A review of “Becoming Zimbabwe. A History, c.850-2009”
By Blessing Miles Tendi
18th November 2009
History is the study of transformation and growth in society over time and space. Examining the past allows us to understand how History influences our present and future. A study of History builds the capacity of people to make informed choices in order to contribute constructively to society and to advance democracy. As a vehicle of personal empowerment, History engenders in learners an understanding of human agency. This brings with it the knowledge that, as human beings, learners have choices, and that they can make the choice to change the world for the better.
“Becoming Zimbabwe. A History, c. 850–2009” is a rigorous academic work of historical enquiry penned by Zimbabwean scholars that is an alternative overview to the prevalent narrative and accounts of Zimbabwe’s history. The book surveys the process of nation building in Zimbabwe through its various stages. The idea of a nation is important in Zimbabwe and history is central to that design. Thus, Becoming Zimbabwe seeks to address the role of nation building and history in the idea of a Zimbabwean political imagination, which is a central tenet of the country’s current politics. In addition the book offers a critical appreciation of Zimbabwe’s socio-economic systems since the pre-colonial era, and how they have impacted on people. Becoming Zimbabwe promotes and aids critical historical debate through a meticulous assessment of a wide range of chronological evidence and various viewpoints about Zimbabwe’s history. It shows that historical truth is comprised of an array of voices. The voices vary and are, more often than not, conflicting accounts of Zimbabwe’s past.
This report provides a complimentary aspect to Becoming Zimbabwe by posing a general critique of history teaching and curriculum in Zimbabwe. It attempts to enhance the book’s use, and serves as an educational tool at secondary and higher levels for comparison and analysis of history teaching and curriculum in Zimbabwe. The report also provides an outline of the kinds of historical texts and narratives on Zimbabwe, and how they are taught within Zimbabwean technical colleges and universities. The supplement therefore provides an overview of history teaching in Zimbabwe in relation to the content and focus of Becoming Zimbabwe.
The discussion that follows focuses on the general considerations and challenges of teaching history, and how the teaching of history has figured in post-colonial Zimbabwe. It also examines the role history has played in liberation and post-liberation politics. It comments on recent trends in history curriculum development in Zimbabwe, and what the implications of these developments are for reconciliation, national healing and transitional justice. The supplement attempts to gauge the likely way forward in the field of Zimbabwean history and the likely scenarios over the next few years, paying attention to the kind of support tertiary and secondary educators will require. Proposals that can be made towards learning sessions, modules and activities in history teaching, including ideas of how Becoming Zimbabwe can offer opportunities to the required support in teaching history in Zimbabwe are also put forward. I begin by examining the uses of liberation history in Zimbabwean politics.
The Uses of Liberation History in Zimbabwean Politics
The use of history in Zimbabwean politics dates back to the colonial era. For example, Terence Ranger’s Revolt in Southern Rhodesia made much of the role of spirit mediums such as Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, who were executed by the colonial authorities, in the first resistances to colonial rule (1896-97). Having read Ranger’s work, nationalist parties such as the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) made use of Nehanda and Kaguvi’s martyrdom and spiritual attachment to land so as to mobilise supporters for the nationalist cause in the 1960s and 70s. In the independence period, the beginning of 2000 saw state-sanctioned forceful seizures of white-owned commercial farms and the emergence of Zimbabwe’s liberation history as the defining theme in President Robert Mugabe and the ZANU PF government’s political discourse. These two manifestations coincided with the materialisation of a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was formed on 11 September 1999. In 2000 Ranger, by then a distinguished historian of Zimbabwe who had helped to develop nationalist history, expressed his concern about the way ZANU PF was making use of Zimbabwe’s liberation history in national politics and the party’s attack on a pluralistic version of Zimbabwe’s past. In 2003, Ranger produced a scholarly examination of the uses of history by some of ZANU PF’s intellectual allies. Ranger argued that starting in 2000 and drawing from its important role in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, while facing a strong political opposition for the first time, ZANU PF began to repackage and propagate the country’s liberation history in a narrow and authoritarian narrative. ZANU PF has relied heavily on public intellectuals sympathetic to it (such as Tafataona Mahoso, Vimbai Chivaura, Claude Mararike, Godfrey Chikowore, Sheunesu Mpepereki and Ibbo Mandaza), for the production of this repackaged narrative called Patriotic History in the public sphere. A public intellectual is ‘an individual, educated in a specific academic discipline, such as political science, history or economics, which chooses to write and speak to a broader audience than that offered by professional academic colleagues’. Mahoso et al formulated and disseminated Patriotic History in the print and broadcast media.
The debate on Patriotic History has been strong. Mugabe sees Patriotic History as an essential response to resurgent Western imperialism and its local allies who threatened the hard won integrity and sovereignty of Zimbabwe. The account of Patriotic History as a response to Western imperialism is epitomised by Inside the Third Chimurenga, which is a collection of speeches and writings by Mugabe. This text’s depth and status renders it the official expose of Patriotic History. In contrast, most liberal and radical international academic and journalistic commentators emphasise Patriotic History’s falseness and opportunism, and apportion responsibility for Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis to an errant and self-justifying authoritarian regime. More measured literature attempts to understand the rise of discourses such as Patriotic History within the context of a nationalist state faced with a loss of legitimacy, and the legacy of inherited structures of coercion, economic inequality, unreconciled racial and ethnic differences, and the negative effects resulting from the dictates of the prevailing neo-liberal international system.
I will now conceptualise Patriotic History. My conceptualisation of Patriotic History is partly based on a careful analysis of Inside the Third Chimurenga. I have also made use of other speeches made by Mugabe, which are recorded in the press. Mugabe is the primary definer of Patriotic History’s contours. However, ZANU PF’s intellectual allies were more prolific and sharper in their formulations, and their activities contribute to Patriotic History’s multi-layered nature. Nonetheless, their formulations are related to the themes in Mugabe’s speeches and writings, that is land, race, anti-colonialism, sovereignty and human rights. In addition, Jonathan Moyo was a combative and prolific ZANU PF Information Minister (2000-2005) whose uses of history in government are second only to Mugabe’s in terms of their influence.
Patriotic History proclaims ZANU PF as the alpha and omega of Zimbabwe’s past, present and future. Zimbabweans are encouraged to be ‘patriotic’, which means supporting ZANU PF. Anything short of this is considered ‘unpatriotic’. Patriotic History has four main themes: land; no external interference based on ‘Western ideals’ such as human rights; race; and a ‘patriots’ versus ‘sell-outs’ distinction. In Patriotic History, Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is depicted as having been about regaining land from colonial settlers while other political, social and economic objectives of a multifaceted struggle are downplayed. Patriotic History is designed to produce a division between civil and political, and economic rights. By championing fair land redistribution, Patriotic History promotes economic rights. By legitimising political violence and authoritarian politics, and relegating the values of civil and political rights to Zimbabwean nationalism, Patriotic History rejects their worth. The role of spirit mediums Nehanda and Kaguvi is played up in Patriotic History at the expense of the sacrifices of rural peasants and traditional chiefs, in order to conscript their martyrdom and spiritual connection to land for the legitimisation and mobilisation of support for the land seizures. This conscription has also served to cast Mugabe as the modern heir to Nehanda and Kaguvi in the struggle for land reclamation.
Patriotic History precipitates a clash between human rights and sovereignty because the former is cast as ‘Western’ and a form of ‘moral imperialism’ no different from historical ploys, such as ‘the white man’s burden’, for Western Europe’s colonial machinations. This idea in Patriotic History is emotive, especially in Africa where sovereignty is regarded as the reverse of colonialism and a means of self-defence against interference by foreign actors, which are treated with distrust given Africa’s heritage of occupation and exploitation by colonialists. This harmful legacy of colonialism is used within Patriotic History to undermine the morality of external interference. ZANU PF’s rejection of Western criticism over its human rights record is established on appeals to sovereignty and the strong unacceptability of modern forms of colonialism that resounds in Africa. In addition, ZANU PF uses Patriotic History to identify Western hypocrisy on global human rights promotion to bolster its rejection of Western criticism of its human rights record.
