In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

The Road to IndependenceDavid Caute

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe 
by Terence Ranger.
James Currey, 377 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 85255 000 6
Show More
Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe 
by David Lan.
James Currey, 244 pp., £19.50, October 1985, 0 85255 200 9
Show More
Show More

Terence Ranger’s major new exploration of Zimbabwean peasant politics spans the ninety years from the early colonial period to the 1980s. While drawing heavily on his own intensive research in the Makoni district of Manicaland – virtually a scholarly fief of his – Ranger constantly illuminates Rhodesia’s tortuous passage to majority rule by comparison with two contrasting ‘models’ of decolonisation: Kenya (conservative) and Mozambique (a luta continua).

Ranger asks why the ruthless mass-expulsion of blacks from Rhodesia’s ‘European’ lands in the late Forties did not produce an armed insurrection comparable to Mau Mau among the Kikuyu of Kenya: some 425,000 peasants were evicted from white-designated lands in Rhodesia as against 100,000 in Kenya. Comparing the Kikuyu with the Ndebele, Ranger argues that the Kikuyu élite were in process of becoming a land-owning capitalist class ready to collaborate with the colonial power and join the Home Guard, thus sharpening African resistance to British rule on the whetstone of class struggle; whereas Ndebele protests were articulated by compromised chiefs and soft men of substance incapable of leading an armed insurrection.

Nevertheless, Ranger finds the roots of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation of the Seventies in the tragic evictions of the late Forties, when a European population swollen by refugees from the British welfare state demanded that the provisions of the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 be callously enforced. Those of us who harbour illusions about the Labour Party’s ability to transplant its professed anti-colonialism from opposition to office may note that the Colonial Secretary who signed the Land Apportionment Act was the noted Fabian, Sidney Webb, Lord Passfield, who soon thereafter set out with Beatrice to admire the USSR; while the worst uprooting of Rhodesia’s black peasantry (as well as the run-up to Mau Mau in Kenya) took place under another noted Fabian Colonial Secretary, Arthur Creech Jones.

Ranger is at pains to insist that Zimbabwe’s road to independence has been neither a carbon copy of Kenyan capitalism nor, as John Saul and Basil Davidson inferred in the late Seventies, an inferior version of Frelimo-style socialism in neighbouring Mozambique. According to Ranger, the disparaging depictions of Zanu and its military wing Zanla were based on unavoidable ignorance: ‘While the war was on, no commentator knew what were the relations of guerrillas to peasants ... how far a “traditional peasantry” had been mobilised into a “conscious political force”.’ It is certainly a remarkable fact that no foreign observer was able to accompany either Zanla or Zipra guerrilla sections from base camp in Mozambique and Zambia into the operational areas. At the other end the Rhodesian authorities barred the tribal trust lands to journalists, reinforcing the prohibition with threats under the Law and Order Maintenance Act. But there was no shortage of windows into the bush war inside Zimbabwe. White farmers living under siege were a valuable (if biased) source of information; so were rural missionaries, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, the black squatters who fled from the war, and the half-million peasants who were herded by district commissioners into ‘protected villages’ (though here it was difficult to gain access). In addition, there were the revealing testimonies of Rhodesian farmers, forestry workers, and travellers unlucky enough to be ambushed by Zanla and force-marched into Mozambique. Tom Wigglesworth’s remarkable testimony, Perhaps Tomorrow (1981), deserves to have been included in Ranger’s bibliography as well as David Lan’s. Our post-Independence historiography obviously runs some risk of an inverted snobbery towards non-kosher white Rhodesian sources (though Ranger has elsewhere drawn extensively on the records of district commissioners).

