Two new books on Zimbabwe’s post-independence history which the compilers say will provide a more balanced picture of the country because of their wider representation of viewpoints, will be released onto the market next year.
The viewpoints will include not only those of the victorious party, ZANU-PF, at the time of independence, but also those of other significant regional and ethnic segments of the population, according to one of the compilers, Terence Ranger, a professor of history at Oxford University.
The volumes, which will be published by the University of Zimbabwe Press, are based on papers delivered last year at a conference which drew together research and opinion that had not been made public during the first decade after the liberation struggle.
One of the contributors is Dumiso Dabengwa, the former ZIPRA intelligence chief, who is now Minister of Home Affairs. Dabengwa, who opted to quit the army soon after setting the new Zimbabwe National Army comprising units of the former Rhodesian Security Forces and former ZANLA and ZIPRA combatants, was arrested shortly after the discovery of arms caches at farms owned by the then ZAPU and was detained for nearly four years after being acquitted of treason.
Most people had written him off as a political cabbage on his release but he fought his way back and has risen to become one of the most respected and powerful politicians in President Mugabe’s government.
Dabengwa has also become quite popular not only in his constituency, Nkulumane, which he regularly visits but throughout the country because of his involvement in community projects which had initially been shunned by his colleagues, like the Zambezi Water Project, but also because of his insistence on transforming the police force which had become more of an arm of the ruling party than the government into corruption free force ensuring equal justice to all.
Ranger, who was deported from Rhodesia in 1963, says he returned to Zimbabwe in 1980 to initiate research to try to make “sense of what might have seemed senseless” after the war.
He says it is normal in such situations for the first historical interpretations to be made by the political victors, and for supplementary or contrasting views to emerge later.
This has been true in Zimbabwe. Most documentaries so far produced about the liberation war are about ZANLA forces, quoting, military chiefs. Rarely has the local media shown any documentaries about the role played by ZIPRA in the liberation of the country.
As Ranger says, it is only now that there is a united War Veterans Association that views of former ZIPRA combatants are being incorporated with those of their former ZANLA counterparts. Even then there is still a greater bias towards former ZANLA combatants most of whom are now holding high offices in government or the private sector while ZIPRA ex-combatants continue to languish in poverty and have at times become the laughing stock of the civilians they liberated.
Ranger says most of the books so far published about post-independence Zimbabwe have centred on the perspective of the civilian population rather than the military. This includes his own Peasant Consciousness and the Guerilla War published in 1985. One author has, however written about the war years and the dissident problem that followed, mainly in Matebeleland.
Ranger says there are certain gaps in the histories that have been published to date and northern Matebeleland is one of them. Much more could be published about the dissident situation which ravaged the country for almost six years and only ended after the political leaders of ZAPU and ZANU had signed a unity pact.
He also notes that all those buried at the National Heroes Acre are political figures. Military figures who excelled during the liberation war have been excluded except for one, Josiah Tongogara. The exclusion of these military figures, particularly Lookout Masuku, has raised queries as to what determines a national hero. Those from the former ZAPU feel that former ZANLA combatants are given preference.
The choice of heroes has been strongly criticised even by former ZANLA combatants who argue that there should be no distinction between heroes. This group is against the classification of people as district, provincial or national heroes, arguing that a hero is a hero.
Ranger says two of his own doctoral candidates at Oxford are working on major research with one focussing of ZIPRA and PF-ZAPU. A documentary produced by one of the candidates has been widely screened in Zimbabwe and is on the work of South African agents against people considered to be enemies of that country.
There have been reports that the discovery of arms caches on ZAPU properties soon after independence was masterminded by South African agents who were working for the government who wanted to break up the alliance between ZAPU and ZANU. The arms were allegedly meant to be used by ZAPU to overthrow the government.
After succeeding to create enemies out of the former allies the agents were able to fuel this for the next six years not only causing untold suffering to the people of Matebeleland by also stunting the development of the region.
ZAPU leaders were sacked from the government with several being detained for years after being acquitted by the courts.
The animosity the agents created still lives up to today. Although the two parties have since merged into one, there are some people who are bent on ensuring that the nation never forgets what happened.
While the suffering of the people of Matebeleland should and cannot be ignored it appears some of the people resuscitating debate on the subject may have hidden agendas, probably to steer the creation of a Ndebele state or for other political motives.
Ranger says because of the political turmoil that followed, a lot of ZIPRA documents mysteriously disappeared and this has hampered research. However, extensive notes that had been made prior to the disappearance of the documents are proving valuable aids to researchers.