On race, in 1980 the ZANU PF government adopted a national reconciliation policy between races so as to encourage peace and nation-building between Zimbabwe’s black majority and white minority racial groups. In 2000, the ZANU PF government deserted its reconciliation policy, substituting it with an exclusivist racialised politics. The desertion of reconciliation underlined an important shift that sees the roots of reconciliation’s disintegration in Zimbabwe’s flawed 1979 Lancaster House independence settlement. In Patriotic History all whites are evil and racist, and Britain drew up and supervised the agreement of a short-sighted independence settlement that protected and appeased whites’ privileges instead of setting the foundations for nation-building. A local discourse with roots in the early 1990s, which understands white dominance in terms of unresolved colonial inheritances, left white Zimbabweans susceptible to resentment by a majority black population. Patriotic History draws on this discourse to mobilise support for evicting whites from farms. It also espouses race essentialism, meaning Zimbabwe is for black Zimbabweans and Africa for black Africans; white people cannot be Zimbabwean or African. The focus on race and the references to historical Western evils of colonialism and slavery allows ZANU PF to dismiss denunciations coming from a white individual or group as ‘racist’ and lacking moral authority.
Lastly, Patriotic History separates Zimbabweans into ‘patriots’ and ‘sell-outs’, such that opponents to ZANU PF are necessarily classified as ‘pro-colonial’, ‘sell-outs’, ‘un-African’, and ‘puppets’, while followers of ZANU PF are categorised as ‘patriots’. The patriots and sell-outs distinction is extended to the rest of the globe. External critics of ZANU PF are typecast as ‘foes’ of black Africa. The distinction has its genesis in late 1950s urban politics and has been a constant premise in nationalist politics since. The denotation of ‘sell-out’ changes over time depending on the character of a challenger. To be a ‘sell-out’ during the liberation war was to be an informant of the colonial Rhodesian state and to support a rival nationalist party. To be a ‘sell-out’ after 2000 is to abandon ZANU PF’s ‘central’ role in nationalist history, to resist the land seizures, and to value civil and political rights over economic rights. Patriotic History is a sophisticated narrative that plays on real historical grievances such as land. Indeed it is more than a narrative. It is part of a political culture that legitimises violence, and inhibits political tolerance, civil and political rights, and democracy.
It is incomplete to focus on the uses of history by ZANU PF alone because the MDC has also made use of history in its politics. Since its formation in 1999, the MDC has for the most part not engaged with Patriotic History. In 1999, Morgan Tsvangirai stated ‘we have not come here to launch an opposition. We have come to ensure that the MDC is the next government’. ‘Change’ became the MDC’s guiding value. An important early evaluation of the content of the MDC’s ‘change’ came from Arthur Mutambara:
They [MDC] should pay special attention to the issue of the quality of political change, that is, the
content and substance of change. It is not enough to ride on a wave of popular discontent and engage
in reactive anti-Mugabe politics. It is insufficient to react to Mugabe’s positions on land, war
veterans and the economy. In fact, the initiative should be taken away from the Mugabe regime…the
land question and the liberation war legacy are two examples of areas where the initiative has to be
wrested from the Mugabe regime. ZANU PF owns neither the liberation war legacy nor the war
veterans. All opposition parties should clearly and actively defend the liberation war legacy and
articulate policies that address the war veterans as an important section of Zimbabwean
society. …ZANU PF does not deserve the liberation war advantage that is being given on a silver
platter by the opposition.
Mutambara made this critique in April of 2000. Two months later, Tsvangirai labeled the war veterans ‘a bunch of outlaws’ and declared that once the MDC was in power it would have its ‘own resettlement scheme and they [war veterans] can take their place in the queue with everyone else, but they will have no priority’. While the war veterans’ resort to violent farm seizures was unlawful, their actions needed to be understood against the historical background of 20 years of neglect by the ZANU PF government, which consigned many of them to the margins of independence-era economic emancipation. There was a lack of appreciation on the MDC’s part for the historical reasons that had fomented the war veterans’ social and economic plight, and how this made them ‘usable’ by ZANU PF.
When the MDC has engaged with history it has been prone to misrepresentation. For instance, Patriotic History’s selective amnesia when representing Zimbabwe’s post-colonial history is best exemplified by its gag on the Gukurahundi atrocities ZANU PF committed in Matabeleland during the early 1980s. In reply to this silence, the MDC has been categorical in its use of the history of the Gukurahundi to review Patriotic History, using the term genocide. The MDC is effective in highlighting the Gukurahundi but it has distorted the nature of this event for political mileage. In 2000, Tsvangirai called upon the international community to ‘stop Africa’s Milosevic’ [Mugabe] because he had ‘committed genocide’. Sekai Holland, the MDC’s Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2001, also described the Gukurahundi as ‘genocide’ and drew similarities between the Gukurahundi and the September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. Curiously, the MDC did not define the term genocide. It did not explain how the Gukurahundi had been genocide. Michael Ignatieff’s observation that ‘those who should use the word genocide never let it slip their mouths, those who unfortunately do use it, banalise it into a validation of every kind of victim hood’ is relevant in this case. In the modern age colonialism, imperialism and slavery have been given the imprecise label of ‘genocide’ when they were systems to exploit not to methodically destroy human beings. Today the use of the term genocide instantaneously brings into play reminiscences and imagery of the most callous deeds, such as Rwandese black bodies floating down Kigara river into Lake Victoria, and the Holocaust of emaciated Jews heading into Zyklon B gas chambers in NAZI concentration camps. The tremendous disgrace, repulsion and righteous anger surrounding the term genocide have been drafted by political actors, global media and civil society to demonise disliked human rights violating governments internationally – the MDC has done likewise.
In 2009 Zimbabwe’s National Healing Minister Sekai Holland, who belongs to the Tsvangirai MDC, made a widely publicised assertion that Zimbabwe has experienced state-sponsored violence for 900 years. In Holland’s words:
In an honest way, when we looked at our history, we were shocked to find that we have had 900 years of
state-sponsored violence from different chieftaincies and kingdoms which have been in our country. By the
time that Mzilikazi’s mob came after stealing the cattle [from Zululand]; there was just nothing they knew
how to do that had not been done before. And when the Pioneer Column came, they were not as professional
as the one who had come before [Mzilikazi].
The use of history in such a distorted and inflammatory manner was least expected from a minister of National Healing. Indeed Holland’s reference to king Mzilikazi’s people as a ‘mob’ was taken by some to be a denigration of ‘the symbol of nationhood for some people [the Ndebele] in Zimbabwe’. Holland eventually met Ndebele traditional chiefs and a descendant of King Mzilikazi, Prince Zwide kaLanga Khumalo, to apologise for her utterances. Like ZANU PF the MDC has used history in a distorted and divisive way, making nation building and reconciliation even harder tasks. Worryingly, ZANU PF has worked to introduce the teaching of Patriotic History in schools and higher institutions – a subject I now turn to.
History Curriculum Development in Zimbabwe’s Secondary Schools and Higher Education Institutions, and the Implications for Reconciliation, National Healing and Transitional Justice
From independence in 1980, the ZANU PF government prioritised improving the educational prospects of black Zimbabweans, as evidenced by its policy of free primary education for all children in the 1980s. During the 1980s there was a large increase in the number of primary and secondary schools. The training of qualified teachers and primary and secondary student enrolments rose sharply. In terms of higher education, Zimbabwe had one university at independence, the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) – formerly the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland founded in 1957. In 1967 the student population at the University College of Rhodesia stood at 717 full-time and 141 part-time students. From 1980 the UZ’s overall student and faculty numbers increased yearly, as can be seen below:
Enrollment at the University of Zimbabwe: 2000
Faculty Agricul. Arts Comm. Educ. English Law
UG M F M F M F M F M F M F
1st yr 107 33 227 167 216 71 74 78 241 20 62 32
2nd yr 113 28 269 136 173 54 200 80 161 11 63 29
3rd yr 74 20 169 137 164 63 161 43 42
4th yr 6 11 141 9 42 28
5th yr 25
Tot UG 300 81 676 440 553 188 274 158 729 40 210 131
Faculty Med. Sci. Soc. St. Vet. Sci. Total
F/T M F M F M F M F M F
1st yr 228 101 336 131 377 306 20 11 1,888 950
2nd yr 245 90 256 78 334 182 21 5 1,835 693
3rd yr 171 94 127 83 256 197 21 6 1,186 642
4th yr 128 55 5 2 21 14 20 6 374 114
5th yr 75 27 6 6 106 33
Tot UG 847 367 724 294 988 699 88 34 2,489 2,423
In 2000, male student enrolment dropped remarkably, while at the same time female student enrolment increased appreciably, reflecting the government’s commitment to extending higher education opportunities to women. There are now 12 state and private run universities in Zimbabwe today. Clearly, the ZANU PF government has had a strong commitment to making education widely accessible.
