The Other Side Nathaniel Manheru—
In history and to the outsider, Zimbabwe has always been a fabulous illusion. An Ophir. An El Dorado, a home to the Queen of Sheba. If the wishes of early European “pathfinders” were horses, Zimbabwe would have wound up a German colony, possibly with Karl Mauch looming large in place of Cecil John Rhodes.
The Portuguese, even though the imperial forerunners, hardly ventured beyond coastal forts in any meaningful, occupying way. The Boers, while an aggressive, land-hungry trekking lot, had long detached from Holland, their original homeland which, anyway, suffered from a weak imperial colonial impulse.
Germany came late, although it then moved at supersonic speed, as behoves German culture. But unlike Rhodes who had the means from diamond minefields and whose archetypal image was that of a superman bestriding a whole continent, his eyes seeing far, very far, Germany’s drab equivalent of Rhodes — Karl Mauch — was not only without means; his daily eye never saw forests their endless Savannah and topical endless expansiveness.
It saw the wood, the tree, the stone, the grain, in its concrete immediacy; he saw detail where others envisioned continents, worlds. He was a geologist, a man of localised samples. Soil type, resultant vegetation, the rock, the gneiss, the gnarled mupani, often even failing to make it to summits of small, but rocky hills where defensive native huts hung so precariously, and where commanding views of vast lands could be espied. In short he lacked a broad view.
Not the narrative of conquerors
Much worse he acknowledged “ancient miners” — Africans, and bore vivid witness to African agricultural industry: by way of “the female part of the (native) population . . . engaged in planting sweet potatoes and ground-nuts”.
He even saw very numerous native populations and recorded for history “their so many footpaths crossing each other or dividing one from another, (such)that a good guide (was) needed”.
As he moved from one populated kraal to another, onwards to the fabled North — the land beyond the Limpopo — he confessed to being “continually asked about “Where to?”. With the uncontrolled sale of guns to natives, mainly by trophy-hungry English hunters, he foresaw a time when Africans would revolutionise frontier warfare, tilting tables against the foreign occupiers.
And here is the moral. Simply, an eye imbued with and driven by, feelings and desires for imperial, colonial conquest, never “sees” native populations, never testifies to native sense of sovereign ownership, or acknowledge native industry, native civilisation, let alone resistance, however distant. That is not how imperialism sees the lesser world, the world for conquest. Never!
It repudiates all these virtues, to create a tabula rasa, to create some vast, uninhabited emptiness, all to justify eventual occupation. Check British imperial narratives. To the piece, they are all unfailingly self-serving, lucidly written rhetorical lies of “empty” lands; with occasional perfunctory notice of dirty and soulless heathens encountered here and there, more as an anomaly on otherwise empty vastness inviting occupation, so badly needing a Scottish missionary, legitimate commerce, a pacifying blunderbuss, conquest and eventually, “civilised” rule — direct or indirect — and exploitation only best done by an Englishman! A Lugard, a Rhodes, a Kitchener!
For you can’t acknowledge native presence and native civilisation, without branding yourself a reprehensible invader in the process. The British knew this very well and lived true to it. This is why they had to invent the Phoenicians, to explain away the Great Zimbabwe Monuments! This is why they had to invent Ndebele butchery of the hapless Shonas, to mobilise for and complete the invasion of Zimbabwe.
Well, Mauch could not have known all that. He was a mere geologist and from a small state that was still to enlarge into a unified nation-state. Germany, the country he would represent later in his adventures, only became a unified nation-state in 1870, a mere twenty years before the conquest and occupation of Zimbabwe.
As a rule of history, loose congeries of small, warring states have never morphed into conquering Empire-builders abroad. Check their record in history. Even Italy never became a modern, competent imperial power before the “risorgimento”. I mean Italy, not Rome! Before Garibaldi and Mazzini.
