Book review: The Struggle Continues: 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe

Author: David Coltart
Title: The Struggle Continues, 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe, Aukland Park, SA. Jacana Media, Paper back (647 pages). ( Includes: End notes, List of Acronyms, Select Bibliography, Index of names) 2016.

The Struggle Continues, 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe is an incisive, truthful and empathic book. This publication is timely for those interested in the peaceful resolution of Zimbabwe’s woes. The book is best read as a whole in order to understand the nascent clarion call, to be hopeful about the future. The incisive reflection includes the perennial call right through the book for the need for a non-violent struggle to total freedom; the advent of independence and its aftermath. Highlights include: suspicions raised by the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo’s rejection of the invitation to be Zimbabwe’s first titular President, the dissident menace, destruction of property and the abduction of foreign tourists, Fifth Brigade and the Unity Accord between PF Zapu and Zanu, the role of the Bulawayo Legal Project Centre, the impact of reckless speech and political and economic decay, the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), 2000 elections and its aftermath. For those interested in the recent history of Zimbabwe, chapters 14, “Prelude to Mayhem”, to chapter 27, “Towards a new Constitution — The end of the beginning” are invaluable. The greatest contribution by the book is in revealing and clarifying facts, which have been hitherto obscure, oblique, covert or falsified. The most critical contribution by the book though, is a call for a Truth Commission for both the Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe eras. This it is hoped will help Zimbabweans move on and degrade the culture of suspicion.

By Bhekimpilo Sibanda

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe holds 88 balloons during a rally marking his 88th birthday in Mutare on February 25, 2012. Mugabe marked his 88th birthday with a trademark attack on gays and foreigners at a mass rally of his supporters on Saturday to celebrate the occasion.  AFP PHOTO / JEKESAI NJIKIZANA
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe holds 88 balloons during a rally marking his 88th birthday in Mutare on February 25, 2012. Mugabe marked his 88th birthday with a trademark attack on gays and foreigners at a mass rally of his supporters on Saturday to celebrate the occasion. AFP PHOTO / JEKESAI NJIKIZANA

David Coltart’s autobiography gives a panoramic view, of a very critical period in the political and economic development of Zimbabwe. He was more or less aged seven when the struggle, he narrates, begins. The winds of change were blowing from every direction and colonialism was crumbling. The 1950s and 60s witnessed the heightening of the so-called cold war. Global geopolitics was focused on the two major camps, communism versus capitalism. Starting with Ghana, African nationalism was sweeping away the old order and ushering in independence. The colonisers were letting go their less prized colonies and consolidating their forces in the southern states of Africa. South Africa and Zimbabwe were the focal sanctuaries. Southern Rhodesia then was recruiting white people to come and settle. Coltart was born in Gweru where his parents had chosen to work, marry and settle. He was born into a land of exaggerated white racist privilege, which was designed to encourage more immigrants. Most of the immigrants in Rhodesia were eclectic in their composition: many responded to direct advertisements promising them better life and employment, while others even included Second World War Eastern European orphaned children or were people who had suffered under communism in their own countries and hated the spread of communism worldwide.

The book is simply written and easy to read. It is divided into 29 chapters. Chapters one to seven narrate the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland days and its doom. Malawian and Zambian nationalists were vehemently opposed to the federation because they did not want Rhodesian racism brought into their countries. On the face of this, white opinion was divided as to how much accommodation could be made of nationalist views which led to the collapse of the Garfield Todd, David Whitehead and Winston Field governments and the advent of Ian Smith. It had been a condition of the British government that in order for the period of the federation to be extended, there was to be visible African development. And there was some. The University of Zimbabwe (1955) Mpilo and Harare hospitals, Luveve Technical College, The old Bulawayo Railways headquarters buildings and many other social developments, like introduction of medical and nurse education for blacks and enhancement of teacher training, which Todd had spearheaded earlier at Dadaya Mission. Ironically the global political climate clouded these developments. Coltart, while noting that Smith was revered by most whites, had some very uncomplimentary words about him, especially as regards to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, as his family cared more about the Queen of England not the fate of blacks.

Coltart went to one of the best primary schools in Bulawayo, a government school and later proceeded to the Christian Brothers College for secondary education and finally studied law at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The white privileges after 1965, did not come on a silver platter. One had to enlist for what was called “call up” in order to contribute to the war effort. Coltart found himself with a difficult choice to make, and chose to train as a policeman. White privilege placed him in command and senior to blacks immediately after his pass out. His experiences as a policemen see him posted in Kezi and Sun Yet San in the same districts. Later he goes on call up and his experiences are not earth shattering.