Teresa Barnes has examined the amendments in Zimbabwean secondary school history textbooks and syllabi from 1980 to 2004. Barnes conducted interviews with secondary school teachers, along with a broad re-reading of secondary school history syllabi and history texts used from 1980 to 2001, to produce an extremely useful study of history teaching in Zimbabwean schools since independence. I will rely on Barnes’ study in my assessment of history teaching in secondary schools. My examination of history teaching in higher institutions will draw from my own research on history teaching at the University of Zimbabwe and Harare Polytechnic.
Barnes’ work shows that there have been three divergent periods in the development of secondary school history syllabi from 1980 to 2004. The first period (1980 to 1990) saw the retention of the pre-1980 Rhodesian syllabus, though a few new texts with a focus on Africa were recommended books. The syllabus concentrated on European and central African history evenly. However, central African history was presented as the history of European settlement in the region. Western politics and culture were exalted at the expense of African politics and culture. In 1982 the African Heritage book series, written exclusively for Zimbabwean secondary schools, was released. In spite of African Heritage offering a departure from Rhodesian history, it bore some important shortcomings. It accorded insignificant attention to the comparative and interpretive use of historical data extracted from various sources and viewpoints. It also took a political economy approach to history that largely ignored social questions of race, ethnicity and nation-building. Evidently, history teaching in the first decade of independence did not help to encourage reconciliation and national healing.
In the second period (beginning 1991 and ending in 2002) a nationalist syllabus was introduced. The syllabus simply steered clear of the racism of the Rhodesian curriculum without critically interrogating race relations. ‘Thus, the new history of the nation came to be told through a racially polarising narrative; it was replete with powerful notions of both ethnic inclusion and racial exclusion.’ To its credit the nationalist syllabus promoted diverse methodology to history teaching. ‘Problem-posing, problem-solving, role play, written exercises and discussions’ and critical thinking were encouraged in what was the antithesis to the Rhodesian syllabus’ rote-learning. Along with the introduction of the nationalist syllabus, new textbooks for history teaching were published. The new texts were one-dimensional, presenting white Rhodesians as politically and culturally homogenous, and seeking to maintain colonial rule. Africans were not spared this one-dimensional treatment either. Crucially, African ethnicity was for the most part not broken into its component parts. There was an inherent lack of a nuanced appreciation of African ethnicity. However:
The books tried hard to counter the colonial-era divide-and-rule narrative stemming from the original settlement
of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe in the nineteenth century. Each book took issue with aspects of the old shibboleth
of ‘ruthless Ndebele’ raiding cattle and women from ‘hapless Shona’. In the new nationalist narrative, rather,
‘the people’ overcame historical antagonisms and united in acts of rebellion and revolution against the
colonialists. ….None of the books discussed race or racism as separate, historical topics. The terms ‘white’,
‘settler’, and ‘European’ were used synonymously with each other, as were the terms ‘African’ and ‘people.’
The nationalist syllabus did not promote racial harmony and understanding. Although the books recommended for history teaching quashed the colonial representation of the brute Ndebele ‘raiding cattle and women from hapless Shona’, these texts and the nationalist syllabus did not address the Gukurahundi and the social problems and justice questions it spawned. On the whole, the nationalist syllabus did not offer much in the way of an improvement on national healing, justice and reconciliation.
The third period began in 2002 when the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture, headed by the historian Aeneas Chigwedere, radically modified the nationalist syllabus. The resultant syllabus extolled ZANU PF and asked students and teachers to be proud of the party’s role in the liberation struggle. This modification of the nationalist syllabus must be seen in the context of the amplification of Patriotic History that began in 2000 in order to shore up the ZANU PF party’s political legitimacy. The 2002 syllabus, which I will refer to here as the Patriotic syllabus, was a hurriedly produced and less comparative Zimbabwe-focused syllabus that the ZANU PF government did not put up for debate or assessment by history experts and teachers. In addition to being less comparative than its nationalist predecessor, the Patriotic syllabus did not prioritise the testing of students’ ability to interpret and critically evaluate history but sought to engender learning by rote instead, which was a step back to the old teaching methods of the Rhodesian syllabus. Furthermore, ‘recent [‘O’ level] examination questions included questions about the farm invasions and the so-called ‘hondo ye minda’ or ‘fast-track land reform’, referring to them in an approving way’. Zimbabwean secondary school history has throughout these three periods been a discriminating reformation of race and citizenship. ‘This can help to explain social phenomena such as the specific and selective targeting of white farmers and white-owned land, and of farm workers’ since 2000. Like the Rhodesian and nationalist syllabi before, the Patriotic curriculum offers no opportunities for inclusive nation building and reconciliation.
Prior to Chigwedere taking charge of the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had worked in partnership with the Ministry to mass-produce a series of set books on Education for Human Rights and Democracy in Zimbabwe.
Several Zimbabwean teachers from Education Colleges were employed to write History text books for Forms
1 and 2 and for O level. Hundreds of thousands of these beautifully produced books were printed in 2000. They
represented universalist history at its best, containing a great deal of comparative material on Nazi Germany and
Soviet Russia; on slavery in Ancient Egypt and the Americas; on colonial repression and nationalist aspirations
for liberty; on the slow emergence of international conventions on human rights. Despite all the money and time
spent on these texts. however, they remain in the warehouses, while patriotic history texts are being distributed
to the schools.
In the absence of human rights teaching, there is little scope for the engendering of tolerance, knowledge of one’s human rights, reconciliation, justice issues and national healing in secondary schools. History teaching in higher institutions has also been subject to ZANU PF attention, a matter I will now address.
History in Higher Education
History teaching at the UZ is conducted by two separate departments, Economic History and History. The Economic History department offers courses on the past and present economic history of societies in Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East, with an emphasis on familiarising students with topics crucial to understanding current local and global concerns in historical perspective. The History department presents a broad selection of courses that draw in other studies such as archaeology, war studies and international security, by emphasising the historical dimensions in these areas. Courses on offer include national, regional and continental histories. The History department enunciates that:
The history of Zimbabwe section for example, affords the student the opportunity to appreciate the complex
nature of pre-colonial, colonial and post-independent developments. The events concerned are inextricably
interwoven and connected so much that the reader is able to see how events evolve to our present situation.
In reality some of the UZ History teaching has struggled to move away from a nationalist and Marxist interpretation of the country’s past. Some History lecturers recognise the need to complicate Zimbabwe’s history but they do not want to compromise nationalist history and how colonial legacies continue to have negative effects on the country today.
What have been the machinations of government proponents of Patriotic History towards higher education? ZANU PF has attempted to co-opt some university history lecturers in order to facilitate the teaching of Patriotic History. Other relationships aimed at facilitating the production of Patriotic History in higher education have also been developed. For instance in 2003:
‘a partnership agreement aimed at gathering and documenting the country’s history’ had been signed by the
National Archives of Zimbabwe, the Department of National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe and
the University of Zimbabwe’s History department. The project is entitled ‘Oral History: From the First to the
Second Chimurenga’; it is a ‘response to a challenge thrown to the three institutions by President Mugabe to
record for posterity the facts of the national struggle’’ The Secretary for Home Affairs, Melusi Matshiya, said
that the results ‘would be made available to future generations through the Liberation War Museum to be
constructed at the National Heroes Acre’.
This research project marked a shift away from ‘the series of projects carried out at UZ in the 1990s under the rubric of ‘Democracy and Human Rights’, directed by Professor Ngwabi Bhebe’ and ‘the post-nationalist historiography which was beginning to emerge at the university in the early twenty-first century’.
More overtly, ZANU PF has attempted to introduce the teaching of Patriotic History through the National and Strategic Studies (NASS) course at tertiary institutions. As early as 1985, Mugabe proclaimed his government’s intention to have a ‘Political Education’ course ‘taught as a compulsory subject from nursery school up to and including tertiary level’, suggesting that the ZANU PF government had harboured plans for introducing a compulsory national civic education course from the early independence years. During this period the government also set up a Cabinet Committee to carry out a study on the possibility of setting up a National Youth Service Scheme. The study involved an assessment of the comparative experiences in three countries, the former Yugoslavia, Cuba and Tanzania. The report recommended against the implementation of such a scheme citing amongst other reasons, the high financial costs and the dangers of the militarization of the unemployed. In the era of reconciliation politics such arguments still held sway. In 2000, Border Gezi, the Minister of Youth, Gender and Employment Creation, introduced a national youth service training programme for all Zimbabwean school leavers. According to Gezi the programme was designed to inculcate a ‘sense of responsible citizenship among the youth’. National youth centres were established in the country’s provinces.