Ranger has concluded from evidence gathered since the war that Zanla guerrillas offered their peasant clients land reform but not the promise of collectivisation – despite the Marxist rhetoric of Zanu’s central committee in exile. This was fairly clear at the time. Glancing towards Nkomo’s guerrilla force, Ranger adds that ‘things were much the same with Zipra guerrillas in the west’: yet the operational emphasis of Zipra’s platoons was strikingly different from Zanla’s. Zipra’s cadres, trained in the Soviet Union, behaved in the tradition of ‘partisans’ on the Second World War model – that is to say, irregular patriot soldiers operating among their own population behind enemy lines. More radical was the class-conscious, revolutionary tradition which Zanla inherited from the Chinese and Cuban models of guerrilla warfare. The Zipra ‘boys’ held no ideological meetings or pungwes in the villages and they were far less inclined to consult the local population before closing a school or executing a ‘sell-out’. Zanla referred to them as machuwachuwa – unimaginative automatons.

In May 1979 I was put in contact with a Zipra section of 38 men engaged in ambushing vehicles and attacking white farmers west of Shabani. Did the section commander, who claimed in front of his heavily armed and noticeably watchful colleagues to have been trained in the Soviet Union, talk to the people about land reform or socialism? He shook his head. I murmured that Zanla’s reported practice was to promise the povo that the big white farms would be divided up after the defeat of the Smith-Muzorewa regime. His response was contemptuous: ‘All that will be decided when we are in power.’ Zanla, he said, were not proper soldiers. The pungwes they held simply put the local people in danger.

Terence Ranger argues that the Emergency in Kenya revealed a fierce class struggle within the Kikuyu, whereas the ‘land and freedom’ armies of Zimbabwe merely pursued a radical nationalism. He contrasts the wealth and social status of the ‘loyalists’ who served in the Kikuyu Home Guard with the impoverished, dispossessed and uneducated Mau Mau forest fighters. According to Ranger, the split between collaborators and freedom fighters in Zimbabwe did not follow such clear-cut class lines. Neither Zanu nor Zapu were lacking in BAs and PhDs and the occasional BSc or MD. Sixth-form pupils at mission schools like St Augustine’s and St Barbara’s tore up their certificates and crossed the border to join ‘the boys’. Rather more of the élite, however, fought the war from England; the ‘revolutionary intelligentsia’ generally preferred to criticise the petty-bourgeois compromises of ‘the leadership’ from such vantage-points as the LSE or the Royal Commonwealth Society Library. And this surely is where the real class division lay.

A friend who teaches in Highfield High School (Salisbury’s largest black township, or ‘high-density suburb’) played my radio documentary The Zimbabwe Tapes to her ‘M’ level English class on two occasions. One of the issues that most aroused her predominantly working-class pupils is raised at the end of the play by the guerrilla commander: ‘When I left St Augustine’s school at Penhalonga I could have taken up a place at the University of London. No doubt I would have become secretary of the local branch of Zanu ... and then, when I had my degree, my qualifications, I could have returned to Zimbabwe to collect my due: a plum job in the Ministry of Education.’ Most of the young people who crossed the border had no such option. Many of those who survived still enjoy no option beyond unemployment and anomie. As Professor Adrian Hastings recently put it in the Catholic magazine Moto, ‘it is true that many former freedom fighters feel left out in the cold, if not betrayed, but for the time being at least they have almost ceased to matter.’ A former guerrilla told the same magazine: ‘Most of us only had maybe Grade 7 before we went into the bush. Now we are being scolded and denied jobs because we didn’t have O-level certificates.’

David Lan describes Guns and Rain as a study ‘of the interaction of the ideology of the peasants of Dande with that of the guerrillas who lived among them between 1971 and 1979’. Dande lies in the far north-east of Zimbabwe, in the Zambezi Valley:

a remorseless 90 or 100 degrees in summer before the rains come, if they come ... The soils are poor. Tsetse fly make it impossible to keep cattle to pull ploughs. There are few shops, few schools, no beer halls, no jobs, no markets.

From October 1980 to May 1982 David Lan lived in a village at the foot of the escarpment, learned the Korekore dialect of Shona, and prepared this brilliant work.

