A story never told before

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THE most significant thing about Rtd Brigadier-General Felix Muchemwa’s book, The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe 1890-2010, is that it is our story.
The overwhelming response we got from people who we sent advance copies prior to the launch was that once one started reading the book, they couldn’t put it down.
The story reads like a thriller because for a change, you are reading a narrative about your people stretching as far back as the 16th century to the time of the Mwenemutapa Empire.
And that is when you come face to face with the Great Zimbabwe State and you realise with humility that even the name ‘Zimbabwe’ was coined as far back as then, by people who shared the same vision for the land as yours.
The book is a story about our people; our past, our present and our future.
In the books we did at school, the British said it was the Portuguese or the Phoenicians who built the Great Zimbabwe because they didn’t believe we had the capacity and intelligence to build such a sophisticated structure.
That is the danger of allowing other people to tell your story.
They will claim your achievements and victories.
That is why Dr Muchemwa’s book is historic.
Thirty five years after we became independent, Dr Muchemwa’s book becomes the second serious attempt, after Dr Stan Mudenge’s A Political History of Munhumutapa, to dig deep into the archives and reconstruct our past.
Someone we gave the book to read before the launch made an interesting observation.
He said although the title of the book is The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe 1890-2010, the issue of the land is dealt with in a peripheral manner except at the end, during the Third Chimurenga and the Land Reform Programme.
That observation is not correct because the story, from the invasion of the land by the Pioneer Column in 1891, resistance to the invasion during the First Chimurenga, consolidation of settler power after the defeat of the Ndebeles and the Shonas, the rise of African nationalism leading to the Second Chimurenga, intensification of the Second Chimurenga, the Lancaster House Conference and independence and then finally the Third Chimurenga or Hondo Yeminda, the entire narrative is about the special relationship that has always existed between the people their land.
This strong relationship between the people and the land is best illustrated by a frosty exchange between Cecil Rhodes and a young Ndebele chief in the Matopos during his famous Indabas with Ndebele chiefs to end the war in August 1896.
“Where are we to live after all this is over?” the young chief asked.
“We will give you land,” Rhodes answered.
“You will give us land in our own country!” the young chief shouted back angrily.
The eventual war between the settlers and the indigenous people was primarily about the land.
The issue of land forms the running sub-text throughout Dr Muchemwa’s book.
And yet the three infamous treaties leading to the occupation of the country, that is; the Moffat Treaty of February 1888 followed by the Rudd Concession of October 1888 and the Royal Charter of 1889 deliberately misled Lobengula to believe the whiteman was not interested in the land; that he was only interested in obtaining hunting and mining concessions.
After Lobengula fled north and disappeared without trace in 1893, the settlers set up the first land commission in September 1894 that expropriated the Ndebeles of all their land and created the Gwai and Shangani ‘native’ reserves.
Those that did not want to relocate to the new native reserves stayed on as tenants and labourers on land that now belonged to the whites.
Another thing closely associated with the defeat of Lobengula was the cattle that the king possessed.
It is estimated that over a quarter of million cattle were looted from Lobengula and shared between the BSAC and members of the invading force.
The sheer number of the cattle necessitated the formation of a Loot Committee to oversee the distribution of the cattle.
The cattle given to the BSAC formed the nucleus of the present day Cold Storage Company (CSC).
After the subjugation of Matabeleland, the settlers shifted their focus on Mashonaland.
Because it was assumed that Lobengula ruled Mashonaland, the BSAC encouraged white settlers not only to occupy land, but to physically remove Africans from land that the settlers fancied.
It was especially this wanton land-grab and a cocktail of other measures such as introduction of the Hut Tax that pushed the country over the edge and erupted into the First Chimurenga in 1896 in both Matabeleland and Mashonaland.
In Matabeleland alone, about 400 white settlers were killed in that war.
In Mashonaland, about 300 white settlers were killed between 1896 and 1897.
So out of a population of 1 300 white settlers in 1896, about half of them were killed during the First Chimurenga.
It was a serious war that required the settlers to call for reinforcements from England.
In spite of the accentuated and perceived differences and disagreements between the Shonas and Ndebeles, The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe 1890-2010 proves beyond doubt that the two ethnic groups collaborated and co-ordinated in military operations.
After the settlers had defeated the Shonas and negotiated peace with the Ndebele Indunas in the Matopos in 1897; after the settlers had hung Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Chief Mashayamombe, Chief Hwata, Gatsi, Chief Mutekedza, Chikwaka, Chingaira, they began the process to consolidate their grip over the land and people.
It must be noted the reason why there were more hangings in Mashonaland than in Matabeleland was because peace in Matabeleland was negotiated with Lobengula’s remaining regimental commanders.
In Mashonaland, the uprising was crushed on the battlefield.
They achieved that through a raft of proclamations, ordinances and acts that all revolved around the issue of the land.
