The Sunday News
Dr Obert Mpofu
THIS series is informed by a wide-range of issues which have emerged from the last two articles I submitted in this paper.
The major lesson from the on-going debate emanating from my previous writings on the topical Gukurahundi subject is that we need to continuously draw ourselves to conversations which unite us regardless of our dissenting standpoints. There is no doubt that the issue of Gukurahundi has an obese emotional effect — much of which is a product of a single-sided perspective with a disintegrating effect to the current efforts to unite our people.
This facilitates the need for an alternative account which draws us more to our common interests and shared aspirations. As such, this instalment and other articles to follow will cement the idea of the positive engagement aimed at redirecting us to the path we must take in shaping the future as united people. This arises from the need to value every idea which cuts across the common limits to truth-telling by both victims and alleged perpetrators. Beyond victimhood and instigations of violence we need to regenerate a new narrative of belonging which binds us towards peace, national healing and reconciliation.
Truth be told, Zimbabwe’s transitional political landscape presents us with an opportunity to evaluate our past and how we can construct ideas which sustain enduring national values beyond the positives of temporary, narrow and self-serving interests. Taking this direction calls for absolute sacrifice of essentialist limitations to defining our national identity. It requires genuine introspective commitment to auditing our sources of conflict and how we can produce a new and lasting consciousness of nationhood which is built on the foundation of unity, peace and prosperity. On this basis, this paper traces the origins of our divided memories, emotions and aspirations of being a people and a nation at large.
To this end, this submission critically examines other constructs of divisions which have sustained the conversation on Gukurahundi. The discursive framing of Gukurahundi also calls us to locate the role of the academia, the press and geo-politics in carving notions of nation-building. Beyond, the critical overview of the representation and misrepresentation of the past, mainly around the Gukurahundi and its dilemma to the national question, this submission unpacks the path that has been initiated by the Government to address this ticklish matter. It is in this vein that this paper categorically analyses the historical stagnations to resolving the Gukurahundi issue; at the same time exploring the merits of the path taken by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in providing a pro-national healing policy direction.
The Constructions of a “crisis” and the perversion of national belonging
Philip Barclay (2011), a former British diplomat, posits that Zimbabwe is a country whose ontological overview can be understood within a context of history. In his epochal and yet personal delineation of the so called “Zimbabwean crisis”, he claims to have been a witness of “Years of Hope and Despair”. This conclusive and yet contested linear depiction of the First Republic carries with itself the burden of polarity, a monologue underpinned on diplomatic and sometimes a selective characterisation of what being Zimbabwean means. Of note, is that this memoir was produced at a time the construction and deconstruction of Zimbabwe’s diplomatic identity was densely characterised by hostility to those opposed to the then sought decolonial direction.
At the apex of Zimbabwe’s antagonist priority catalogue was Britain. The friction between Zimbabwe and Britain was accentuated by the unsolved land question which saw revolutionary justice being implemented to realign property relations by the land-hungry masses. The peasants and the war veterans in the countryside mobilised to reclaim land and reassign the struggle for the birth-right through land expropriation with no compensation (the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme/ Hondo yeminda/ Third-Chimurenga/ Umvukela Wesithathu).
It was in this outgrowth of circumstances that Zimbabwe faced economic sanctions in the face of a mushrooming opposition and a vigorously corroborating civil society with a clear agenda to collapse the prominence of the ruling party in what some sections of the academia have referred to as the “regime-change” agenda. One wonders if this was a coincidence that when the land question was revisited there was an increased force to change the order of power from the opposition to the ruling. Could it have been a coincidence that the launch of the land reform under the auspices of consolidating the liberation goals was also accompanied by radical nuances of re-imagining the citizenship?
This comes after a series of academic debates centred on rethinking belonging and nationhood in Zimbabwe. One of the most prolific propositions of dispelling our nationhood after the land reform include a co-edited volume by Amanda Hammar, Brian Raftopolous and Stig Jensen (2003) titled Zimbabwe’s Finished Business: Rethinking Land, State, and Nation in Zimbabwe in the Context of a Crisis. This is one of the many academic submissions whose existentiality has been associated with an anti-establishment awakening to override the then key attributes of the state with regards to its revival of the nationalist discourse in galvanising a post-colonial delink from neo-colonial hegemony.