For the Shona peoples the most important ancestral spirits are the ‘lion spirits’ (mhondoro) of dead chiefs. In derivative literature the medium is often confused with the spirit that possesses him, just as the name Frankenstein is commonly applied to the monster rather than the doctor who created him. Thus the most sacred of all Zimbabwean mhondoro of war and rain, Mbuya (Grandmother) Nehanda, is confused with the old women who, in 1896 and 1972-3 respectively, acted as her mediums. Notice that even Mayor Urimbo, the guerrilla commander who first made contact with the medium Kunzaruwa, calls her ‘Nehanda’ when interviewed by Lan:

We were taken to Nehanda. She was very old. She never bathed and ate only once or twice a week ... She hated all European things ... She knew very much about war and the regulation of war ... She told us what kind of food to eat, which routes to take.

Zanla named two of its operational zones after the two great Shona mhondoro of the late 19th century, Nehanda (female) and Chaminuka (male). The Rhodesians, perhaps lacking parallel ancestral spirits despite Rhodes’s grave in the Matopos, named their own operational zones Repulse, Hurricane, Thrasher and Tangent.

The European administration made free and cynical use of what it regarded as the natives’ superstitions, warning the population that if mediums assisted ‘terrorists’ then their mhondoros would ‘remain dormant for all times’. Ranger confirms that the regime offered a subsidy to mediums who were prepared to speak out against ‘trouble-makers’ entering the reserves and to report them to the district commissioner. In December 1975 the DC warned Chief Chiduku’s people: ‘You have decided no longer to follow custom and it is quite apparent that your spirits are not satisfied with things ... You have failed to put the spirits in appeasement ... If no rain comes I will not be surprised.’ Many mediums did collaborate. Ranger reports that some were killed in guerrilla reprisals in the Weya TTL. Muchetera, since 1934 a Makoni claimant to the crucial legacy of ‘Chaminuka’ – and exposed by Ranger as a brilliant charlatan – was killed in January 1977 by Zanla as a ‘sell-out’. They even claimed he’d dropped Rhodesian propaganda leaflets from helicopters.

What did the guerrillas get out of the mediums? First, local acceptance by the region or the clan. It was guerrilla strategy never to send a young man to operate in his home area, where he might succumb to family authority or ties of kinship. The ‘boys’ (vakomana) therefore arrived as strangers. Secondly, the mediums incarnated the tradition of resistance to alien rule and to the great rape of the land by Cecil Rhodes’s followers. The chiefs, though leaders of the Shona uprising of 1896, had subsequently been crushed and emasculated and were now no more than minor functionaries and tax collectors for the native commissioners. (Hence Ian Smith’s insistence that the chiefs were the ‘true’ leaders and spokesmen of their people.)

The guerrillas also got advice from the mediums about bushcraft. David Lan quotes three former Zanla guerrillas:

The spirit mediums gave us many good ideas. The chipungu (eagle) was a very important sign. If we saw them we would take off our shoes and our hats ... If you saw two eagles fighting in the sky that meant that the bomber planes were coming ... If you see a tortoise in your path you will have a good journey for at least two or three days. But if you find a snake, that is bad. Turn back. The enemy is near.

The anti-modern impulses of the mediums ran in parallel with the more pragmatic nihilism of the guerrillas, who frequently closed down schools, clinics and cattle dip tanks in order to demonstrate the powerlessness of the colonial regime and its local agents.

Lan draws heavily on interviews with former guerrillas, some of whom appear to have offered him a familiar, rather Falstaffian diet of fact and fiction, claiming outright military victory in the war. They also told him that ‘there were rules which the comrades were following in the war. They were not allowed to sleep with a girl, to shake hands with girls ... If a man and a woman fell in love they could tell each other but then they had to tell the Commander of the Platoon and he would write it down so they would live up to their promise to marry.’ Although Lan had suspicions about the observance of these strict sexual taboos, he seems unaware that the young guerrillas often impregnated everyone in sight, showing respect only for girls who were themselves fully-trained freedom fighters. The strategy was to take local girls as hostages in order to guarantee that the older generation did not run off at night to alert the security forces, but the girls themselves were not inclined to impose the proprieties on young heroes carrying AK 47s, the outcome being misery and humiliation for parents worrying about the young woman’s future bride price.