Until 1870, Mauch did not have a Germany, a Nation, a State to back up his efforts. There were only loose states, the same way most African polities were. And in some areas, Africa had empires, sprawling empires much bigger than most principalities of Europe. Mauch’s journeys into Southern Africa, into Zimbabwe, had started in 1868; he only celebrated German Unification two years later, while traversing the southern tip of Africa.
That means the forced formation of present-day Zimbabwe in 1890, was a mere twenty years later than Germany!
When we beat them all
It gets me very, very angry, when white historiography which we continue to rote-learn, to recycle, to pump into the heads of our hapless kids, treats state formation as a prerogative of Western civilisation, as a measurement of advanced human civilisation, in the process discounting and damning us, we who were en-route our own Risorgimento, our own unification.
For all that white historiography is ready to admit, the Ndebele State was bigger, more multinational, more unified, than Bavaria or Milan. It was a country of many nations, stratified into categories as any other in Europe. It has its own English, its own Scots, its own Welsh, measured according to proximity to royalty.
The Enhla, the Zansi, the Hole: nothing new, but all kneaded into a solid nation. We could talk about the legendary Munhumutapa Empire, way back in history, for which no equivalent state can ever be found in European history. Not even effective Ottoman Empire at its zenith, itself not European, approximated the land of Munhumutapa, let alone its grand civilisation, so everlastingly etched in stone, in ancient gold mines, in vast transoceanic trade.
Not even its high morality: a state which never traded in slaves, for all its celebrated omnipotence, proximity to the oceans through which slave ships plied. Only traded gold, silver, ivory and other fauna. Ahh! What now!
Hear me, ye Honourables
I get very angry, which is why I have abandoned all else for lessons in history, I, originally a student of literature. Our ministers, please harken my call! Minister Dokora — now a whole Doctor: a new curriculum needs a new historiography, one steeped in factual Afrocentricity, one re-inscribing and recentering our own.
The facts are there, resilient enough to have survived a searing and derisive Eurocentric historiography perfected over more than a century, much of it founded on stark lies, starker, vacuous claims. Minister Ncube, the man in charge of Heritage: your burden goes beyond mere custody, mere curatorship of monuments shaped in some Eurocentric interpretive milieu; rather, it subsists in overthrowing that scholarship, in restoring and making the national heritage a living tissue for a free Zimbabwe, for a conscious people, rooted in history.
Minister Jonathan Nathaniel Moyo, the Professor: leave those scurrilous and thoughtless 140-letter tweets, all to motivate and orchestrate real research, to build and organise real knowledge, without doubt always your forte, your competence! Not this dabbling in Zanu-PF succession politics you know you will not win. Chine vene vacho chinhu ichi and you won’t be there when great questions of the day are settled mumatare avo! Too young, too small, simply a late arrivant, my good soul-mate! You, me, all others like us, must do what we know and do best: quietly remake our worlds by remarking the knowledge that animates and moves them.
Not this shallow debate about a “mug” and a “boss”! As if President Mugabe ever drinks from a mug, let alone called or known by the awkward appellation of “Boss”. Not even fragile, hypersensitive at all to be bothered by such stuff! Not the man I know. Rather than seeking to remake him through our small thoughts and inane sensitivities, let us remake and deal with great issues he has assigned us: organising higher knowledge, in your case.
When scholars led
Many examples, models to go by, whether through positive affirmations or negatively through inspirational rejection. The South Africans. Before them the Nigerians. And before the Nigerians, the Indians: these great nations embarked on projects to rewrite national histories, to repaint national portraits, well away from the dehumanising tropes invented for them by colonialism.
All done from universities, led by giant scholars of those lands. India in the late 1960s, in the 1970s. Indian reconstructing its civilisation many centuries Before Christ. They now have a tome by way of a publication series on Indian civilisation up to the year the British Raj left their territory.
The Nigerians rode on the Unesco project of the late 1960s, implemented more forcefully in the early 1970s, to give us a general series on African historiography and history. Deriving inspiration from that, Nigerian research and writing teams led by scholars like Professors Anene and Ajayi, supplemented by Western historians for balance, founded and set new parameters for histories of their country and then incorporate these into schools as teaching modules.
