Ranger: Liberal with freedom to change sides


IN his last book published in 2013 Writing Revolt, prominent historian Professor Terence Osborn Ranger states “I did not set out for Rhodesia as a radical.”
Professor Ranger passed away last week in his sleep at his Oxford home in England at the age of 86.
He will mostly be remembered for his role in penning the black history of Zimbabwe in the 50s at a time when many whites, like his one-time mentor Hugh Trevor Roper, believed Africa had no history beyond, “the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes”.
As the winds of change swept the continent, Professor Ranger found himself defending the black cause often finding himself detained and finally being deported by the Welensky regime in 1963.
It was, however, during his detention that he wrote Revolt in Southern Rhodesia which was published in 1967.
In his 2013 book Writing Revolt, Professor Ranger writes that he felt compelled to chronicle the events that led him to write Revolt in Rhodesia.
His 182-page turner which opens with a chapter titled ‘a very ordinary boy’ begins with Ranger’s middle England background where he was well-read, but with little knowledge of Africa except that written by the likes of Joseph Conrad who upheld the mainstream white ideology of the dark continent.
“Oxford did nothing to educate me about Africa,” writes Professor Ranger.
He, however, writes that Oxford made him, “a rigorous archival historian, which I remained throughout my years in Rhodesia”.
Once in Rhodesia Professor Ranger realised the white system had downplayed and in some instances ignored the role of blacks.
The local archives were rich with the black warriors, but only the whites were allowed access.
“It was necessary to make use of these archives and I was able to do so,” says Professor Ranger.
“Fortunately when I was restricted by the government to within a mile of my house the archives just fell within that limit.”
In his book, Professor Ranger moves from being ‘an ordinary boy’ to befriending detainees and enemies of the Rhodesian state.
By the time of his deportation seven years after his arrival on the continent, Ranger was on first name basis with most of the nationalists.
Like with most liberals, Professor Ranger had the luxury of shifting positions from his nationalist stance just as Doris Lessing had done.
At the time of his death, the historian who had often stated the irregularities of the law regarding blacks and whites and was definitely aware of the land apportionment of the 1950s that saw whites with vast tracts of land, had distanced himself from the nationalist regime.
As the Land Reform Programme began, he got on his liberal stand and began to denounce the regime that forcibly removed whites from the land. He began to oppose the indigenisation schemes that were launched across the country benefitting hundreds and thousands of black families.
The programme saw over
400 000 black households getting the country’s prime land which was previously owned by an estimated
4 000 white farmers.
He, however, defends his stance at the end of Writing Revolt stating, “I have come to think that my nationalist dissidence of the 1960s foreshadowed my present criticism of Mugabe’s authoritarianism.
“I don’t see this as repentance from earlier nationalist conformity, but a continuation of the ideals and practice of the 1960s.”
Professor Ranger also states that his stance against the Mugabe regime was as a result of the Gukurahundi in the 80s.
One would have hoped that Professor Ranger who at one time stated that Cecil John Rhodes had bribed Courtney Selous to exaggerate the tribal conflict between the Ndebele and Shona would see beneath the veneer of the white agenda.
Perhaps he (Professor Ranger) purposely chose to ignore this fact as his sympathies lay in Matabeleland where he had formed strong friendships and bonds.
Research would have led him to the Kevin Woods narration, a former double agent with the South African intelligence who wrote “I suppose it’s a fine line and a difficult thing to quantify when a freedom fighter is a terrorist and vice versa, so I took the easy way out and didn’t think too much about that.
“We had information of South African military assistance to the dissidents in Matabeleland…South Africans were not shy about issuing weapons either…they gave former ZIPRA guerillas rockets, 60mm mortars, RPD machine guns with thousands of ammunition…enough to carry on a small war, which they did.
“By late 1983, the dissident situation was going nowhere…the people taking the most strain were the local peasants and the Matabeleland commercial farmers….this must have had him and his Shona security force commanders drooling in anticipation of avenging past wrongs…a short century before.”
While Woods personally assumes the Fifth Brigade was sent to avenge century old disagreements, he is, however, honest enough to state the truth.
But because liberals have the freedom to change sides when it suits them, it seems Prof Ranger chose to ignore this side of the sordid ‘tale’.
However, his role in the nationalist struggle will not be changed and it will forever endear him to Zimbabwe.


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