On revising history and shooting at the historian

Source: On revising history and shooting at the historian | The Sunday Mail April 8, 2018

Phyllis Johnson
I am writing in response to your article which appeared on 18 March 2018, the date that Herbert Chitepo was assassinated in 1975, and this is an appropriate day to write in defence of his struggle.

He was the first black lawyer in the country, but not the last. He was the architect of the liberation struggle in a manner that inspired and capacitated others to continue to achieve the goals of independence, land, education and the other national grievances. Perhaps in deference to the date, he is not among those you tried to trash in the article.

Yes the time has come to address revisionist history, as presented by one of your reporters who seems to think that colonial is best and that telling the story of pre-colonial history or of the First Chimurenga resistance or of the brave young men and women who committed their lives to the Second Chimurenga and often lost, is “praise-singing”.

It is revealing that M Huni attacks only those historians who have credibly presented the facts of the First and Second Chimurenga. He has selected the seminal books for this purpose, which he then attacks using another individual’s perspective for his mission.

Attacking writers is one thing and I remain silent when attacked on the basis of race, but attacking the national historical narrative, and the young men and women who died painful deaths to bring independence back to the country, is quite another.

I will speak in their defence and in defence of Advocate Chitepo, who can no longer defend themselves. They are easy targets for those with an agenda to revise the history of what they stood for, which is on record.

What is the motive? Either your reporter is ignorant and doesn’t read, or he is one of those appointed by a former minister in the previous regime for this specific purpose of trashing the liberation struggle, and thus the approach may be deliberate.

I will give him the benefit of doubt, although the consistency of approach suggests the latter. This is not his first article or interview to take this approach.

Mr Huni, have you ever looked at images of the mass graves at Nyadzonia or Chimoio, really looked at all those young lives that were lost? You may be one of those who shed tears for people killed in other countries but do not sufficiently perceive or feel your own history . . . Perhaps you didn’t lose anyone in the struggle, unlike most families in the country, who did.

You are entitled to speak your mind but your method of attack, the chosen targets and the lack of factual perspective is revealing. This entire narrative has been diverted into revisionist history, and it is time to reply.

Your chosen targets are the very people who have done seminal research work on the national liberation struggle. Terence Ranger researched and wrote a book called ‘Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 1896-97: a study in African resistance’, giving details about the First Chimurenga which was a response to the invasion of 1890 in defence of the land. This resistance continued until 1980.

David Martin and Phyllis Johnson wrote ‘The Struggle for Zimbabwe: the Chimurenga war’, about the Second Chimurenga which was a response to the consolidation of the same invasion and which won back the country over a period encompassing 100 years later.

In Europe, the historians would link such continuous events and glamorise them by calling it a 100 Year War, which it was. Yet you describe this narrative of persistence and courage as a “praise-text”? I don’t think so.

‘The Struggle for Zimbabwe’ is the story of the young people who went to fight for their country, and won, as young people did in several neighbouring countries during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The book is dedicated to the ZANLA Commander, Josiah Magama Tongogara, who also gave his life so you could be here doing what you do, and you need to know that. It is clear that you haven’t read this book that you pretend to write about as “praise singing”.

This is the main source-book on this subject and was produced from many years of research and interviews, and engagement. How could the access to this information on the fight against colonialism have “made the situation worse”? You language reveals your objectives.

Martin and Johnson also researched and wrote other books, notably on apartheid’s destabilisation of the region, a book that was banned in apartheid South Africa, and another book that revealed the planning and implementation of the assassination of Chitepo, and who did it, titled ‘The Chitepo Assassination’.

This is apparently included in your targets that “made the situation worse”. What are you saying, that you would rather not know what happened?

Then you proceed to attack David Lan, a young doctoral candidate in 1980-83 who had the foresight to spend a year living in the Zambezi valley, conducting interviews with the people in Dande about their support for the liberation war, when memories were fresh, later published as a book, Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe.

This book contains aspects of Zimbabwe history on the emergence of  war in the north-east, that are not found anywhere else, such items referred to by the late pre-colonial historian, Dr S.I.G. Mudenge, as “treasure to be restored, recorded and polished.”

Even more revealing is your attack on Prof. Ngwabi Bhebe, whose integrity and professional rigour are unassailable. He is a widely respected Zimbabwean history professor who is the visionary who built Midlands State University and recently stepped down as Vice Chancellor. What is your motive?

He has written many books and articles on pre-colonial and liberation history, none of which have “made the situation worse”.

He was a participant in the UNESCO History of Africa, and he was the country co-ordinator of the Hashim Mbita project, the SADC History of the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa. Aaaah, so that is the target. Unpacking your article is very revealing.             And while you and Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatseni are attacking us as authors, you choose a few other historical targets who have far more credible credentials than yours, by attacking Julius Nyerere, Joshua Nkomo, and others . . . quoting of course the same source rather than taking responsibility yourself. This is very shoddy journalism and reeks of an agenda to trash, not the authors, but the liberation itself.

You seem to prefer those who cannot answer back. Well, you will be disappointed.

These historical narratives and individuals have “made the situation worse”. Really? In a country and continent that lacks information about its historical resistance to colonial capture, these narratives offer a beginning that others can build on. There is enough research needed and stories to tell for everyone to get involved in, including the author of the article. Why attack those who have tried?

But you are consistent in your attacks on the liberation of the country. Your method of attacking liberation war veterans in interviews as if they are the enemy to be interrogated, rather than trying to pull out and reveal their story, is also noted.

For example, asking the camp commander at Chimoio why he didn’t stop the Rhodesian attack on the camp or prevent people from being killed, is an incredibly foolish question that he chose to answer quietly, in the manner of war veterans who have seen many people perish.  I realise that by engaging in debate with you that I am also engaging your editor whose writing I respect, and your PS, who has so much history to write himself. However it is now time that these things are said.

If your target is the former President, then you should aim at your target, but you seem to have a certain reluctance to do so. Instead you are using this alleged target to attack all others who prosecuted and fought in the national liberation struggle, and those who wrote about it. Why?

The Constitution of Zimbabwe, Amendment (No. 20) Act 2013, apparently has more respect for the liberation struggle than you do, and introduces the subject more accurately. I have to give the final word to a learned friend who shared her thoughts eloquently on social media, in response to current events:

“If there is ever one thing that Zimbabwean political parties, politicians and their communication departments have never mastered, it is to understand how to use their relationship with the media profitably and understanding how the media works . . .”

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 2
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    Mpopota 4 years ago

    Looking at the current situation in Zimbabwe and those in power I fear that all those young people who gave their lives in the struggle died in vain.

  • comment-avatar
    mazano rewayi 4 years ago

    True history always dies with those who fall on the battlefield. Those that live to tell the tell either heard or imagined. Let’s just respect those who make an effort to tell the story of the dead.