Terence Ranger devotes a valuable section of his book to the rural ‘squatter’ phenomenon of 1980-83: a tidal surge of people spilling out of the dustbowl reserves to reclaim white farms (not always unoccupied) and ‘ancestral’ lands. As Ranger points out, that tide contained its share of opportunists, ‘squatter kings’ and would-be rentiers: but fundamentally it was a spontaneous movement of the very poor at a moment of political euphoria, not unlike the occupation of common land on St George’s Hill in Surrey in 1649 by Winstanley’s Diggers. Zimbabwean land reform programmes have been qualitatively impressive but quantitatively inadequate. In five years not more than forty thousand families have been resettled: the need extends to five or ten times that number. Nevertheless, Ranger preserves a cautious optimism.

Grandiloquent though it may sound to talk of the ‘betrayal’ of the socialist revolution in Zimbabwe, it is undeniable that Mugabe’s Marxist rhetoric projected from Maputo during the war years has not been fulfilled. Today, five years after Independence, the rhetoric has not altered much, yet private enterprise under predominantly white senior management continues to dominate all spheres of the economy: agriculture, industry, commerce, mining. Only the civil service has undergone radical Africanisation. As a former guerrilla, Joseph Mwakudza, put it to Moto, ‘we told people they would have land and many things. But people still have nothing. It is only people who were prospering with their businesses before and during the war, who are still prospering now.’

Even more contentious than the social question is the matter of tribal conflict. Both Zanla and Zipra had remarkably little success in ‘converting’ the ethnically alien areas they penetrated during the guerrilla war. In ‘Social, Ethnic and Regional Factors in the Development of Zimbabwean Nationalist Movements, 1963-80’, a PhD thesis which deserves publication, Tony Rich has shown how Zipra’s penetration of Shona-speaking areas south of the Zambezi (Kariba, the Urungwe tribal trust land, and south to Karoi and Sinoia, where Zanla had barely established a toehold when the war ended in December 1979) did not yield any dividends when the corresponding electoral district, Mashonaland West, went to the polls in February 1980. Zapu gained only 13 per cent of the vote compared to Zanu PF’s 72 per cent. A Zanu-PF political commissar, Ganyanhehwe Masanga, told Rich that Zipra had failed to accommodate to local traditions, had not dealt properly with the spirit mediums in the Urungwe TTL, and on occasion even killed mediums to demonstrate their power.

Similarly, as Joshua Mpofu demonstrated in a paper cited by Ranger and Rich, Zanla made little headway in converting southern Matabeleland, even though their forces achieved an estimated 90 per cent ascendancy in the Filabusi area and 55 per cent at Essexvale, on the eastern approaches to Bulawayo. In the ensuing election 86 per cent in Matabeleland South voted for Zapu, only 7 per cent for Zanu. Clearly Zanla had not propitiated the local spirits.

Ranger is inclined to acquit the Mugabe Government of tribalism. In April 1983, at a time when international opinion was virtually unanimous in its condemnation of the brutal pacification of Matabeleland, he and two colleagues published a letter seeking to redress the balance. ‘Whatever reservations we may have about the conduct of the Zimbabwean army,’ they wrote, the Government had merely responded to persistent dissident violence: ‘There is absolutely no reason to suppose that Mugabe and his ministers would have attempted to deploy force in Matabeleland unless there had been acts of violence.’ Or, indeed, to suppose that Ian Smith would have done so. True, Mugabe’s Government was democratically elected – but not in Matabeleland, where it was totally rejected. Zimbabwe, like other African nation-states, is a colonial creation.

