Good reads: fighters, feminists and the loss of freedom in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean police beat up a man protesting the reintroduction of local banknotes. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Political scientist and published poet Keith Gottschalk shares his recommendations for good reads of the year.

1. Harvest – University of the Western Cape

This 90 page anthology of the best poems by the best poets in three years of their creative writing class is published by the English department at the University of the Western Cape and may be ordered from them.

One of my two favourite poems here is Sal Gabier’s satirical “you already know me” about what it feels like to be a Muslim going through any western airport.

Hello Mr. CSI. I hope your gloved hands are for examining my bags, and not my insides…

The other, Zimbabwean Christopher Kudyahakudadirwe’s “Emerging images”, is a haunting reminder of what happens when a liberation movement slides into dictatorship

imagine … the day of the second freedom

when the chains of the first freedom fall away;

imagine these images of freedom after all.

2. Umkhonto we Sizwe – Thula Simpson

Published by Penguin, this 591-page book is a straight factual narrative of the three decades of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress – the party that governs South Africa. It includes a pre-history of the eight years before the guerrilla army’s founding.

It is told from the viewpoint of guerrilla fighters, policemen and soldiers on the ground. It has eight pages of black and white photos. The author, a history senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria, has done his homework in the archives of South Africa, Bechuanaland Protectorate/Botswana, and the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Reading it brought back to mind the skewed way South Africans learnt of the armed struggle through the censored and racialist media of those decades. This history makes one painfully aware of the high proportion of fatalities and other casualties which are the inevitable trade-off which guerrilla war makes against the superior technology, budget, and other resources of a state.

This book is an antidote to the current revisionist fad of marginalising the armed struggle as irrelevant or trivial in our history.

3. Secrets and Lies: Wouter Basson and South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme – Marlene Burger and Chandré Gould

If anyone fantasises that corruption only began with South Africa’s current government, this book will educate them about what went on behind the iron curtain of South African Defence Force military censorship in the old:

…Basson might have been describing an exclusive ‘Boys Own Adventure’ club. Their games were rugby, golf and motor racing, their toys private aircraft and Rolex watches, their sandpits the celebrity playgrounds of the world … During 1991, Bosch’s wife accompanied Basson and Annette on a ‘shopping trip to Europe in the Jetstar, free of charge’ (p. 127)

I have just started reading this book, which also reminds us that the Rhodesian Special Branch and Selous Scouts were the world’s second biggest perpetrators of bacterial and chemical warfare after the Japanese Empire in occupied China. They killed 809 Zimbabweans through poisoned clothes, food – and even poisoned medicine. This tells us about their attitude to the Geneva conventions.

4 Luka Jantjie: resistance hero of the South African frontier – Kevin Shillington

I have also just started this one, published by Aldridge Press.

His full name was Luka Jantjie Mothibi Molehabangwe. This is a model history book, lavishly illustrated with legible maps, numerous photos, plus an insert of 16 pages of colour photos. We learn of the dispossession of community after community. The colonialists auctioned off 3 600 cattle, 6 000 sheep and goats, 63 wagons and spans of oxen of the conquered Batlhaping people in 1878. Their former owners, now impoverished, would have to work for others’ profits on the diamond fields or on their former land, now white-owned ranches.

The Cape Colony conquered the rest of the Batlhaping and Batlharo in 1897, shooting Luka in what they called the Langeberg rebellion. Not only were their lands seized, but the entire community was taken off to Cape Town and enserfed to farmers under the criminal law of indenture which, according to the protest of two missionary wives, “differs in no essential point from the enslavement of the people”.

Their confiscated land is at Kathu, site of the Sishen iron ore mine. The mine company faces no land claims – because 1897 is before the 1913 cut-off point.

5. Why we are not a nation – Christine Qunta

This readable book published by Seriti sa Sechaba is free of any jargon and divided into three extended essays. The first, mostly historic and political, is titled Why we are not a nation. The second essay, sociological and psychological, is called Is hair political?. The third is a 50-page part-autobiography called Law, national duty, and other hazards.

Qunta’s feminist critique says that if the fashion and beauty industries were states, they would undoubtedly be fascist.

Qunta’s memoirs of her struggle to found and establish her own legal practice ought to be compulsory reading for every schoolgirl who wants to become an entrepreneur.

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