The government argued that the training centres would mould patriotic citizens, though the content of this patriotism was never put before the nation for deliberation. The programme’s other purported goals were teaching on the prevention of HIV-AIDS and drug abuse, fostering national pride, creating opportunities for youth self-employment and participation in national development, gender equality education, and promotion of environmentally friendly practices. Political opposition and civil society argued that the training camps were designed to turn Zimbabwean youth into ZANU PF cadres. A 2003 report on the national youth service training programme undertaken by the Solidarity Peace Trust found that some youth training centres also served as ZANU PF paramilitary training bases. The report also established that Mugabe’s book, Inside the Third Chimurenga, was a core study and teaching text.
In 2002, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education introduced the NASS course as a compulsory component of teacher and technical colleges’ curricula. According to the Ministry, the NASS course was introduced to ‘provide an all round education to young people in tertiary institutions’, ‘foster a desire to contribute towards national development and equip students with relevant skills’, and ‘instil in the young people an appreciation of their national heritage.’ The NASS course’s introduction at the height of the Third Chimurenga, amid reports of ongoing ‘indoctrination’ practices in the Border Gezi national youth centres, raised considerable public suspicion and debate in the independent press on the government’s motives. Statements by some ZANU PF officials, such as ‘the mistake that the ruling party made was to allow colleges and universities to be turned into anti-government mentality factories’, reinforced public suspicion. The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA) bemoaned the lack of knowledge of the liberation war amongst those born after independence, noting: ‘we were busy building the country, building roads and schools and clinics but we did not build the minds of our young people…(our) children have become black whites’. On national heroes’ day in 2004, Mugabe announced that his government would review the country’s teaching syllabus to ensure that graduates were ‘patriotic and loyal citizens’. Mugabe also noted that higher education graduates were generally opposed to the ZANU PF government’s policies.
In light of this, it is little surprise that leading independent newspapers such as the Zimbabwe Independent presented the NASS course’s inception as ‘a bid by government to advance its political agenda’. A sceptical independent press presented the NASS course as a means of ‘brainwashing’ Zimbabwean youth to support ZANU PF. In academic circles, Ranger argued that Patriotic History was ‘being offered under the guise of National and Strategic Studies in Teacher Training Colleges and Polytechnics’. Scepticism was also rife at the Harare Polytechnic. According to Roy Matsika, cases of students boycotting NASS lectures and examinations were not uncommon. Harare Polytechnic students were not alone in being unreceptive to the NASS course. Matsika argues that the newly created NASS department faced the ‘tremendous task’ of legitimising itself as a fully fledged department staffed with authentic academics. Some of the non-NASS academics at the Harare Polytechnic doubted the academic credentials of the NASS staff, perceiving them as ‘war veterans’ masquerading as academics. Matsika was compelled to present original copies of his academic qualifications to sceptical non-NASS academic staff.
The sceptical regard for the NASS course as Patriotic History in disguise seemed to be vindicated by two contentious questions that appeared in the April 2004 NASS examination paper. These two questions were posed as follows: ‘which political party in Zimbabwe represents the interests of imperialists and how must it be viewed by Zimbabweans?’; and ‘African leaders who try to serve the interests of imperialists are called what and how do you view patriotism?’ The two questions seemed to allude to Patriotic History’s construction of the MDC and Tsvangirai as ‘sell-outs’ and ‘puppets’. Matsika contends that ‘the questions attracted unnecessary spotlight which diverted attention from the critical and objective effort that went into developing the course’. According to Matsika, a decentralised compilation process is employed when setting final examinations. Fifteen different examination papers are set by the various polytechnics countrywide. The fifteen papers are circulated to all polytechnics for deliberation until consensus is reached between the polytechnics on a ‘fair’ and ‘explorative’ examination question paper to be adopted.
However, Matsika could not explain the presence of the contentious questions that appeared in the April 2004 examination paper. He was unaware of the source of the questions. The source remains an enigma. Matsika’s supposition was that a partisan high-ranking official in the Higher Examinations Council or Standards Development and Quality Assurance Department inserted them clandestinely. Other than these questions, examination and course work assignment questions for the year 2004 were of a challenging academic nature, sought to cultivate freedom of thought, solicited critical responses from students and made no allusions to Patriotic History’s construction of particular groups or individuals. Responses by a newly enrolled group of NASS students to a 2004 assignment question asking ‘is the land question a real social issue or a political gimmick’ were characterised by a noticeable use of ZANU PF political slogans. ‘Land is the economy and the economy is land’, a political slogan coined and popularised by Jonathan Moyo, was quoted by a student in one academic essay for instance. However essays laden with ZANU PF political rhetoric were often met with comments by teaching staff that questioned the uncritical use of politically partisan arguments not substantiated with fact. This was evident in three of seven response essays I was allowed to examine. According to Matsika, it was routine for many beginners of the NASS course to produce ‘pro-ZANU PF essays’ because they began the course with a preconceived belief that ‘the more ZANU PF you are the higher the grades you get’. I will now review the content of the NASS course.
A Review of the NASS Syllabus
The Ministry of Higher Education produced a draft syllabus for the NASS course in 2003. The draft was handed down to tertiary institutions for modification. Matsika was one of the pioneer developers of the NASS course and argues that the Ministry of Higher Education did not assign specific literature on which teaching was to be based. However, it is worth noting that the NASS syllabus recommends the reading of Mugabe’s Inside the Third Chimurenga and that the current NASS syllabus was derived from a draft version produced by the higher education ministry. The ministry’s draft syllabus was presented to NASS pioneer staff for discussion and development at a 2003 workshop in Gweru. Review workshops on the NASS syllabus are conducted annually in order to expand the course’s depth and ensure that it remains relevant to changing national events. The most striking feature of the NASS syllabus is its high level of specificity in terms of the course’s aims and what is taught. According to Matsika, while the Ministry of Higher Education is the final arbiter of the course’s content it has not attempted to directly influence the course’s thrust or unjustly vetoed the deliberations and amendments made at workshops. Matsika contends that the 2003 Gweru workshop was critical of the higher education ministry’s draft syllabus for its ‘very general’ nature, arguing that this left it open to varied interpretations. ‘We were mindful of the need to develop a very specific syllabus not open to manipulation by those of a particular persuasion’. I reviewed the higher education ministry’s draft syllabus and established the credibility of Matsika’s claim. Sections of the higher education ministry’s draft syllabus were found to be ‘open to manipulation’ by politically partisan instructors and to be pandering to Patriotic History’s attempts to make political leadership an exclusive preserve of those associated with the liberation struggle. For instance, section 2.6 of the draft syllabus stipulated that students were to define patriotism
within Zimbabwe’s traditional and enduring political tradition – the Second Chimurenga, and
its being the litmus test for patriotism, commitment and qualification for office in the legislature,
executive, judiciary, and legitimate and constructive opposition politics.
The current NASS syllabus comprises 4 core themes: entrepreneurship studies; legal and parliamentary studies; international relations and development studies; and Zimbabwean history and heritage studies. Entrepreneurship studies takes up twenty percent of teaching time, international relations twenty seven percent, Zimbabwean history and heritage thirty three percent, and legal and parliamentary affairs twenty percent. The entrepreneurship component of the course seeks to inculcate the need for Zimbabwean graduates to be employment-creating not employment-seeking graduates. Students are equipped with skills for developing business ideas and use of information technology in business. The current syllabus mentions and defines patriotism in relation to good corporate governance whereas the higher education ministry’s draft version set out the study of patriotism in the terms outlined above. In the current syllabus, patriotism denotes ethical business standards, social responsibilities and entrepreneurial innovation aimed at building a viable national economy. The legal and parliamentary studies module seeks to define and emphasise the importance of the rule of law, furnish students with knowledge of the Zimbabwe constitution and an understanding of how the country’s legislature functions. Information censorship, public order and security are also key discussion points. The international relations and development element is akin to an undergraduate introductory course to international relations spanning international relations theory, the roles of international law, and global, continental and regional organisations.