While the state continued to harbour dedicated commitments to promoting social cohesion through intense liberation memory recollections and locating the agenda of economic indigenisation within the broader spectrum of enduring national values derived from the liberation legacy, there was a propensity to undermine this ideological direction. This, in Terence Ranger (2004)’s view, was a race essentialist route by the establishment to manipulate the nationalist historiography in bid to acquire political capital. Narrow as this view is, one is alarmed by an absolute dismissal of the existence of Zimbabwe as a nation in the work of one of our accomplished second generation of historians, Prof Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2011). He asks. Do Zimbabweans Exist?
In an attempt to address the phenomenal interrogation of Zimbabwe’s existence as a nation, he explores the country’s dark past of post-independence tensions, particularly the Gukurahundi history and unpacks the divided political memory it had conceived and how that mapped the contours of disharmony and hence dichotomous nationhood.
These and more cites of the archives validate the notion of “the nation as an imagined community” perceived to be the creative genius of men and women of letters. Writing on the relationship between literature and the nation, Huxley (1959:50) claimed that: “nations are to a very large extent invented by their poets and novelists.” Indeed, writers do “play a role that is confirming of the nation as a political or cultural entity, (emphasising) its uniqueness and its right to a state of its own”.
Understandably, Corse (1997:24) states that “national literatures have become essential characteristics of a nation-state”. In addition to the positive potential contribution of literature to the nation, like identity creation, national consciousness, shared memory and loyalty; “literature can be used to deconstruct, or even subvert, a national project in favour of an alternative . . .” (Suleiman 2016:2). According to Mangena (2015:6), “major Zimbabwean writers write against both colonial oppression and the challenges of the Zimbabwean post-colony.”
Having grounded this presentation on a clear conceptual premise it is now imperative to dissect what our past- as constructed in our political and literary realities provides in navigating a new consciousness of national belonging. This follows the establishment of the New Dispensation in November, 2017 as a precursor of the Second-Republic which was born out of the 30 July plebiscite.
The Second-Republic as a fulfilment of a close to four decades aspiration for democratic maturation provides an opportunity for us to revisit the residual points of tension emanating from grotesque episodes of past particularly successive vices of electoral violence, punitive politics and of course the Matabeleland and Midlands disturbances of 1982 to 1987 which constitute the centre of our discussion.
Gukurahundi: A past buried or a past with us?
The past will always have a way to haunt us if its depravities are not dealt with. In our lifetime, the land reform programme has clearly sustained that truth. It was a recurrence of history that visited the face of our politics as a redress to the structural imbalance of the past. This was because we initially misconstrued the edits of post-independence reconciliation as the ultimate source of generating cohesion and yet our other counterparts wanted to perpetuate their monopoly.
In the same manner, even after the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987 some fault-lines of the nation-building have given prominence to selective reflections on the past and in the process, the Gukurahundi has been manipulated to expose the selective reality of our tensions. Sadly, this narrative has been largely packed as an electoral concern than it has been presented as a valid national question.
Over the years, the Gukurahundi issue has been used to relegate the ruling party’s political prominence in a bid to validate the opposition. However, election outcomes in some parts of the Southern-Region which are characterised as epicentres of these disturbances have given electoral allegiance to the ruling.
As a result, this shows that affected communities have been naturalised to the initial edits of reconciliation which were spelt out in the Unity Accord signed in 1987 between the late Vice President of Zimbabwe, Dr Joshua Nkomo and the President of the First Republic, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. The post-Unity Accord electoral patterns in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South reflect an organic prevalence of cordial and narrow antagonism between the Southern-Region and the ruling party.
Clearly, the notion of tension is a by-product of academic and civil-society constructions of the Zimbabwean reality. However, the challenge embodied in this inclination is that it deliberately ignores that what happened in Matabeleland and Midlands was far beyond ethic essentialism, but rather it was a clear evidence of the consequences of the splits of the nationalist movement in 1963 and how the later part of the fight for freedom and pronounced divided political lines along ethnicity.
Again, the rise of Frolizi further widened the rifts of the nationalist movement in a manner which enabled Western hegemony to pierce into the divided camps of the nationalist movement. This then gave the British an opportunity to manipulate these seemingly ethic fall-outs in the nationalist movement to then crush Zapu’s pro-Eastern European leaning which was an antithesis of Britain’s fronted Western supremacy.
On that note, the Gukurahundi must be understood as a deliberated target on Zapu’s influence in giving prominence to communism.
This is because Zapu’s alliance to the ANC in waging resistance to the apartheid system was treated as a threat to the spread of the third wave of liberal democracy.
To be continued
- The author Dr O M Mpofu is the Secretary for Administartion in Zanu-PF and member of the party’s Politburo.