Understanding the legacy of Professor Ranger, 1929-2015

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

PROFESSOR Terence Osborn Ranger died in Britain, almost aged 86 years.
Because he was an early member of the African liberation movement in Zimbabwe and was vilified, detained and deported for his role in support of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU); because he was a ‘pioneer’ historian of the African liberation struggle and a prolific writer – – it will be difficult for young African intellectuals of today to understand why Terence Ranger and the liberation movement – – which he joined and was detained, vilified and deported for joining – – ended up parting ways.
Indeed, in his later years, Ranger so retribalised Zimbabwean history and demonised President Robert Mugabe to the extent that his audiences would no longer remember that it was the same Robert Mugabe, Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, who made Ranger a Professor at the same university.
The reality which needs explanation especially to young Zimbabweans is this: Just as the Anglo-Saxon establishment in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada joined forces with the former white Rhodesian settlers to stop the same African liberation movement from reclaiming the people’s land in Zimbabwe, so also Professor Terence Ranger in the end joined forces with the Anglo-Saxon liberal intellectual establishment and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to stop African revolutionary intellectuals from reclaiming and owning the history of that same land of Zimbabwe which Ranger had come to dominate for more than 40 years of professional intellectual production.
Therefore, for me, the rift between Ranger and the African revolutionary intellectuals in Zimbabwe can be summarised in terms of three concepts: ‘privilege’, ‘protest’ and ‘citizenship’.

Privilege
Terence Ranger was a privileged white liberal intellectual who enjoyed the rights of the white middle class male in a colonised African society.
As such he and his liberal colleagues were privileged to pick and choose which features of the African liberation struggle to approve or disapprove, to get involved in or to ignore.
Ranger’s early contribution in this regard is summarised in Michael Gelfand’s history of what is now the University of Zimbabwe, a book entitled A Non-Racial Island of Learning: A History of the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from its inception to 1966.
Ranger’s activities in this regard are documented intermittently here in about 20 pages out of 306.
Ranger therefore saw himself and his white liberal colleagues as representing the best of British culture and civilisation.
They looked down upon Rhodesian settler society and the Rhodesia Front as boorish, ignorant and dangerous for the Western cause.
The Africans they pitied and sought to mentor, to sponsor and promote, as long as the latter accepted white liberal guidance and leadership.
Gelfand summarised this stance well in relation to the University of Rhodesia of which Ranger was a prominent member:
“Therefore, all who came here were automatically expected to conform to British standards… under entrance qualifications, (the brochure) stressed the importance of Western culture (for Zimbabwe).
Privilege also meant that Ranger’s vilification, detention and deportation by a government of half-civilised white settlers became a great opportunity for his wider career and for the British academic and intellectual establishment backing him.
While his African colleagues were scrounging for survival and at the same time trying to build a free African nation in exile, Ranger was steadily launched on a clear trajectory as the historian of Zimbabwe.
He could afford to attend to research, writing and activism full time.

Protest
The difference between the white liberal and activist protest against unfair society which Ranger relished and the revolutionary path of armed struggle which his African colleagues chose is another way of understanding the rift that later developed between them.
A liberal, although engaged in protest, still believes in the establishment he is protesting against.
But a revolutionary seeks to overturn that establishment and to start anew African establishment on indigenous foundations.
African revolutionary intellectuals were not seeking to improve the British legacy in Zimbabwe.
They were not an intellectual protest movement against ZANU PF nor were they created and deployed by ZANU PF for propaganda purposes, as Ranger and his students alleged.
The affinities between the revolutionary tradition of ZANU PF and the revolutionary African intellectual tradition arose not from ZANU PF’s deployment or employment of the African intellectual.
The affinities arose from the fact that the revolutionary political movement and the revolutionary intellectual had been breast-fed by the same mother, the same unhu and udzimbahwe which Ranger could not access.
David Lan, a younger colleague of Ranger, recognised this larger indigenous spiritual and intellectual source which continues to feed and explain both the political revolution and the revolutionary intellectual tradition.
It is this larger source of Zimbabweaness which Ranger wanted the African intellectual to renounce so that Ranger as a white intellectual could feel included.
That is why Ranger in his Nationalist Historiography, Patriotic History and the History of the Nation: The Struggle over the Past in Zimbabwe, wrote a lot about ‘pluralism’.
Protesters always seek to be included by that which they protest against.

Citizenship and Pluralism
Ranger’s protest history against African intellectuals who failed to initiate him into the larger core of udzimbahwe means that he resented the African organic intellectual and he could not become one.
Instead, he remained an expatriate.
This resentment also turned into anti-Mugabeism because of President Robert Mugabe’s insistence: that former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair should keep his little England and let Mugabe keep his Zimbabwe, that “We are Africans and not Europeans.”
It is important to note that these words were provoked by the war over the African land revolution in Zimbabwe.
If the Europeans never invited Africans to own land in Europe, why did they expect the same Africans to accept being reduced to willing buyers of their stolen land and to turn the former land thieves into ‘willing sellers’ of the same?
What is this larger core, larger source and strength of Zimbabwe which Ranger resented?
This is the core and strength which enabled Madzimbahwe to defeat the combined Rhodesian and Western Anglo-Saxon weapons of mass deception as documented and admired by Julie Fredrikse in Non-But Ourselves: Masses versus Media in the Making of Zimbabwe.
It is the core and strength which David Lan documented in its Dande version in Guns and Rain.
It was the same core and strength which Terence Ranger’s student Blessing-Miles Tendi recognised in what he called ‘patriotic intellectuals’ in Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media.
To the extent that the majority of well-schooled Africans today think like white liberals, to the extent that Zimbabwe’s new constitution protects citizenship, but not udzimbahwe, it can be concluded that Terence Ranger’s white intellectual and cultural project did greater damage to Zimbabwe’s history and heritage than UDI and apartheid.
Citizenship and pluralism are about white embededness in the African land, in the African mind and in the Constitution.
The white man will never give up his Anglo-Saxonness no matter how liberal he claims to be.

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