The Zimbabwean history and heritage studies section traces Zimbabwe’s history from the pre-colonial to post-colonial period. The Mutapa, Rozvi, and Ndebele pre-colonial states are discussed in terms of civilisation, trade, social relations and indigenous knowledge systems. The rise of the slave trade and its effects on Africa’s development is an introductory topic to a colonial history that begins with the scramble for Africa and 1884 Berlin conference. The rise of nationalism in Zimbabwe is located in the urban Youth League beginning in 1955. Nationalist political parties are presented as the offspring of urban politics and labour grievance against the colonial state. This representation of history challenges Patriotic History. ZANU PF’s role in Zimbabwe’s liberation is subsumed in the contribution of independent Frontline states, independent churches, and ‘the concerted efforts by all people of any creed, race and tribe in Zimbabwe’s liberation’. This also contests Patriotic History and the higher education ministry’s draft syllabus which, in its emphasis on ZANU and ZAPU as the champions of the liberation struggle, did not capture the multiplicity of actors involved in the struggle. Students are expected to grasp the effect of the Lancaster House settlement’s protection of white property rights for the first decade of independence on negating ‘the total independence of Zimbabwe’. Civic responsibilities are a subsection of the Zimbabwean history and heritage theme. They include individual duties in times of natural and man-made disasters, defence of the nation through armed combat, adherence to tax payment, and observance of environmentally friendly practices. Marriage values and the prevention of HIV-AIDS are other principles considered important for youth under the Zimbabwean history and heritage section.
The most intriguing part of the current NASS syllabus is the Zimbabwean history and heritage section 5.1 where students are expected to evaluate and explain the West’s destabilisation efforts in Southern Africa, which took the form of dissident movements. Jonas Malvheiro Savimbi’s rebel National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which fought a civil war against the Angolan People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government with American support during the Cold war, is listed as one such Western-sponsored dissident movement. The RENAMO insurgency in Mozambique from 1975 to 1992 is another case study. For independent Zimbabwe, ZAPU is listed as a Western agent for destabilisation. The higher education ministry’s draft syllabus listed RENAMO, UNITA and ZAPU dissident activity in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland province as products of the Apartheid South African government’s machinations to destabilise its regional neighbours. The account of RENAMO and UNITA as western agents of destabilisation in Africa is a distortion obscuring a more nuanced understanding of the multiplicity of local and international factors that fomented the two rebel groups. RENAMO received American support but the Rhodesian Intelligence service sponsored and created RENAMO in 1975, relinquishing its sponsorship to Apartheid South Africa with the advent of independence in 1980. Likewise, while UNITA benefited from American support, South Africa also assisted it in periods. In spite of this external support both RENAMO and UNITA developed deep local roots. They garnered considerable local legitimacy in parts of Mozambique and Angola respectively. To present them as entirely alien or external is misleading.
The arming of ZAPU by the West and South Africa, referred to by both the current NASS syllabus and the higher education ministry’s draft version, refers to the dissident activities in Matabeleland during the early 1980s. In Patriotic History, the detection of illegal arms reserves on properties owned by ZAPU led to the dismissal of Nkomo from cabinet in 1982 because the arms were intended for use in a planned coup against the incumbent ZANU PF government. ZIPRA deserters from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) engaged in ‘dissident’ activities, which the ZANU PF government responded to by deploying the Fifth Brigade. The Fifth Brigade’s official mandate was to crush dissident activity and guarantee national security. However, the evidence for a coup plot was ‘suspect’, the existence of arms caches on both sides of the ZANU and ZAPU political divide had been an open secret since independence, and the state’s treason charges against senior ZAPU members such as Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku did not stand the test of the High Court’s scrutiny. South Africa had sought to destabilise its northern neighbour by creating and arming ‘Super ZAPU’ but South African involvement does not fully account for the disturbances in Matabeleland and the ZANU PF government’s response.
The largely pro-ZANU ZNA victimized and killed many former ZIPRA combatants in its ranks leading to the desertion of thousands of former ZIPRA combatants in 1982 for personal security reasons. However, ZIPRA deserters found that victimization and killings awaited them even outside the ZNA. Desertions induced by a partisan ZNA caused an escalation of dissident violence in Matabeleland. The need to quell dissident violence was the ZANU PF government’s alleged reason for deploying Fifth Brigade troops in the Gukurahundi. However, the Fifth Brigade’s violent campaign in Matabeleland, which was justified in tribal language against Ndebele civilians mostly, ZAPU officials and former ZIPRA combatants, was part of an agenda to crush ZAPU. The complexity of motives for and manner of the Gukurahundi atrocities do not find expression in the current NASS syllabus or in the higher education ministry’s draft version. This silence is born out of the ZANU PF government’s suppression of the Gukurahundi atrocities in official political discourse, state-controlled media and the education system. The suppression of the narrative marshalled a ‘half-hearted’ conformity by the NASS syllabus developers in maintaining silence on this narrative during the 2003 Gweru workshop.
Matsika was however adamant that the syllabus’ silence on the Gukurahundi atrocities did not prevent students knowing about it: ‘It may not be in the syllabus but we point students to the CCJP report [Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands, 1980 to 1988] and encourage its discussion in class. The silence is not sacred behind closed classroom doors’. Interviews conducted with NASS students at the Harare Polytechnic confirmed Matsika’s claims. Students acknowledged that the Gukurahundi was discussed openly in class. A related subject matter on which the NASS syllabus and higher education ministry’s draft are silent is human rights. Human rights-teaching was not included in the higher education ministry’s syllabus. The existing NASS course outline stipulates that students should be able to critically analyse the internationalisation of human rights and democracy in the post-Cold war period. Human rights is referred to in this single instance. The syllabus does not seek to engender students’ understanding of a Zimbabwean human rights historiography. Neither does it cultivate students’ grasp of the nature and extent of their human rights under Zimbabwean law.
A significant difference between the higher education ministry’s draft syllabus and its current version is in the representation of political events from 2000 onwards. Section 1.10 of the ministry’s draft bears the subtitle ‘the 2000 elections and the Third Chimurenga’. This section instructs that the Third Chimurenga be taught as the ‘righting of historical wrongs’ following the British Labour government’s reneging on its colonial responsibility to fund land reform in 1997. It also instructs that the Third Chimurenga be understood in the context of ‘Western racist reaction and internal collaboration’. Section 1.10 of the ministry’s draft version was altered considerably at the 2003 Gweru workshop. It became Section 6.0, subtitled ‘contemporary issues in Zimbabwe’. The contemporary issues in Zimbabwe section do not make reference to a Third Chimurenga. It instructs that students discuss the merits and demerits of the 2000 Draft constitution, and the implications of the triumph of the NO vote campaign in the referendum. Students are also expected to appreciate the merits of the 2000 parliamentary election results, in which the MDC secured 58 seats to ZANU PF’s 61, because they created a ‘balanced parliament’. The syllabus notes that ZANU PF had dominated parliament since 1980, commanding a two-thirds majority. The MDC’s victory in 58 constituencies meant that ZANU PF no longer dominated parliament outright. This opened up space for stronger debate on national policies. It also meant that parliament was no longer a rubber stamp for government-willed constitutional amendments. Consensus between disparate interests and constituencies was now a prerequisite for constitutional amendments to pass.
Overall, the content of the NASS course does not merit the scepticism it has attracted since its inception in 2003. It is largely devoid of Patriotic History’s core themes. The liberation struggle is not presented as exclusively a struggle for land. ZANU PF’s role in the country’s liberation is viewed in the context of contributions of international and local actors cutting across race, ethnicity and creed. There is no attempt to construct figures in Zimbabwean history as ‘patriots’ or ‘sell-outs’. Patriotism is taught in connection to business ethics placing the national economic good ahead of corruption, profiteering and bribery. The course is an evolving attempt to mould well-rounded Zimbabwean citizens aware of the country’s heritage, functioning of the legal and parliamentary system, civic responsibilities, entrepreneurial skills and knowledge of the workings of international relations. According to Matsika, the ‘principle in designing the syllabus was that political parties are a fashion that comes and goes but Zimbabwe will always be there’. However, the listing of ZAPU as a Western-sponsored agent for destabilisation alongside RENAMO and UNITA is misleading. It is unclear why this went unchallenged when nothing else did. Perhaps it did not contradict how framers of the NASS syllabus understood history. Nonetheless the watering down of the higher education ministry’s draft syllabus suggests a considerable degree of independence in the education bureaucracy. I will now address the challenges of teaching history in Zimbabwe.
Challenges of Teaching History in Zimbabwe, Points of Contention and Consensus, and Future Prospects
When Ranger retired from his Visiting Professorship in the UZ’s History department in 2001 he was enthused by the:
vitality of historians, economic historians and archaeologists at the University of Zimbabwe. A generation of
scholars had arisen which did not envy their fellows who had gone into business or politics. They wanted nothing
more than to be successful researchers and publishers, respected by their peers and by Africanists inter-nationally.
