Socialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Local Practice

By C. M. Hann | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Ambiguities and contradictions in the political management of culture in Zimbabwe's reversed transition to socialism

A.P. Cheater1

Socialism, a Western political ideology emphasizing popular democracy and equality, in practice has nowhere yet achieved its ideals. Monolithic and modernizing, modelled on the Soviet experience as prototype, practical socialist agendas in many different countries tried with varying degrees of success to replace allegedly undemocratic and inegalitarian 'traditional cultures' (see, for example, Binns 1979, 1980; Lane 1981). Only in the post-Mao period did the People's Republic of China, in the context of economic reform, declare its intention to create 'socialism with Chinese characteristics', and ease its past onslaught against 'feudal superstition' (Feuchtwang in press; Cheater 1991a).

In Mozambique in the 1960s, as Lan (1985:208) notes, both FRELIMO and ZANLA (the military wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union, ZANU), as African socialist militants fighting colonialism, accepted the orthodox line that traditional religious beliefs and practices were incompatible with scientific socialism. But later, in the 1970s, and like the Rhodesian Government, ZANLA was to find the spirit mediums (zvikiro) useful to its cause, and sought to recruit as many as possible. Those who refused, like many of the chiefs and those identified as witches, were killed as 'sell-outs' (vatengesi: Lan 1985:195). Beliefs in ancestral protection were also common among the ZANLA guerrillas (Lan 1985:xv). After the war, among those who sought ritual cleansing were fighters who had transgressed traditional religious restraints on killing (Reynolds 1990).

The use of spirit mediums in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle had important antecedents, from the first chimurenga of 1896-97 (Ranger 1967) to the expression in the 1960s, especially among young men (now the older generation), of cultural nationalism through spirit mediumship (Fry 1976). Yet ZANLA's use of these aspects of traditional Shona religion may have been situational and tactical. After independence in 1980, the new ZANU Government did not involve spirit mediums in the national rituals focused on Heroes' Acre commemorating both those who gave their lives in the guerrilla struggle and those who later assumed state power. 2 These rituals were instead dominated by ZANU (now known as ZANU(PF)) and the

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