwe confer truthfulness to one’s works or does writing outside Zimbabwe confer false fullness to one’s work? The response to this paradox does not lie in either of the variables, instead, it lies in the broader agenda to create all-encompassing knowledge ecosystems.
Interesting enough, the concept of border thinking as both method and epistemology remains underdeveloped despite its central role for both decolonial historical analysis and decolonial epistemic transformations from the borders of modernity.
Border thinking informs how and why some knowers in the past have been capable of fostering decoloniality from the external border of modernity through theorising, and how and why researchers in the present management to engage with the corresponding subaltern knowledge and move across the colonial difference to foster micro-processes of pluriversality at both sides of the border.
Without a doubt, post-colonial studies still do not properly constitute a single theoretical matrix. They form a variety of contributions with distinct orientations but presenting as a common characteristic an effort of outlining, through the method of deconstructing the essentialisms, a critical epistemological reference to the dominant conceptions of modernity.
Initiated by those authors qualified as intellectuals of the black or migratory diaspora fundamentally immigrants originating from poor countries and living in Western Europe and North America, the post-colonial perspective has had, first in the literary critique, above all in England and the United States, as from the 1980s, its pioneer areas of diffusion.
But can Zimbabwe depend on submissions emanating from mono-dimensional processes or rather, can Zimbabwe afford to have the ethos of the liberation struggle which is also Zimbabwe’s epistemic locomotive, depend on processes that have been diluted by Zimbabwe’s historical detractors?
Without excessively relying on the enemy and friend dictum it should still be logical to assert that no nation can rely on a knowledge ecosystem which derives legitimacy from external borders compounding its epistemic traditions. It is in this context that Dr Mpofu’s publication becomes unique in that the geographical residence of the author and how he perceives issues, offers the academia an opportunity to see Zimbabwe’s affairs through the lens of an insider.
It is essentially beneficial to recommence the post-colonial contribution for the discussion between subject and difference or, more precisely, for providing a basis to a micro-sociology of the cultural articulations. Dr Mpofu’s choice to contextualise the historical narrative through the personal body located in Zimbabwe offers a new meaning to Zimbabwe’s history.
Beyond its comparative advantage to existing texts which perceive national memory from a structural position, Dr Mpofu’s memoir launches a new debate on the legitimacy of knowledge particularly with regards to how the border as a structure influences the conclusions and findings thereof. The publication also challenges the post-colonised to pick up arms (the pen) and construct national memory beyond ideological forums which are designed to observe specific elements of the past, present and the future.
Dr Mpofu’s publication, therefore, constructs an analytical framework that permits Zimbabwe to study the relationship between subject and discourse and, at the same time, to identify the space of creativity of the subject. Such a contribution of the post-colonial studies remains unique and, surely, helps the social sciences to finally meet again their creative vigour.
Tedious Teddy Ncube is a Political Scientist and Public Policy Analyst