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Coltart and Msipa's memoirs: A time to reflect on Zim's split patriotic consciousness

17 Apr 2016 at 09:05hrs | Views
It is with great shock that Zimbabwe is continuously losing her prolific thinkers. This past week I was shocked to receive the news about Alexander Kanengoni's departure for eternal rest. "Gora" (His Norm De guerre) the veteran writer was no more. The late critical thinker and war-veteran, Kanengoni has not lived to see Zimbabwe turning 36, something I am sure would have delighted his heart.

Kanengoni will be mainly remembered for his articles in the Patriot Newspaper where he was deputy editor. The same paper and its editorial policy complimented Kanengoni's role as a sharp critic of neo-coloniality. Kanengoni, just like his late colleague Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura was an essential asset of literary decoloniality in Zimbabwe. His call further extended to the decolonisation of knowledge at continental level. He committed his life to making Africans understand their role in the civilisation of humanity and largely how Zimbabweans need to cherish their hard earned freedom.

I remember reading his highly patriotic poems in "The Ghetto Diaries and Other Poems" a book that was given to me as a souvenir by Professor Nhamo Mhiripiri and his wife, Mai Joyce Mhiripiri. This was during my last days at the Midlands State University (MSU). I still remember it was on the evening of Professor Nhamo's birthday at his house where I was given the book. So I consider the poetry anthology given to me by the Mhiripiri intellectual couple as a farewell package and a gift that further connected me to Kanengoni's writing beside his newspaper articles.

The Mhiripiri literary darlings, Nhamo and Joyce are also published in the same compendium. I am happy they chose to give me a book with Kanengoni's poems. I enjoyed reading his poems mainly: Nyadzonya massacre, One day at Roerei Refugee Camp and one titled; The lost times of our lives. The book carries poetic narratives of a generation that had lost its being to marginalities of coloniality, it represents an awakening and a consciousness of distinguished patriots. I always feel inspired to defend African epistemology every time I read the poem: Lest we forget — Nkosi sikelela iAfrica by Prof Mhiripiri in the same collection. All the poems reflect a unique perspective of a patriotic proclivity shared by African writers considering their backgrounds of first-hand experiences with both colonial Rhodesia and free Zimbabwe. Some poems carry messages of optimism for continuity from a horrid past which heralded the contemporary nation-building challenges manifesting in the form of our split patriotic consciousness.

Like his other colleagues and contemporaries, Kanengoni's writing expressed a high level of what I have described in the two previous articles as a benchmark of 'Afrocentric patriotism'. This is the kind of patriotism that acknowledges and embraces the ethos of the African liberation struggle and conceptualises it as a medium of making sense of the present.

This is the same medium that informs the analyses of Msipa and Coltart's books from their varying patriotic inclinations as explained in the other two articles. However, within the public sphere there is too much lenience on

White narratives of patriotism as some strongly feel that there is need to be silent about the cruelties of the White past as part of reconciliation. Some fellow African scholars think tolerance to manifestations of neo-coloniality misguided as "moving-on" can produce cadres who are in essence relevant to contemporary matters of integrating humanity as that defines modern thinking. Responding to last week's article a colleague, Eric Donald Mabuto highlighted that:

[…] The insistence of analysing the two texts on the basis of how they treat history is almost a way of escaping analysing them in the way they treat contemporary issues. We know about the colonial heritage and how it undermined blacks there is ample scholarship on that subject. What is of interest to contemporary African scholars like me is analysing existing inequalities that cannot be summarised by racial condemnations. I am talking about inequalities between blacks themselves. The type of inequalities that led to the Rwanda genocide, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the migration of educated and uneducated Ndebeles to South Africa in search of better pastures.

Mabuto's demand for us to look into contemporary issues offers an interesting dimension to the analysis of Msipa and Coltart's memoirs. One omission of his observation is that the contemporary black on black violence and inequalities are products of the colonial empire. Therefore to dismantle these contemporary challenges we need to go back to their space of origin and unmask individuals and institutions responsible for Africa's current disintegration.