These young Zimbabwean scholars were able to go beyond the agendas of nationalism. The archaeologist, Innocent
Pikarayi, for example, in his splendid “The Zimbabwe Culture. Origins and Decline in Southern Zambezian
States”, declared that there was now no need to combat colonial myths about Great Zimbabwe or to write of
African ’empires’ where none had existed. ….The University of Zimbabwe has some twenty scholarly manuscripts,
including an important collection on Zimbabwean political economy, ready for publication. When I made my
second retirement in June 2001 a research seminar was organised as a farewell gift at which some thirty scholarly
papers were presented by historians, archaeologists, students of religion, members of the departments of literature
However, since that time the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and police have carried out acts of repression in tertiary institutions. More importantly, Zimbabwe’s economic crisis that began in the late 1990s has caused an acute deterioration of higher education standards. Universities and colleges have been paralysed by periodic faculty and student strikes over derisory funding and remuneration. In May 2009 Short Wave Radio African reported that ‘only an estimated 68 out of 12 000 students at the [UZ] institution had paid tuition fees for the academic year. The report continued:
The UZ has remained almost completely closed since  last year because of a total breakdown of
infrastructure. All the toilets at the institution have not been functioning for a year, while only one out of
seven boreholes is pumping water there. Last August the first semester was postponed because the lack of
clean water posed a serious health risk in the midst of the cholera outbreak. The academic year finally got
underway in November, only to end in the middle of first semester exams because the water situation had
not been rectified. The situation has continued to deteriorate, and the university has remained virtually shut,
despite the second semester that was meant to begin in March. ….The news comes amid revelations that
Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono also looted the foreign currency accounts of Zimbabwean universities,
to prop up the Robert Mugabe regime.
Under such conditions, many of the promising young historians who were ‘able to go beyond the agendas of nationalism’ have left Zimbabwe for South Africa and elsewhere in the world. ‘They remain determined to research and write but they will no longer do so as a collectivity’. Significantly, they are no longer present to impart on Zimbabwean History students new complex histories that do not pander to ZANU PF nationalism or Patriotic History.
Moreover in 2009 the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education Act came into effect when the ZANU PF Minister for Higher and Tertiary Education Stan Mudenge appointed a board that will exercise control over higher learning institutions. Mudenge argues that the board enables government to register and accredit higher learning institutions, and allows for improved quality assurance regulation. Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) Holdings chairman Professor Christopher Chetsanga was appointed chairperson of the council. Other board members are: Professor Simbi Mubako (law lecturer at Midlands State University and former ZANU PF cabinet minister); Dr Robson Mafoti (Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Council director general); Dr Gibson Mandishona (chairman of the board of the Harare Institute of Technology); Dr Phineas Makurira (Medical and Dental Practitioners’ Council of Zimbabwe chairman); Professor Lindela Ndlovu (National University of Science and Technology Vice Chancellor); Dr Primrose Kurasha (Zimbabwe Open University Vice Chancellor); Professor Marvellous Mhloyi (consultant and founder of the Centre for Population Studies at the University of Zimbabwe); Dr Washington Mbizvo (Higher and Tertiary Education Permanent Secretary); Professor Hasu Patel; Professor Lynn Zijena; Dr Isaiah Sibanda (former education secretary); Willard Manungo; Professor Francis Gudyanga, Professor Levi Nyagura (UZ Vice Chancellor); Ngwabi Bhebe (Midlands State University Vice Chancellor Professor; and Professor Norman Maphosa.
Many of these members are known ZANU PF sympathisers who also sit on the boards of several government companies and bodies, which are part of ZANU PF’s patronage network. This casts doubt on the council’s ability to sustain, guarantee and advance the quality of higher education. Some UZ academics have criticized the council’s membership, arguing that it is an ‘attempt by …ZANU PF to politicise education’ and called for higher education to ‘be run by independent academics and experts’. It remains to be seen how the council’s work will unfold but it is worth noting that at its 2006 annual conference, ZANU PF passed a resolution calling for the expulsion from universities of lecturers critical of the government, raising the prospect that the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education Act may be used to curtail academic freedom in politically sensitive fields such as History. There are already attempts to intimidate academics and students in institutions of higher learning through secret agents masquerading as students.
Secondary education has not been spared from the effects of economic meltdown either. The economic crisis has instigated a decline in secondary education standards. Worsening the inadequate quality of teaching is the nonexistence of the bare minimum of History materials requisite for schools to operate. There is a severe lack of funding from government for books, desks, chairs and for the adequate remuneration of teachers. This has adversely affected the quality of history teaching in Zimbabwe. In 2009 the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture David Coltart described the state of the secondary education sector thus:
When I took office in February 2009 I knew that the education sector was in a mess but could not anticipate
just how bad it was. …when I finally got to my office on the 14th floor I found that I had no computer, no
internet and no access to any computerised database within the ministry. To compound matters the first order
of business was a message lying on my desk that I should immediately go to the government transport ministry
to collect a brand-new Mercedes-Benz limousine! My first act in the ministry was to decline the offer. On the
day I took office almost 7000 schools were effectively shut because over 80,000 teachers were on strike. In the
eight months since I’ve taken office, up to the end of September 2009, the entire ministry received from Treasury
the princely sum of US $ 1,962,057 to run over 7000 schools and educate some 3 million children! Because of
deep concern in the international community about the slow pace of implementation of the GPA the international
community has been extremely reticent in providing any assistance, even to the education sector.
History teachers have also come under attack from ZANU PF youth militia and war veterans who have accused them of being MDC supporters guilty of teaching students to be disloyal to ZANU PF. Teachers have been targets for violence in order to stamp out dissent and because many of them have acted as polling officers in national elections since 2000 – a period in which ZANU PF’s electoral stock has declined. They have been accused of favouring the opposition and rigging elections for the MDC. In the violence surrounding Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections it was reported that 2 700 teachers had fled or been evicted, dozens of schools had been closed and 121 were in use as militia bases, 123 had been charged with election fraud and 496 questioned by the police. However, in October 2009 Coltart’s sturdy line against ZANU PF youth militia who had used schools as bases for waging violence against political opponents had been ‘on a scale of one to hundred …95 percent of the schools become peaceful’. A politicised Public Services Commission, which employs teachers not the Education Ministry, responded by withholding the salaries of approximately 5 000 teachers, who fled election violence in 2008 and returned to work under an amnesty granted by Coltart, for several months as vengeance for their supposed support of the MDC.
In 2009 the ZANU PF Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, announced plans to re-open the National Youth Training Service centres, many of which had become rundown by 2005 due to lack of resources. ‘The process is underway. We are just sorting out a few outstanding issues before we open them’, Kasukuwere declared in October 2009. The Global Political Agreement (GPA) of September 2008 saw ZANU PF and the MDCs agreeing that it is advantageous to have a training service for youth but that it ought to be a non-partisan programme devoid of political interference. Interestingly, Kasukuwere did not mention that the syllabus for National Youth Training will be put up for discussion before the centres reopen, suggesting a possible resurrection of the teaching of Patriotic History in National Youth Training Service Centres.
Prospects for the teaching of a pluralistic academic history in secondary schools and higher institutions appear daunting given the aforementioned. However, there is reason for optimism. I conducted a reception study at the UZ and Harare Polytechnic in 2005 in order to gauge how Patriotic History had been received at these two institutions. I will summarise the results here briefly. The reception study found that Patriotic History is regarded with deep cynicism and dismissed as ‘ZANU PF politics’ at the UZ while the opposite is true at the Harare Polytechnic. At the UZ the term Chimurenga does not evoke memories of the liberation struggle but of ‘war veterans terrorising’ civilians and ‘ZANU PF politics’. While Harare Polytechnic students were aware and critical of ZANU PF’s appropriation of history they still sought to find some worth in liberation history, arguing that it was the country’s heritage and ought to be reclaimed from ZANU PF’s monopoly. UZ students’ main source of information on history is government-controlled television and radio while Harare Polytechnic students rely on knowledge acquired from the NASS course. UZ and Harare Polytechnic students’ critical treatment of Patriotic History can also be attributed to the access they have to the crisis literature that has been produced since 2000.
