Talking to Munhumutema’s Mhuri ye Zimbabwe: Part One

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I GOT hold of the above book a few weeks ago.
A quick info search shows that the book received positive reviews in the local press between the months of March and June this year.
I have so far managed to read the first of what I see as a three-part book.
This first part dwells on the historical identity while the remainder, from what I have browsed, deals with philosophical and cultural underpinnings around being Zimbabwean.
It has been a slow read partly due to an unusually busy schedule on my part these last few weeks, but mainly due to my dwindling Shona literacy.
This has really been a shocker to discover.
In primary school and junior secondary school I was an avid reader of Shona novels.
These included Tambaoga, Karikoga Gumiremiseve, Kutonhodzwa KwaChauruka, Mashiripiti eNgozi, Pafunge, Ziva Kwawakabva, Zviuya zviri mberi, among many others.
We exchanged these much along the same lines our better halves today share Nigerian African Movie DVDs.
On average it took me just two rest days, Friday and Sunday in my case, to finish a book.
Today I struggle with my Shona batanidzo when writing.
Scarily my Shona read has become slow as I keep translating concepts into English.
This is very sad and embarrassing indeed.
I wonder who else is reading Shona books outside the mandatory set books.
This is partly at the core of Munhumutema’s call to us to rediscover ourselves through our cultural heritage.
Very early into the book Munhumutema bemoans the absence of written evidence of significant antiquity on African history.
For Zimbabwe this has consequently led to history based on 19th century written European accounts and to some extent accounts of Portuguese visitors to the Mutapa state.
This is seen as a challenge to our quest to recover our pre-colonial identities.
The irony of this is that it then locates and privileges European accounts of Zimbabwean pre-colonial history as the history.
True as the above observation maybe we, however, must also acknowledge progress made in the last six to ten decades in the writing of the African pre-colonial story. Significant progress has been made to our understanding of the African pre-colonial past thorough the contributions of archaeology, oral history, oral traditions, linguistics and anthropology.
Interestingly others are of the view that the resilience of our traditions could in-fact be ascribed to the paucity of written accounts.
Munhumutema also takes issue with attempts to reduce the Bantu identity to a linguistic identity.
And indeed the body of historical knowledge built up in the last century has shown that the Bantu identity is more than linguistic with spiritual, cultural, political and economic attributes also being key.
For the Zimbabwean case it is in these that we find our humanity, hunhu hwedu. Today most of these attributes have been bastardised by Western influences. Hunhu hwedu is increasingly becoming a romantic flirtation with a distant past.
At the core of Munhumutema’s so journey into our pre-colonial Zimbabwean identity is the catastrophic impact of the 1884 Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa among Europe’s imperial powers.
By the stroke of a pen, Zimbabweans were separated from their kith and kin south of Vembe (Limpopo) in South Africa, in eastern Botswana and in west central and northern Mozambique.
While our founding nationalists gave their all to free us from European imperial domination they dared not tamper with the 1884 sketch, pun intended.
So, sadly, our concept of nationalism and sovereignty is as articulated in Berlin in 1884.
Except for Samora Machel’s muted proposals in the early 1980s, no one has dared propose pre-colonial nationalism.
The net effect of 1884 was to bring us under political, economic and cultural domination with us Zimbabweans becoming British and our kith and kin in Mozambique becoming Portuguese.
And while we have made huge progress in dislodging the British politically and economically we still remain culturally very much British, be it language, food, dressing, education and religion.
My own struggle to read Munhumutema, thinking what a masterpiece it would be in English, is testimony to the extent chakabaya chikatyokera.
Munhumutema’s history section’s account of the First Chimurenga may discomfort some students of history.
First are the generalisations for example that the First Chimurenga is the first Zimbabwean war with written accounts.
There are numerous Portuguese accounts since 16th century of many wars fought here.
We also have many 19th century European accounts of wars fought especially in the periphery of the Ndebele kingdom.
Secondly and perhaps the book’s strong point is the bravery in confronting historical events that many history students would rather skip.
Munhumutema is of the view that Zimbabweans have generally been open to migration as a foundation on which nationhood is built, kuwanda huuya concept. However, he argues that Mzilikazi and (Chingururu) Lobengula reigns, based on bloodletting, hutongi hwepfumo did not allow for harmony, kugara hunzwana, pasina kunzwana hapana rugare.
This is contrasted against peaceful migrations by other Africans into this country, prior to the arrival of Mzilikazi.
The failure by Mzilikazi and later Lobengula, to demonstrate hunhu in deferring to the Muwanikwa/Tangakugara/Chidzachepo spirits, coupled with over reliance on violence, pfumo, is not very different from the disrespect exhibited by Europe’s colonial agents.
The hallmark of colonial banditry was desecration of local religion, trashing of local culture and grabbing of land from its true children and selling it.
These concepts, like kutenga nyika or musha were alien to the Zimbabwean hunhu ethos.
Munhumutema has shown unusual bravery in local historical discourse.
The question is; could he repeat the same points and analysis in English or Ndebele?
This is particularly worrying in a country in which ethnicity is based on pure linguistic considerations.
In this part of the book, Munhumutema is not advocating ethnic disharmony, how can he given that this is a history of people of largely the same ethnicity. Rather he is calling for peace based on knowledge and appeasement, kuripa ngozi. Without that we shall be driven by ngozi into bayawabaya.
Endemic violence in South Africa and perhaps homosexuality prevalence there could be a result of unfinished ngozi business that side.
T.N. Munhumutema
Mhuri ye Zimbabwe,
Zwi re Mhuri, Harare, 2013,
ISBN 978-0-7974-5471-2.

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