The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Last week on Wednesday, (14 October) Dr Obert Moses Mpofu launched his ground-breaking autobiography, On the Shoulders of Struggle: Memoirs of a Political Insider. Being actively involved in the publishing process of Dr Mpofu’s book was quite revealing of the many facets of his intellectual and ideological personality.
His obvious political side was the centre of the authorship of his self-reflection. As an avid participant in the publishing sector through Leaders for Africa Network-LAN, I only assumed the launch would take the conservative model of the usual endorsement speeches –one after the other. However, I was treated to a surprise by the profound academic distilling of Dr Mpofu’s autobiography by the Guest of Honour –who was none other than the Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Retired General Constantine Chiwenga. In prefacing his book officiation speech, the Vice President underscored that the historicisation of the liberation struggle largely resides in the commitment of those who were on the forefront of the nationalist movement:
“The anti-imperialist agenda would be a piecemeal if the frontline participants of our liberation struggle are not pro-active in reflecting on the role of the gun in the birthing post-colonial state in Africa. The failure to reconnect to the ideological foundation of our existence through authentic memorialisation will wipe away the keenness to safeguard our liberation values. For too long the narration of our history has been a preserve of institutions disposed to dignifying colonial control on knowledge production.”
Vice President Chiwenga’s above observation is also emphatically illustrated throughout Dr Mpofu’s book. The Vice President Rtd Gen Cde Dr Chiwenga’s submission further exposes a resolute neo-colonial mechanism to effectively silence liberation theologies by the anti-establishment academia on the claims. This position has been justified by a superficial justification that ZANU PF is guilty of producing a linear and hegemonic liberation memory since independence. This selective appreciation of the Zimbabwean knowledge space is arrogantly inclined to disapproving all historical accounts with a link to the establishment. As a way of positing a counter-narrative to the alleged liberation memory monopoly of ZANU PF, some historians have developed a new affinity for ZAPU/ZPRA history which in the past they abhorred in favour of ZANLA’s contribution to the armed struggle. The same historians were equally collaborating in the creation of what they now problematise as an imposed ruling party narrative of the national memory. Vice President Chiwenga unashamedly pointed out one such a historian:
“… Dr Mpofu argues that the Land Reform produced reactionary academia which was mentored by the archbishop of colonial historiography, the late Professor Terrence Ranger who had been initially known as a friendly force to our liberation struggle until he turned his back against the very “Peasant Consciousness” which he claimed to defend through historiographical advocacy. However, Professor Terrence Ranger was later involved in spearheading a nationalist acrimonious narrative which desperately seeks to dissuade our people from writing their history –especially our war veterans.”
The academic flip-flop tendency exposed by the Vice President in his reading of Dr Mpofu’s self-location illustrates the manipulation of history in mapping the various dimensions of political contestations in Zimbabwe. On the contrary, Dr Mpofu attempts to take Zimbabwe’s political debate a step further beyond the normalcy of the selective silencing of memory. A reading of Dr Mpofu’s self-remembering is located on both sides of Zimbabwe’s liberation memory divides broadly situated in his experiential engagement with ZPRA, ZAPU and ZANU PF.
However, Dr Mpofu situates his contributions in the margins of history because a greater part of ex-combatant auto/biographies have been written by those who were in lines of command in the armed struggle:
“However, not much has been said by those cadres who bore the brunt of the real combat operations against the vicious enemy. I represent that group of liberation fighters whose story of involvement in the fight for independence and the consolidation of its values has not been fully chronicled. Not much has also been exhaustively recounted about the countless men, women and children who came face to face with the full wrath of Rhodesian violence directed at obliterating the continuity of the nationalist struggle (p. 7).”
The Vice President’s submission discouraged the emerging culture of neo-colonial forgetting of our past and the profuse attempt towards dissuading foot-soldiers of the struggle from articulating their place in the contemporary power struggle space. Given the conflict around the land question and how it has triggered discursive tensions in the academia, the Vice President noted how Dr Mpofu’s book exposes the role of the Fast-Track Land Reform as the pivot of contested partisan discourses in Zimbabwe from the late 1990s up to the early millennia. As such, he treats the full address of the land question (as presented by Dr Obert Mpofu) as the starting point to real democratisation. Vice President Constantine Chiwenga credited Dr Mpofu for exhaustively discussing the land reform programme as a pivotal unit of analysis to challenging the constructs of Zimbabwean politics beyond selective rhetoric of ‘‘rehearsed concerns’’ around human-rights and good governance. To this end, Vice President Retired General Cde Dr Chiwenga posits that:
“Given the magnitude of Dr Mpofu’s discursive traverse to the neoliberal notions of the so-called Zimbabwean crisis, our senior politicians especially those in ZANU PF must be motivated to write authentic accounts of our post-independence politics. It is worth reiterating that Zimbabwe’s land reform exercise produced an outrage of neo-colonial emotions expressed through the formation of a colonially sponsored opposition political party.”
However, on a lighter note, the Vice President threw in some wit to Dr Mpofu for his romantic poetics in the book:
“I recommend the book for those young men who may want to extract some romantic charming genius from the wisdom of the old school as espoused by the writer’s celebration of his longtime lover Mama Mrs Sikhanyisiwe Mpofu. It was quite warming to be reading a fat session of the book where the writer overturned the academic gravity of the book by showering her wife with some enticing love punchlines.”
Richard Runyararo Mahomva is a Political-Scientist with an avid interest in political theory, liberation memory and architecture of governance in Africa. He is also a creative literature aficionado. Feedback: [email protected]