By 1902, the whole country had been surveyed and native reserves established for different African groupings.
The Land Apportionment Act of 1930, the Land Husbandry Act of 1950 and the Land Tenure Act of 1969 stripped and marginalised the African, turning him into a stranger in the land of his birth.
Thus he was left with no choice, but to confront the white settlers exactly the way he had done in 1896.
The Second Chimurenga and after
If Dr Muchemwa’s account of the First Chimurenga is informative and fascinating, his account of the Second Chimurenga is thrilling because most of the participants are still alive and everyone struggles to locate themselves in the story.
When people search for themselves in a story, it is the clearest and strongest expression of their ownership of the story.
Dr Muchemwa’s account is a description of our relationship with our land and how we are prepared to defend it with our lives.
Another reader that we gave an advance copy of the book complained that Dr Muchemwa’s account was openly ZANU and ZANLA.
In our opinion, it was always inevitable his story would be grossly ZANLA because he was a member of ZANLA.
Therefore the argument that anything can be neutral is a myth.
It is not possible to hide one’s position when telling a story.
Dr Muchemwa’s account of the Second Chimurenga is intimate and detailed; from the first group that ZANU sent to China for training in September 1963 that was led by the current Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the battle of Chinhoyi in April 1966, the joint ZIPRA/Mkonto weSizwe operations in Matabeleland North from 1967 to 1970, ZANU’s change of military strategy and the opening of the north-east operational area through Mozambique in 1971.
It is from that point that the narrative focuses entirely on ZANU and ZANLA.
The attack on Alterna Farm on 21 December 1972 marked the decisive phase of the Second Chimurenga.
The whites would not be able to control the rising tide of the war.
In his book Serving Secretly, the former director of Ian Smith’s Special Branch, Ken Flower said the moment they discovered the guerillas had taken to Zambia the spirit medium of of Mbuya Nehanda from Dande along the Zambezi River in 1972, they knew they had lost the war.
Meanwhile, there is a violent internal revolt in ZANU popularly known as the Nhari/Badza rebellion and Chairman Herbert Chitepo is killed in a car bomb in Lusaka.
The entire ZANU and ZANLA leadership is arrested over the Chairman’s death throwing the party and the war into chaos and eventually grinding it to a halt.
The war eventually resumes at the behest of leaders of the Frontline States under a unified ZANLA/ZIPRA command called Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA).
ZIPA quickly collapses because ZIPRA held back its forces from operations and ZANLA on the other hand, ran into problems of its own when, from youthful exuberance, Dzinashe Machingura declares there was nothing that could stop ZIPA from transforming into a political party.
That was open defiance of the leadership of the party.
The story gives the horrifying details of the Chimoio attack by the Rhodesians in November 1977 down to the year of ‘People’s Storm’ in 1979.
It gives an incredible account of how the attack on the Salisbury fuel depot was conceived, planned and carried out.
It also gives an incredible account of ZANLA’s decisive battles that tilted the balance of the war in favour of the nationalists.
For instance, the ‘Battle of Mapai’ in Southern Mozambique and of course the mother of all battles during the Lancaster House Conference, the ‘Battle of Mavonde’ when General Walls advised Ian Smith to make critical compromises at Lancaster House because they would not win the war.
The sticking point at the conference was the land issue.
In the end, the Frontline States forced the Patriotic Front to make its own compromise on the land issue and agree to a 10-year grace period before they could change ‘the willing-buyer-willing-seller’ constitutional provision.
The story ends with the Third Chimurenga or Hondo Yeminda after the expiry of the 10 years grace period when the constitution is eventually changed in 1992 to include the compulsory Land Acquisition Act.
Perhaps what is significant is how the Land Reform Programme was suddenly taken to the courts of law with Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay declaring it illegal in a landmark ruling in November 2000 until Chief Godfrey Chidyausiku overturned that ruling in January 2011 and legalised the programme.
What separates Dr Muchemwa’s story from other works like Edgar Tekere’s A Life Time Struggle, Fay Chung’s Re-Living the Second Chimurenga, of Dzinashe Machingura’s Memories of a Freedom Fighter, is the formidable research put into consolidating the story.
The story is built on extensive research and every conclusion reached is based on an objective interpretation of archive material.
The challenge for us is to tell our story.
The Rhodesians realise the importance of telling the story and are spending sleepless nights doing it.
They know that in another 30 years, in the absence of our own written story, it will be theirs remaining without any challenge.
Then they will tell the world we stole the land from them and they will be believed.
Just as Ian Smith lies in his book, The Great Betrayal that the only people who can lay legitimate claim to this country are the San people because the Shonas, the Ndebeles and the whites are all relatively newcomers who arrived in the country at different historical times.
We have to tell our story and expose such brazen lies.
We built the Great Zimbabwe and not the Portuguese.
Thank you Dr Muchemwa for telling our story.
For views and comments, email: alexkanengoni@gmail.com

1 COMMENT

  1. I DO NOT KNOW IF IT WAS DELIBERATE OR WAS GENUINE LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
    HOW COME WHAT HAPPENED IN THE 1979/80 CEASEFIRE INVOLVING CHUCHU FROM BINDURA
    IS NEVER MENTIONED

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