That space is the empire founded on racial essentialism constructed to divide Africans. This is why the colonial boundaries set for administrative convenience of colonial governance catalyse our "perceptions of difference". At local level this is what defines the aspect of split patriotic consciousness. We have been torn asunder such that the measure of patriotism for one is their allegiance to a particular political party if not one ethnic group fighting the other. Moreover, if the past is not important as emphasised by my fellow African scholar, why do people like Coltart and Msipa revisit it in explaining their place in the contemporary matters of nationhood? If issues of race condemnation are now trivial why are they evoked at a time we should be forgetting about them? Over and above, if they are raised should we be silent about them because we think they do not matter in advancing interests of faking modernity and reconciliation?

The subject of racism, colonial privilege versus disenfranchisements and colonial heritage cannot be omitted in analysing the two books. These are issues that voluntarily find themselves at the centre of Msipa and Coltart's memoirs. Moreover, racial falsehood is unavoidable and worth critiquing especially in Coltart's book. Coltart's focus is on his life and its link with the "50 years of tyranny" The periodic setting of the book from the title gives life to the sanitisation of anecdotal capturing of history.

By merely looking at the title of Coltart's book, one notices an omission of the more than 100 years of tyranny constructed by Rhodes not to mention the architecture of the illicit trading and prazo systems which served Portuguese interests dating back to the rise and fall of Great Madzimbahwe stretching forth to the Mhonumutapa and the vaRozvi empires. Then later the British fronted expedition shouldered on Cecil John Rhodes the brains behind the British South-African Police where Coltart was conscripted as a force member.

If indeed the idea of the book was to capture the history of Zimbabwe from the lens of tyranny as purported by Coltart there was need to go beyond the stated 50 years. However, what is clear from the structural make-up of the book is that more emphasis was to be placed in reconstructing the political image of Zimbabwe after the fall of colonialism. This further explains why Coltart finds no offence in reminding Africans about his position of privilege which shaped the oppressive output of being Black which is carefully captured through the life of Cephas Msipa in his memoir.

It is the "Coltart mentality" among some fellow Africans that influences their conglomeration of narratives that divide the country and the continent. This is why every time race matters are raised those Africans inclined to the "Coltart mentality" pick up the Gukurahundi issue to suffocate any ideas that challenge residues of Rhodesia in our midst. The Gukurahundi issue has been used to cover up for genocides committed by Rhodesian forces to the nation at large. Likewise, Coltart brings the similar subject in his book all in the interest of vilifying the current Zimbabwean government yet ignores how colonialism constructed the 'perception of difference' among our people. I appreciate how Professor Ngwabi Bhebe has attempted to give a refreshing submission to this subject that is constantly raised by those interested in further marginalising our people to promote 'perception of difference' at a time we should be working on uniting as Africans:

It is not unreasonable for readers to ask how such close allies [as ZANU and ZAPU] could be involved in a civil war that saw many lives being lost in Matabeleland. On the other hand, to us such a question would only show that the reader has not read this book with attention.

For the book has shown how factional conflict in Zimbabwe, or among Zimbabweans, is quite close to the surface. It does not matter whether people belong to the same party. … The situation is worse when people belong to different political parties. … ZAPU and ZANU followers started killing each other when they were dumped together at Mboroma by the Zambian authorities. The ZIPA experiment in Mozambique collapsed for just that same reason. In Libya, ZAPU and ZANU were put in the same training camps and they killed each other. The reason was very simple.

These young men and women were trained to hate each other … Thus, the cadres were brought up to hate (Bhebe 2004:254).

This is the major reason why Msipa continuously argues that he was ZAPU since his entry into nationalism. The same patriotic perspective guided by ZAPU principles followed him right through his ministerial service in a ZANU-PF dominated government. These are the aspects of split patriotic inclinations that confront us when we read literature by those who claim belonging to Zimbabwe and use their lives as templates of conveying that message. This makes the subject of race and partisan fraternal belonging unavoidable when attempting to understand the variant or split perspectives of patriotism in Zimbabwe.

Next week's focus will be on the aspect of protagonist representation of White characters featured in Coltart and Msipa's memoirs. I have chosen to call this the "good makiwa" mentality to unpack how liberal race perspectives cement the existence of split patriotic consciousness in Zimbabwe's literature from the lens of the two memoirs under review. I wish I had jumped to that particular subject this week. However, the writing inspiration led me to something different as I strongly convinced that the issue of split patriotic consciousness needs further elucidation.

Richard Runyararo Mahomva is an independent academic researcher, Founder of Leaders for Africa Network — LAN. Convener of the Back to Pan-Africanism Conference and the Reading Pan-Africa Symposium (REPS) and can be contacted on

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