Our own Chanaiwa had something to do with the Unesco project. Dr Elleck Mashingaidze who wallows in obscurity in Bulawayo, admittedly unwell bodily, but eversharp mentally, knows a lot and is well cited. Dr Bhebhe, now retired, although still actively moulding young historians.
Coupling all that national brainwave to young historians — the likes of Dr Pikirayi, Dr Webber Ndoro, Dr Edward Matenga — authorities on our ancient past; the likes of Dr Mazarire, Dr Gatsheni-Ndlovu, Dr Nyambawaro, for the immediate pre-colonial and colonial. Surely?
The myth of patriotic history
Thabo Mbeki created a chair on Renaissance studies at Unisa. The South African government has created a huge grant for the reconstruction of national and sub-regional history, a grant open to researchers across campuses, across countries even. Not long from now, we shall find ourselves described yet again, heirs of Munhumutapa, Mzilikazi, who do not seem to know that a good and lusty STEM is one sitting on solid roots of a national history.
We who would rather recede into parochial politics of Mthwakazi, than expend our energies in reconstructing grand narratives that befit a great sprawling civilisation we are known to have been. Late Terrence Ranger, a more nuanced student of Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper — that racist who repudiated African history, arguing all there was was the history of the white man in Africa — Ranger, his student was no fool to sponsor the notion of “patriotic history”, itself an effective, pseudo-academic way of dissuading us from rewriting and reclaiming our history, while indemnifying perpetuation of white “patriotic” history which objectify us as “the” history.
Is it not interesting that in later life, Ranger — may his soul rest in peace — was busy re-editing and repudiating core premises of his mildly liberal historiography? Especially after our land reforms, which he disputed was never part of the nationalist agenda!
A lasting assault on a people starts with an appropriation of their past, their history. Know that all ye men and women of so-called independent Zimbabwe. But hark, I wander off!
Tackling the great Ophir
This Karl Mauch, a poor, under-resourced imperialist though he may have been, ironically fed the biggest and most lasting illusion that triggered and validated imperial interest in our small, great country, leading to its eventual invasion and occupation.
His July 23, 1871 long entry, written at Kleine Spelunke, Albasini’s Farm, “Goodewensch in northern South Africa, a mere four years after he first set foot on Zimbabwean soil and while still on his way back for a second and by all counts, fateful visit to our land, in part read: “In the sight of the re-united Fatherland (Germany, whose unification had happened just the year before), standing in the forefront of all the Nations (Bismarck, the first unified German Chancellor, would leave a mark in global imperial politics by convening the Berlin Conference of 1884, at which rules for the so-called partitioning of Africa were cobbled, agreed and written) and with the image of the Kaiser, crowned with victory, may now the “most valuable and important, the hitherto most mysterious part of Africa” be tackled, the old Monomotapa or Ophir! May God help me!”
His hope, for which he accosted providential powers, was to become the arrowhead of German occupation of Zimbabwe. A German Cecil John Rhodes! His account of his mineral find in the Selous area, not far from Harare, an account clearly exaggerated, was to trigger the rush for the conquest and occupation of Zimbabwe, then imaged as the “second Rand”, as highly mineralised.
The Germans sought to reach it from the Atlantic, from present-day Namibia; the Portuguese claimed it on the strength of old presence and agreements with African potentates, the most notably Chief Mutasa of Manica, now Manicaland.
The Boers had made many hunting and diplomatic forays, including the ill-fated mission of Grobler, reportedly later murdered by Rhodes’ men, or at Rhodes’ instigation, in present-day Botswana.
Zimbabwe, yes, less a firm land, more a convoluted idea of inexhaustible mineral riches, a hyperbolic gold mine with no bottom!
Let me be accurate. The early makers of this myth were the Portuguese who had traded with the Munhumutapa Empire in the 16th and 17th Century. Amazingly, they “saw” not just gold, but silver as well.