Critical historical literature by historians based outside Zimbabwe including, amongst others, Brian Raftopoulos, James Muzondidya and Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, along with writing and teaching by critical historians such as Gerald Mazarire and Joseph Mtisi at the University of Zimbabwe go some way in undermining Patriotic History. However, much of the critical historical literature does not enjoy a wide audience outside of universities because Zimbabwe’s economic downturn has made books unaffordable to the average Zimbabwean. The wider Zimbabwean population has been exposed to state-controlled press, radio and television, where Patriotic History is preponderant. Raftopoulos has asserted that the ‘advantage’ intellectuals who are critical of Patriotic History enjoy is they ‘have written in journals and books, and the ZANU PF intellectuals have not’. Intellectuals sympathetic to ZANU PF who produced Patriotic History did abandon the academy by and large, and focused most of their energies on the public sphere. Similarly, while the contents of the Ministry of Higher Education’s draft syllabus clearly demonstrate the ZANU PF government’s intention of introducing the teaching of Patriotic History through the NASS course, the ruling party seems to have abandoned this plan. The ZANU PF government allowed its draft syllabus to be amended at the 2003 Gweru workshop to the degree that these amendments, barring a few exceptions, left the current syllabus largely devoid of Patriotic History’s key themes. Had ZANU PF been resolute about the teaching of Patriotic History in institutions of higher learning it would not have allowed this occurrence. NASS has also still not been introduced as a compulsory course for all university students, further demonstrating a reluctance or inability to introduce its teaching in universities, and yet ZANU PF continues to allocate considerable resources to its press, television and radio propaganda machinery. Clearly, there remain possibilities for the further development of critical and plural history teaching in Zimbabwe.
It is important to note that institutions of higher learning have been a hotbed for opposition politics since the late 1980s, which ZANU PF has struggled to win over. It is likely that ZANU PF abandoned higher institutions of learning because it realised Patriotic History was unlikely to be successful there. Thus, ZANU PF and its intellectuals directed their energies to a more ‘amenable’ majority population that did not belong to the academy. Furthermore, one of the conclusions Barnes arrives at in her study of history teaching in Zimbabwean secondary schools is that while Patriotic History has been widely propagated in the media, it finds ‘itself tempered’ in secondary schools because ‘the roots of the secondary educational system in Zimbabwe are deep and its conservative academic traditions will not be easily erased. Older textbooks written for earlier syllabi will be read and used until the pages disintegrate’. Patriotic History will not overrun longstanding historiography and teaching in institutions of higher education without difficulty either. Nor will it easily convince established anti-ZANU PF hotbeds. In spite of the considerable challenges discussed, academic space for new pluralistic histories exists.
Supporting Secondary and Higher Educators, and Proposals Towards Learning Sessions, Modules and Activities for History Teaching
I have explored some of the problems facing the education sector in the previous section. Supporting secondary and higher educators cannot be extricated from Zimbabwe’s broader Zimbabwean education context. Supporting History higher and secondary teachers, and proposals for the subjects learning modules, sessions and activities cannot be applied when there is a want of substantial and uninterrupted funding. Zimbabwe’s secondary and higher education require large and sustained funding for conditions to improve. The quality of History teaching will not improve in the absence of this and other reforms I will suggest. There have been some moves towards renewed funding in secondary education. In November 2009 Coltart announced that as of 2010 his Education Ministry will grant funding to some schools to enable them to become Academies, provide incentives to teachers and renovate infrastructure through funding from Teach Zimbabwe (TZ) and A4e, which is an international NGO. UNICEF has also bequeathed US$70 million to the Education Ministry for the resuscitation of secondary education. Text books are now an uncommon product in schools. One book to every 10 children is UNICEF’s estimate of the text books to pupils’ ratio in Zimbabwe today. Mudenge’s Ministry of Higher Education has not fared better in securing funding for the revival of higher education. UNESCO’s proposed 2010-11 budget of US$653 million for education in Africa has described by Mudenge as ‘shoe-string’. Indeed US$653 million would revive higher education in Zimbabwe alone. Zimbabwe’s education system has produced hundreds of thousands of exceedingly gifted persons who have excelled in various fields throughout the world. Should education conditions improve, there is need to attract the young and talented historians who Ranger bemoaned for leaving Zimbabwe.
Notwithstanding the existing problems in Zimbabwe’s education sector, it is not all doom and gloom. Zimbabwe still has some of the best education infrastructure and one of the highest literacy rates in Sub Saharan Africa. Policy proposals towards improvement in History teaching can be made in preparation for when funding will become available and as a means of soliciting funding for reforms in History teaching. This process has already begun under Coltart’s Ministry of Education. In Coltart’s words, there is need to apply liberal principles in education:
[Education in] Zimbabwe has lurched from one form of authoritarian rule to another. The use of violence to
attain political objectives is still widespread. There are high levels of intolerance in political parties against those
who hold different views. In short we have a deeply rooted culture of violence and intolerance. What pertains in
the political sphere is reflected in the personal and in the schools. A recent Zimbabwean study reveals that there
are alarmingly high levels of bullying and sexual abuse taking place within our schools. In our wider society there
are unacceptably high levels of domestic violence. Furthermore the way that history has been taught in Rhodesian
and then Zimbabwean schools over many decades has contributed to the notion that political leaders are demigods.
That was certainly what was taught in white Rhodesian schools: Cecil John Rhodes and Ian Douglas Smith were
elevated to the status of cult heroes. Little has changed since the advent of independence save for the fact that
these political leaders have been replaced by Robert Gabriel Mugabe and other nationalist leaders. In other words
I believe that one of the principal reasons why Zimbabwe has degenerated is because of serious flaws in our
education system. Furthermore we have inherited a colonial system of classroom learning practice which we have
not seriously attempted to change. The teacher and the textbook are the authority and children are taught not to
question, not to think creatively or imaginatively. Fear does not just govern issues of discipline – it governs the
very learning process and rote learning still holds sway, discouraging children from taking responsibility for their
own learning or attempting to think for themselves.
To address these deficiencies, Coltart’s Education Ministry is working in combination with Zimbabwe’s human rights groups to formulate a new curriculum that will teach schoolchildren democratic ideals, their human rights as enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution and UN conventions, the merits of tolerance, and the use of non-violent processes to settle conflict.
The following are also key proposals that would help to support secondary and higher educators, including suggestions towards learning sessions, components and activities for History teaching:
• Zimbabwe has an examination-focused History curriculum in secondary schools. There is no emphasis on the testing of students’ interpretative skills and the critical evaluation of history is not encouraged. Learning by rote is preferred. Examinations are held at the end of each year. It is important to begin developing critical thinking skills in secondary schools. Thus there needs to be frequent assessment of History students in secondary school through critical essays. This would encourage critical historical debates in schools and better prepare secondary school students to make the cross to higher education, where essay writing and critical debates are valued.
• History teaching in secondary schools and higher education must have intended societal outcomes. Ideally, one main end goal would be to allow History students to interrogate how heritage is interpreted and presented in schools and in the public domain (by public intellectuals, media and politicians) that is, be able to explain ideologies and debates around heritage issues and public representations.
• An inevitable concern in higher education institutions emanating from the above proposal that History teaching must have intended outcomes is the question of how then to balance the conflict between nurturing citizenship and nation building while still developing students’ academic skills as trained Historians. The answer to this tension is that there is no need to forsake one for the other. A critical History is not mutually exclusive to citizenship and nation building.
• History teaching in secondary schools and higher education must seek to encourage students to ask the following questions: How do Zimbabweans understand their world today?; What and how do legacies of the past shape Zimbabwe’s present?; In understanding Zimbabwe today, and the legacies that shape it, subjects such as nation-building, citizenship, human rights and issues of civil society are suggested content.
• The formation of a History teachers’ association under the umbrella of teacher and lecturer unions. A History teachers’ association would be used as a means of honing the pedagogical proficiency of History instructors. History seminars, workshops and colloquia would encourage discussion of, and agreement and collaboration on how Zimbabwe’s History must be taught.
• The History teachers union could propound technical assistance by organising writing workshops for teachers because research enables self-development, which can be passed on to students in class.
• In addition, the History teachers’ association possibly will complement the work of History teacher training institutions and universities in preliminary teacher tuition. The History teachers’ association could work to regularise education programmes to develop the quality of History teachers by complementing government in-service training and remedial academic and pedagogical instruction.
• The Ministry of Education would solicit the History teachers’ union’s pertinent inputs into the History syllabus in secondary schools, assessment techniques and the review of examinations.
How the Zimbabwe History Book Can Offer Opportunities to Support History Teaching at Secondary and Higher Levels
The Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Coltart, is working not only to revise Zimbabwe’s History curriculum but will also seek out authors to write new history textbooks for Zimbabwean secondary schools. Becoming Zimbabwe, in its present format, is beyond the intellectual capacities of students in elementary secondary education (forms 1-4). There is scope for the authors of Becoming Zimbabwe to write versions more accessible to History students in basic secondary schooling. Were this to occur, Becoming Zimbabwe would help teachers in both secondary and higher education to cultivate critical historical thinking skills because it is a trenchant critique of the Patriotic History in national education. Becoming Zimbabwe is a single-volume history of Zimbabwe. No other such book exists. This in itself makes Becoming Zimbabwe a useful and convenient teaching tool. It is worth acknowledging that a history of Zimbabwe cannot be fully captured in a single volume. But this does not diminish the book’s usefulness in secondary and higher education because in treating Becoming Zimbabwe critically over some significant subjects it largely does not engage with, such as the role and place of women, a history of the Zimbabwean military and its political role, and an environmental history, we derive new questions and debates about the abovementioned issues and others.