What the reader may find special, is his spirit of voluntarism, at the Legal Aid Clinic at UCT. This involvement, particularly with disadvantaged communities sowed the seed in him of compassion for others less endowed. ads Ads

Chapters nine to 13 reflect on the early years of independence and the turbulence that followed. Electioneering messages were sometimes inflammatory and a cause for real concern. Some districts were no-go areas for Zapu. But Lord Soames, with the help of British monitors allowed the elections to go ahead. Unfortunately, this culture of impunity is what occupies the rest of Coltart’s book. April 18, 1980 marked the independence day for Zimbabwe. The period after independence was marked by tremendous advancement and development, especially in the fields of education and health. Of concern though was that coupled with these genuine steps forward, came along a “chef” mentality by the rulers. The people were reduced to “povo” in the real sense. The ideology in Zimbabwe went across the grain thundering global storms of change. The neo-Chinese/communists ideology was merely rhetoric which was trashed and trivialised very early at independence. The rulers were very concerned with “whiteness”, (whiteness here meaning white culture) which some aspired to be.

Coltart describes the Gukurahundi saga in some detail and his involvement with the Bulawayo Legal Aid Centre, which helped document some of the massacres. He does this with care, empathy and detail. The tremendous support by religious leaders in Matabeleland and Dr Davis at St Luke’s Hospital are commended. Besides just downright tribalism, there are other Gukurahundi causatives: unguarded and misleading talk from both sides, liberation war suspicions still lingering on among former freedom fighters; the rejection by Nkomo of the position of President, lacked pro-active advice; the abduction of foreign visitors in Umguza led to diminished sympathy of the Gukurahundi actions in the area. In addition to researching and documenting the Gukurahundi saga, Coltart became heavily involved in representing Zapu leaders, who were arrested, detained or harassed for one reason or the other. He observes correctly that the work he was involved in in Breaking the Silence, is just a small part of the whole scene, which they could not document, due to risks involved and limited funding. Coltart at this time narrates a tale of two countries in one. Matabeleland and some parts of the Midlands were living in a state of continued war until the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987. On one hand, the burning of development equipment, the abduction of tourists and the killing of innocent people and the Gayigusu missionary massacre incident, described vividly by Coltart, tear into any heart. On the other hand, the disproportionate reaction by government forces: wholesale burning of villages, cutting open of pregnant women, burying of people alive, rape and causing general alarm and despondency among people in Matabeleland can never escape the perception that it was genocide.

The period of mayhem begins round about 1997/99. Starving genuine war veterans and hangers on begin to demand compensation influenced by Chenjerai Hunzwi. Senior government officials were looting the war compensation fund. Ordinary war vets, who had been injured wanted their heads in the trough too. The government, sensing danger, capitulated and offered Z$50 000 to those perceived as qualifying. The Zimbabwe dollar crashed, and Coltart captures the aftermath vividly. In the meantime, many people began to ring alarm bells through the formation of several unsuccessful opposition parties and forums. The rise and fall of these formations is captured and narrated accurately in the book. Some war vets began to occupy farms. What happened later, many Zimbabweans, will record this as exactly the same with Gukurahundi unleashed on a section of defenceless Zimbabweans whose only hope was that their government would defend them. Both aMaNdebele and Shona spirits do not condone malice and cowardice and the ill-treatment of those who are defenceless or have surrendered, Coltart would say God feels unhappy with those who spite the defenceless.

Chapters 21 to 27 offer the reader a chilling history of Zimbabwe from the year 2000 to the present, this was outlined briefly in the introduction. The decline of the Zimbabwean dollar accelerated by the unplanned payout to war veterans, saw the Zimbabwean economy plummet to unprecedented levels. Coltart describes how difficult it was to get anything, starting off with fuel, where people had to sleep in long queues to empty shops and supermarkets. Inflation was at its highest and among the worst ever seen in a non-combat zone.

Politically, one of the most disturbing episodes in Zimbabwe’s history begins with the formation of the MDC. Coltart becomes a founding member. Most of what he narrates is public knowledge and, therefore, of common cause to most interested Zimbabweans. The only problem to some people may be that all of it is true. Of deep concern was the violence, which was one of the causes of the split in 2005. A major cause of the split was the MDC’s lack of an ideological under-pinning. Many people were lost forever because of the “disappear phenomenon”, which included Patrick Nabanyama, Coltart’s first campaign manager.

Economic decay continued unabated until Mugabe relented to an early election and a Government of National unity was formed in 2009. During the period from 2000, very repressive media laws were introduced to Zimbabwe. These would prove to be Zimbabwe’s Achilles heel until today. Media monopoly by the State was reinforced by the enactment of two pieces of legislation, Aippa and Posa, zealously enforced by Jonathan Moyo, who was Minister of Information. The dangers of relying on external parties to solve your problems are clearly narrated and the role of the South African government and Sadc placed into focus. The GNU saw many MDC parliamentarians and their leaders make a beeline for the feeding trough. The trappings of power were too comfortable and very little, besides a new constitution was achieved. Whether by foul or honest means, the MDCs lost the 2013 elections and this led to further splinters causing many people to lose hope.

Out of his 15 years in Parliament, the last five chronicle the state of decay in the Zimbabwean education system, which confronted him as the Minister of Education Sport and Culture. The books received by every school from 2011 leave pleasant memories to many as an indicator of what can be achieved through collaboration. Sadly after his departure from government, education and the economy are sliding back. The struggle, for better schools and education, health, food and the economy continues is the loud battle cry by the book. The book is a good one and I give it eight out 10.

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