Unless my knowledge is faulty, Zimbabwe has no known deposits of silver. Yet early Portuguese reports spoke of fabulous deposits of gold and, especially of silver, then a key mineral.
And the Portuguese were careful to locate their interests in gold and silver — never on land which they knew meant so much to the native and would trigger endless wars of resistance. The native, they reasoned, had no interest in, and knew no value in minerals, except as a dug-out commodity for exchange with the crazy white man for stripes of garment, “micheka”, for ornamental beads, “chuma”, and more important, for much-needed guns, “magidi”. The native sense of sovereignty was surfacial, never touching subsoil riches which only the crazy white man wanted and prized, and which he would dig and then leave!
It was a fatal misreading of the white man, and of the nature of mining ventures themselves, as Lobengula was later to know after an honest interpretation from Charles Helm, the Catholic priest, and well way after appending his “x”, and stamping his elephant seal on the fateful Rudd Concession of 1888. You dig the surface of the land to reach the minerals; you need land on which to build shelter that houses you while you dig; you need land from whose bounty you feed the hands that dig out the minerals; above all, you need to pacify the land that carries the minerals you need, which means “civilised” government, “civilised” peace, “civilised” laws and, above all, “civilised”, Christian subjects, well schooled in the good, ironic commandment: thou shalt not steal! From the white invader of course!
They chased an illusion, a rainbow
Still, in spite of the centrality of land to the exploitation of Zimbabwe’s fabled minerals, Rhodes’ band of invaders never thought of working the land until much later, after the bubble of mineral illusion had burst. Soon after their disbandment, barely a month from occupation, they spread themselves out — very far and very wide — all the time re-casting Rhodes’ starry eye into a fixed gaze onto the land, more or less like latter-day Mauches. The broad vision for conquest had been realised; a refocus on the minutiae was what was now needed. They raked the land, scoured alluvial deposits of major rivers, checked, tested rabble from ancient workings, rummaged and rifled stone monuments, all in search of gold and/or payable deposits. From the disputed Shashi, right up to coal-rich Hwange, the land was scouted and scoured, pegged for numerous claims that traded rich even though unknown, untested, on secondary mines markets of London. Lords and dukes of London, both great and small, staked and bought shares in these finds, foremost claims of Rhodes’ British South Africa Company, alas all founded on grand illusions of fabulous mineral riches. We are a land that has always traded on puffed-up sentiment, much of it vacuous. An advertisement, hardly a product of real, matching intrinsic value. Only much later, in any case well after the sale had gone through, did Rhodes tell the avaricious world: “every mine has a bottom!” What if there was never a mine in the first place? Well, you ran ahead of an angry, lynching investor-crowd by breathing your last in 1902, amidst a sponsored line from a world-famed imperial poet, one Rudyard Kipling. What a great escape! Not a bad trick for Minister Chidhakwa, our man in charge of mines and minerals!
The good Chiadzwa miasma
Fast forward to late 2000, the years of Chiadzwa Diamonds! This time it was De Beers, not Carl Mauch. The Jews, not the Germans, who fed the illusion. More important, the takers were natives — ourselves, we of this land — not British colonials, backed by lords and dukes from the imperial homelands. Chiadzwa was rich in diamonds. So rich that Zimbabwe would control upwards of 23 percent of world supply in rough diamonds! Nay, 30 percent! Kikiki! Europe went crazy. Antwerp, the diamond city. So did the Indians of Surat, the world’s cutting and polishing centre. United Arab Emirates; the Chinese, the Russians, the Ghanaians. Ahh why mention nations, peoples? Simply the whole world went agog, with Minister Mpofu — of the Eland Clan, my clan — sitting at the centre of this mighty bubble! Aerodromes, army deployments, great controversies, all dogging this new, splendid find. A cornucopia, a long-awaited, long-in-coming wand to wipe out and off all miseries, to end national shame, indeed to turn the national cheek smooth and rotund, until then emaciated and perforated by jutting bones of want!
