The Second Chimurenga …defining the fighter in the conflict


THE set of terms used to describe the fighters were equally controversial and these are examined below. The guerrillas in the Second Chimurenga called themselves vana mukoma (brothers) or vana vevhu (children of the soil). David Lan (1985:14) uses the term autochthons, another term to describe vana vevhu: To call a people autochthons, ‘literally those who came out of the ground’ implies that they have a special ritual intimacy with the territory they occupy because they are thought of as the earliest ever to have lived there. Those who use vana vevhu saw the conflict as driven by strong historical and cultural traditions drawn from Zimbabwe’s pre-colonial past. It is an effort to assert that Zimbabwean identity that other names might not be able to fully project. Vana vevhu or vana mukoma, very similar to the Irish term for the IRA, the lads (McLaughlin 1998), are descendents of Murenga Soro reNzou described earlier in and some of the leaders of the First Chimurenga such as Nehanda, Kaguvi and Chingaira. Close to this group of labels is freedom fighter. Freedom fighter was the English alternative for vanamukoma or varwi verusununguko (freedom fighters) and it puts the fighters in a positive light. People who were sympathetic to those fighting against the colonial rule used these terms alternatively with liberation forces. While the term freedom fighter was politically correct, guerrillas preferred the term ‘comrades’. The term guerrilla (or insurgent) was widely used among scholars and journalists who sought to be neutral yet this neutrality is still questioned. A guerrilla is a combatant engaged in irregular warfare and it is derived from the Spanish and French definitions of war. Webster’s Book of Word Origins (1991) says guerrilla in Spanish means ‘petty war’ or a skirmish and it is actually a diminutive of “guerra” which means war. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1964:477) defines guerrilla as “a person taking part in irregular fighting”. Stowell (1961:60) defines guerrilla as: “a member of an irregular band of fighters attacking enemy forces whenever an advantage is to be gained”. Guerrilla has lost its semantic force as an independent term and is dependent on context or the ideological standpoint of the user. Probably insurgent is more negative than neutral. It suggests some subversive element or rebellion of some kind and ascribes some criminal attributes to the fighter. There is a suggestion of a condescendent regard of the belligerents with some hint of scorn as if they were engaged in some senseless war. The transitional government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia of 1979, in an effort to legitimise itself, tried to be neutral and used the Shona / Ndebele equivalent of insurgent: varwi vemusango / abalwe bexatsha (fighters of the bush). For the guerrillas, varwi vemusango / abalwe bexatsha was an amorphous label by a transitional government that was trying to window dress the insulting term terrorist. Fighters in a terrorist war are called terrorists and this is the term that was used most widely in Rhodesia to refer to the guerrillas (Stiff 1985, Pieterse 2003, Reid Daly 1982). It carried numerous negative connotations worse than those for insurgent. Godwin and Hancock (1993:11) clearly define the term from the Rhodesian perspective: . . . terrorists were communists, malcontents, and murdering thugs – the Godless embodiment of evil – who made cowardly attacks on defenceless tribesmen and farmers’ families, ran away from the security forces, and were interested only in personal power or in advancing the cause of Soviet or Chinese communism. The term terrorist carries the image of an ogre who goes about terrifying innocent people and committing atrocities. It is a popular term, but it is widely abused by practically everyone who deploys it in any discourse. People have committed the worst atrocities, in the name of fighting terrorism. The terrorist is the ultimate image of the inhuman face of war and all its callousness. The guerrilla can be someone’s terrorist depending on one’s values and perspectives (Pieterse 2003). Said (1993:375) expresses this problem when he observes that terrorism (and fundamentalism) are: Fearful images that lack discriminate contents or definition, but they signify moral power and approval for whoever uses them, moral defensiveness and criminalization for whomever they designate. The term terrorist thus criminalised and marginalised people who were fighting against a political system they believed to be oppressive. Rhodesian forces often shortened terrorist to ‘terr’ which was widely used as well in Rhodesian discourse (Tungamirai 1995; Frederikse 1982). It gave a suggestion of Huns, Goths and Vandals who were bent on pillage, plunder and killing innocent civilians. The Shona equivalent, magandanga, was equally damning and it was widely used by the Rhodesian media in an effort to debase the liberation struggle. Using the term terrorist was a deliberate attempt to remove any positive values within the guerrilla, insurgent or freedom fighter. Traces of such images still linger in some parts of Zimbabwean society some 25 years after the war. Conclusion It can be argued that the name Chimurenga expressed an ideological position that narrated a historical past that had been expropriated by the colonial power. The world gave its own names to the Zimbabwean struggle, but the latter did not wait to be named. Instead they named themselves. By taking up that name Chimurenga, Zimbabweans were taking a step in reclaiming and redefining cultural spaces that had been taken up by the European settlers. They adopted a name that was brutally suppressed in the colonial period in order to shape new identities. It is these identities that Zimbabweans continue to assert as they open up spaces beyond the political and physical realm into the labyrinthine world of intellectual enquiry and creation of knowledge. The Muslims will talk of the jihad, the French celebrate Bastille Day, Americans commemorate Washington’s birthday, and the list is endless. Every people will celebrate their past, their struggles through certain names and it is the sovereign right of these people to choose such a name. It must be a name that carries a collection of their histories, values, cultures and traditions that they hold dear. It is in this spirit that the name that Zimbabweans will always celebrate Chimurenga: an integral part of the Zimbabwean ethos and identity.


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