Becoming Zimbabwe explores the relationship of history to the political imagination. It fosters an understanding of identity as a social construct. It is a mouthpiece for human rights because it scrutinises, with incisive insight, the intolerances involving race and ethnicity that have shaped nation hood and citizenship in Zimbabwe. In the end, Becoming Zimbabwe leaves Zimbabweans pondering about becoming a nation. What has Zimbabwe been before? What did it become from the pre-colonial to the colonial period? What is it becoming in the post-colonial period? And, can Zimbabweans be sure that they are becoming anything? The questions that Becoming Zimbabwe raises are important to put up among students and teaching faculty lacking a shared national vision or political imagination. The book offers a platform for opening up dialogue on this matter in classrooms and lectures. Indeed Becoming Zimbabwe shows that the absence of a shared sense of nationhood has been problematic since the pre-colonial epoch. Zimbabwe was monopolised by a white minority in the colonial age and the African resistance to that monopolisation bore its own forms of exclusion that rendered social cohesion illusory. Independence did not bring about concord and nation building either as the intolerance and exclusiveness of the colonial period found expression in independent Zimbabwe’s political, social, economic and education arenas. Becoming Zimbabwe provides a stage for students and teachers to seriously begin thinking about the Zimbabwe they desire and the shared values that would be required for building a Zimbabwean nation. Teachers are at the heart of educating a generation and the questions and issues Becoming Zimbabwe raises are important in that education. Thus, Becoming Zimbabwe is a significant contribution to History learning and teaching.
Perhaps the most serious objection to using Becoming Zimbabwe to support History teaching in secondary schools and higher education is that the chief concentration of even liberal scholars, such as the authors of Becoming Zimbabwe, is documenting in academic form what occurred in the past. Encouraging nation hood and values such as citizenship is not the concern of historians. Some may also charge that Becoming Zimbabwe could easily be abused for indoctrination purposes in the same way that nationalist history was made use of by ZANU PF to formulate Patriotic History. Furthermore, it could be argued that Becoming Zimbabwe endangers the proper functions of History teaching. In response to these concerns, I argue that the book is not an uncritical overview of Zimbabwe’s history. Becoming Zimbabwe is an open ended non-ideological inclusive account of Zimbabwe’s history that deconstructs long held historical representations. It asks Zimbabweans to rethink their ‘nation’ and the state. As Gerald Mazarire’s chapter on pre-colonial Zimbabwe concludes, ‘myths have made us look at these [pre-colonial] people in monolithic terms, from the point of view of what others think of them rather than what they thought of themselves’. Mazarire disaggregates what we have long understood as Shona and Ndebele, showing that it is only in the 19th century that the idea of a Shona emerged, nor was there a homogenous Ndebele identity either. He explores what occurred outside the Rozvi, Ndebele, Torwa, Mutapa and Great Zimbabwe state system unlike traditionally used texts such as Stan Mudenge’s A Political History of Munhumutapa – c.1400-1902 and the NASS course’s Zimbabwean history and heritage studies section, which expects students to appreciate Zimbabwe’s pre-colonial history in terms of the Mutapa, Rozvi, and Ndebele states, as if nothing occurred before and outside these states. The deconstruction ‘of such meta-narratives will open up new fields for research that are sensitive to all analytical categories, allowing a wide diversity of opinion and interpretation, something that has traditionally not been allowed space in History teaching in Zimbabwe.
Training and instructing teachers and lecturers to be attentive to the necessity of encouraging students to critically reflect on their History reading lists is also an effective deterrent of the aforementioned fears. Moreover, Becoming Zimbabwe would be used alongside other academic literature that puts forward contradictory historical viewpoints, which is healthy for open and frank academic discussions. Undoubtedly, as argued before, UZ History lecturers recognise the need to complicate Zimbabwe’s history.
In stark contrast to the Patriotic and NASS syllabi and nationalist texts’, rudimentary ‘domination and resistance’ model, Becoming Zimbabwe puts forward a more complex appreciation for the course of action that settler colonial rule took by taking into account the ‘contestations and conversations, rejections and acceptances, negotiations and complicity’ around the establishment and consolidation of colonial conquest. Ranger’s version of a unified Chimurenga in the 1890s is also challenged. Secondary school History teaching has traditionally centred on stories about heroes. The lives of these heroes are supposed to act as exemplars to enlighten and stir children to reproduce such behaviour in their own lives and fully support others who do. This has been presented as the essence of patriotism in Zimbabwe. Current History syllabi and texts venerate nationalist heroes, beginning with Nehanda and Kaguvi in 1896 and ending with nationalists in ZANU PF, thereby obscuring the significant contributions of other actors and whitewashing the shortcomings of heroes. This has left Zimbabweans in education with an incomplete account. Becoming Zimbabwe asks teachers and students to consider that independence was not handed down by nationalists emerging from ZANU PF and ZAPU alone. It asks them to view nationalism as an assortment of activities beginning in urban areas with Charles Mzingeli’s inclusive citizenship struggle, elite attempts at incorporating multi-racialism, nationalism’s development in rural areas and the emergence of militant nationalism. Such an approach is a much needed response to how Zimbabwean history teaching in schools is replete with the practice of exclusion. The role of spirit mediums such as Nehanda and Kaguvi is played up at the expense of the sacrifices of rural peasants and traditional chiefs, while the likes of Mzingeli have no place in that History.
Why did multiracialism fail in Zimbabwe? This question is unanswered in existing History texts in Zimbabwe but Becoming Zimbabwe answers this crucial question by exploring the historical roots behind racial reconciliation’s failure. Becoming Zimbabwe also shows how racially heterogeneous Rhodesia was. A single white Rhodesian identity never existed. In fact the Rhodesian state relied on themes such as anti-communism as effective means of fostering white unity. ‘Race was a key ingredient in …efforts to construct national identity. However its significance was limited largely to mobilising certain constituencies and marking lines of exclusion , i.e. defining whose nation it was not’ Such novel analysis will help to make History teaching in schools and universities more nuanced.
As argued earlier, the NASS course misrepresents the 1980s Matabeleland and Midlands disturbances. The NASS course and recommended texts in secondary schools are silent about the full extent of the Gukurahundi. However, Becoming Zimbabwe is not silent on this topic. It addresses the matter head on, showing that ‘the main characteristics of the post-independence state were lack of tolerance for political diversity and dissent, heavy reliance on force for mobilisation, and a narrow, monolithic interpretation of citizenship, nationalism and national unity’. It is necessary to view a country’s history warts and all, drawing attention to transgressions against particular groups and highlighting forms of exclusion or othering. Zimbabwe’s history needs to take account of the narratives of the excluded and victimised. By doing this, Becoming Zimbabwe enables students to determine whether inclusive human rights ideals have only been extended to a minority and the fortunate, while methodically not being extended to other groups of people along migration, race, ethnicity, geography and political ideals. Some may speculate about whether the critical take Becoming Zimbabwe adopts on these subjects will not fan further divisions and fall short of motivating belief in the ideals of becoming a nation and citizenship. I argue that Becoming Zimbabwe demonstrates the national risk to stability and prosperity that occurs when only a certain group is allowed to define a nation and to exercise control over human lives in the service of an exclusive national vision. What is dangerous are the processes that have been attendant to Zimbabwe’s development since the pre-colonial era and not the contents of Becoming Zimbabwe, which seek to expose and allow Zimbabweans to understand the origins and development of these courses over time.
Zimbabwean history textbooks in secondary schools have played a major role in disseminating a partisan or Patriotic History. Zimbabwean history textbooks urgently require a critical analysis of Zimbabwe’s past that is remedial to the distortions of ZANU PF nationalism. Becoming Zimbabwe meets these requirements. Ultimately, Becoming Zimbabwe tries to balance a tension between nurturing citizenship and nationhood, while fostering critical historical thinking and dissension. This is a challenge that all Zimbabweans must face critically. History is a resource for nation building and Becoming Zimbabwe presents Zimbabwean history students and instructors with an invaluable tool for this process.