Damsel Zimbabwe, coquettishly strutting the ramp, covetous eyes transfixed on her curvaceous frame! As always the illusion of plenty had been invented by an outsider; as un-always (you need a new lexicon, new construction, away from old English), the illusion had been swallowed by the indigene, intoxicating him for days on end!
There was a puff and spring in the national step, and it felt good, great! Big contraptions by way of mechanical diggers were mobilised and soon started eating, eating the sacred earth of Chiadzwa; devouring it, night and day, knowing no rest, in rain and in thunder, nonstop! And the returns, though modest, always made fabulous by media-stoked illusions, hope and great expectations that far surpassed what geology counselled, far surpassing reality, as greatest does least, to adapt the well-known English bard, one William Shakespeare (Muammar Gaddafi — now late — would have said “Sheikh-speare”, in the process demanding Arab parentage to the great playwright!).
A conversation with The Great One
I have a great disclosure to make, even then at the risk of contravening a sacred Act I signed and am sworn to. What is more, a disclosure that risks blowing my cover as a columnist — by now yet another illusion! Here I go: It’s a fine Monday morning, and we are having a prayer with the Great One. Then a great conversation started: “Sir, this claim that we lost $15bn-worth of diamonds?” Great, cacophonous laughter from The Great One. “What $15bn, young man? What was the value of rough diamonds traded worldwide last year?” Another roaring laughter! “About $14 comma something billion, Sir!” “So-ooo!?#*£¥€? Yet another round of reckless laughter. Then the bombshell: “Figure yandakangotaura zvangu kuti zvityise, kikikiki!” “Ahh shefu, zvino mativambira neOpposition!” More laughter! “Hameno zvako, that’s for you to deal with. I wanted to dramatise the need for us to take total control of our Diamond resource; to ensure full accountability of its exploitation, and I achieved the national focus I wanted. The change that’s necessary. Where else in the world is a strategic mineral reposed in foreigners? Where? Zvimwewo izvo zvava zvako!” Another round of laughter, even more raucous. Palaver finish!
Nations do need phantoms
Since that light-hearted claim from on high, a raging debate persists, often genuinely believed, but also self-serving in the hands of an opposition short of ammunition, of pebbles with which to pelt the ruling Party. All to the amusement of The Great One! Mine too! But again illustrating how susceptible to claims of phantom riches this land is, its people are.
Except we knew how to harness this myth to national good. We used it to break unity in the European Union, thereby forcing its hand as a once unified bloc to end sanctions! Nations do create illusions, use them, deploy them strategically in national strategic calculus. Parched Britain used claims of a Christian heart to conquer lesser nations.
The Jews, definitely persecuted under Nazi Germany, today ride on exaggerated accounts of the holocaust to keep the Palestinians under control. The West nowadays use the myth of democracy and rule of law to gain control of oil and other raw materials they need.
Borrow then from Mauch, Rhodes
And Zimbabwe? Poor, wretches! We wallow in smallness. In misery. In dead, hapless egos. Our command agriculture is doing exceedingly well, all on the back of a good season.
We drain our deserved hope on finicky concern and fixation with small thefts of input! On the back of a promising harvest, and measures we have adopted to re-start our economy, we aim for a paltry 1,7 percent growth rate. It is the World Bank — an outsider — who tell us we are set for a 3.8 percent growth, higher than the continental average. We contest it, don’t believe it, even don’t want it! We are educated, very well educated. Unesco says so. We traduced and trash our achievement in knowledge, by which we rule the subregional roost.
Much worse, more painfully, we run from our country, even urge outsiders to put pressure on us so we can exercise our democratic right to vote from beyond our borders.
But check migration statistics: we have gained more foreigners, mostly Europeans, more than any other country on the continent. We run away from the country others conspire and cheat to come to! Chiiko nhai? A bit of Nigerian boisterousness, that’s what we need. Even re-basing our economy, ourselves to ride the never-never cloud of greatness.
Just a modicum of self-importance, arrogance: that’s all we need. If we cannot invent both, just borrow from Mauch and Rhodes, and we are alright.