Ranger belongs to that school of progressive historians who on the whole believe that tribalism – if not the notion of ‘tribe’ itself – has been exacerbated and exploited (if not invented) by reactionary whites bent on divide-and-rule. He cites a paper he delivered two years ago subtitled ‘The Invention of Ethnicity in Zimbabwe’, arguing that while the Ndebele sense of nationhood, already strong in Lobengula’s time, as Rhodes acknowledged, grew sharper during the first thirty years of this century, the Shona speakers remained unaware of any shared identity. Yet even before the arrival of the Pioneer Column in 1890, the peoples of western Mashonaland knew themselves as the victims of constant harassment, pillage, rape and murder by Lobengula’s Ndebele raiders, or impis. (John Nkomo, a leading Zapu MP, reflected that same contempt when he told me recently that ‘Shona’ is a word of Ndebele-Zulu derivation meaning ‘those who run away’.) Ranger himself has written about the death of ‘Chaminuka’ – that is to say, of Pasipamire, the Zezuru chief and spirit medium of the great mhondoro Chaminuka. Whereas Mbuya Nehanda’s medium, Charwe, rebelled against the whites in 1896, Pasipamire had become a focus of Shona religious culture in the Chitungwiza district before he was killed by Lobengula’s impis in May 1883. The legend and myth of Chaminuka has remained a powerful Shona-nationalist force until the present day, but the genesis of that myth was resistance to Ndebele – not European – imperialism. The Shonas did not forget; and when the Fifth Brigade went into Matabeleland in 1983 they reminded the peasants of the cattle stolen by Lobengula before he fell, by a sinister alteration of digits, in 1893.

Ranger argues that the attacks on white farms in Matabeleland since Independence can mainly be ascribed to Zipra’s comparative passivity during the war years – which meant that ‘fewer whites abandoned their land and less land became available for voluntary purchase.’ It could just as fairly be argued, however, that the mass squatting in Mashonaland after Independence reflected acute land hunger in the eastern districts. Why didn’t Shona squatters carry their conflict with white landowners to the point of assault and murder? The answer is not obscure. Neither they nor their armed guerrillas were disaffected from the new Zanu-PF Government. During the war against the whites guerrillas attacked schools, clinics and dip tanks not because they disapproved of these facilities but because they were run by a hated regime. No complex socio-economic argument is required to explain why ex-Zipra dissidents have attacked white farmers and Government resettlement schemes in Matabeleland: both targets are associated, however irrationally, with Shona penetration, with a Shona-officered police force and army, and with a new form of internal domination which is fiercely resented.

As I write this review, six out of 15 Zapu MPs elected in July are in detention, as are several Zapu members of Bulawayo municipal council. Many, and possibly most, of the rural councillors elected in Matabeleland last year have been snatched in the night and have ‘disappeared’. Terence Ranger chides ‘the foreign press’ for its ‘obsession’ with ethnic rivalry between Shonas and Ndebeles. He argues that the real, obscured issue in Matabeleland is the class struggle between poor, landless masses, on the one hand, and greedy chiefs and cattle owners, on the other. The Zanu-PF Government, he insists, has attempted to introduce progressive land resettlement schemes but has been thwarted by Ndebele kulaks more interested in cattle than people. Fortunately, he adds, ‘ZANU/PF “men of the people”, like Maurice Nyagumbo, have been campaigning in rural Matabeleland, holding weekend seminars with peasants.’ Nyagumbo is Mugabe’s Minister of Political Affairs and – after the Comrade President-and-Secretary-General – the effective party boss within the Politburo. He is also Ranger’s friend of more than two decades’ standing, which include the years of Nyagumbo’s imprisonment by the Rhodesians. But Nyagumbo is a man of which people? If he (or any minister) were to hold a meeting in Tsholotsho, or the Matopos, or Gwanda, without enlisting the Police, the Army and the Youth Brigade to round up an audience, he would most probably attract a smaller gathering than Ian Smith.

Ranger has recently circulated among members of the Britain-Zimbabwe Society an account of Nyagumbo’s election victory celebrations in the Dzivaresekwa constituency:

the meeting was a showcase of cultural variety in itself ... Maurice Nyagumbo’s speech was appropriate to this cultural diversity. On a Sunday, he said, everyone must be allowed his or her devotion ... It was a relaxed occasion.

But how ‘relaxed’ can one feel about the fact that Nyagumbo’s Zapu opponent in the Dzivaresekwa constituency, Simon Chauruka, had been axed to death in his home on the night of Monday, 8 July during a week of terror for the supporters of opposition parties in Mashonaland?

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.