Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Insights into Independent Zimbabwe: Some Historiographical Reflections

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Insights into Independent Zimbabwe: Some Historiographical Reflections

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This article reviews some shifting historical paradigms on Zimbabwe's experiences after independence, focusing on three topical issues rather than a singular historiography (Ranger 1968; Isaacman 1990). It deliberately looks at issues of nationalist/patriotic narratives and their counter-narratives, the historiography of the land as well as accounts of the crisis in Zimbabwe. It is based on a talk given during the PhD round table session at the Africa Day colloquium hosted by the Centre for Africa Studies of the University of the Free State on 22 May 2013. (2)) While there are works focusing exclusively on patriotic history debates or other issues such as land, for example, this article summarises the broad historiographical landscape. Arguably, the narratives of independent Zimbabwe are informed by issues that were shaped by topical subjects of politics, the land issue and the unfolding crisis. Of late, issues relating to the environment, gender and migration have also become important. Earlier historiography in the 1970s, for instance, was marked by path breaking political economy studies or economic and social history (Phimister 1979) that demolished the writings of such scholars as William Barber (1961), Lewis H Gann (1965) and others, informed by modernisation theory, and who viewed colonial capitalism from W Arthur Lewis' development economics paradigm as progressive, even for Africans. Most of this critical new literature was spurred by Giovanni Arrighi's 1970 seminal paper (1970) which was subsequently appraised and advanced by such scholars as Duncan Clarke (1975), Charles van Onselen (1976), and Ian Phimister (1988). The political economy paradigm became increasingly influential in the 1970s.

Nationalist history also emerged, and was propelled by Terence Ranger's book Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, 1896-97 (1967). This was followed up by numerous other accounts which were then adopted as official historical narratives in the independent Zimbabwean state spurring the emergence of a narrower version of nationalist history, patriotic history through the works, for example, of David Martin and Phylis Johnson (1981), Aeneas Chigwedere, (3)) among others. Both Nationalist and patriotic history, however, came under attack in the course of the 1980s. However, the post-colonial state confronted challenges of nationbuilding, addressing the colonial legacy and attempting to create its own political, economic and social record. This came under the scrutiny of historians who have evaluated the trajectory of these developments. Some versions have celebrated the Zimbabwe African National Union --Patriotic Front's (ZANU-PF) record as the sole ruling authority since independence as one of liberation, empowering and transformation while others have argued that instead, its legacy is one authoritarian ism, division and ultimately political and economic crisis. This article presents an overview mapping the contours of the works on independent Zimbabwean history.

2. The State, Nationalist historiography and its counter narratives

The production and reproduction of official historical narratives has its origins in the late colonial period in Zimbabwe and it became important with its adoption and deployment by the ZANU-PF state. Nationalist history originated with the earlier works of Terence Ranger (1967) which spawned numerous others, including patriotic history (Martin and Johnson 1981; Lan 1985; Frederickse 1983). The works largely portrayed the two chimurenga wars as consisting of a patriotic and heroic union of nationalists, guerrillas, peasants and religious/spiritual leaders leading to independence but was largely silent about the "struggles within the struggle" (Sithole 1979). Such histories were a product of the liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s reflecting a strong element of scholar-activism, but that brand of history persisted beyond the attainment of the country's political independence. …

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