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Book reviews: Becoming Zimbabwe, Black Diamond and True Murder

Posted on Monday, 1 February 2010 16:39

Becoming Zimbabwe: A history from the Pre-Colonial Period to 2008
Brian Raftopoulous & Alois Mlambo (Eds).
Published by Weaver Press

By Nicholas Norbrook

For those wishing to get beyond the ‘one-man-problem’ reporting of Zimbabwe, this is an important and ground-breaking set of essays, tracking the history of the country from the pre-colonial period up to the coalition government of 2009. The nationalism of the late 1950s was an excellent tool with which to form an opposition to colonialism that went beyond regional and ethnic struggles. And, in its most optimistic reading, a way of getting rid of such struggles altogether. But as this collection shows, the regional and ethnic dimensions are not closed stories.

Another chapter examines the growing divide between nationalists and trade unionists, critical to understanding relations between the Movement for Democratic Change and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). In their attempts to consolidate opposition into a sharp enough point to dislodge Ian Smith’s racist and authoritarian regime, nationalist politicians hardened and formalised power structures to such an extent that any external faction was considered a ‘sell-out’. As the emergent trade unions reached out for a broader international solidarity around labour rights, the nationalist leadership quickly labelled this as the intrusion of outside interests into national concerns.

The violence that has characterised the struggle is also examined, carrying on as it did into the post-colonial state. Violence was used in the coercion of peasantry in the initial anti-colonial uprisings, the civil war and repression in Matabeleland, and in the bitter factional fights between the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and ZANU that were put aside during the final stages of the anti-colonial struggle but which later re-emerged. Now, there is not one Zimbabwe. But we are left with the hope that there may be one being born, however difficult the birth.

Black Diamond?
Zakes Mda
Published by Penguin South Africa

By Gemma Ware


Mateza should have done better for himself. An African National

Congress commander in exile during the struggle, his reward was a job

in middle management at a Johannesburg security firm. His girlfriend

Tumi desperately wants to polish him into a ‘black diamond’, the black

economic empowerment fat cat he deserves to be. The scene is set for

Mda’s bugbear: the militaristic pursuit of personal wealth within the

new South Africa.

Less political than it might

be, his novel is a medium-paced romp through the bedrooms and back

rooms of a clutch of South African stereotypes – including a lonely and

alcoholic white female judge and a comic pair of Afrikaner brothers

with a taste for vengeance.

True Murder
By Yaba Badoe
Published by Vintage

By Zagba Oyortey


Badoe’s debut novel is a rich complex of wonder, loss, friendship and

prescience from the viewpoint of Ajuba, an African girl transposed from

her idyllic home in Ghana to a boarding school in rural England after

the collapse of her parents’ marriage.


her way across a landscape of chaos and uncertainty, she describes

herself as “a capsized child clinging to the wreckage of my childhood”.

It is a disturbing image, ?particularly in the context of the many

African children whose parents send them abroad at an early age in the

belief that they are destined for a better life. Many such children

grow into adulthood uncertain of their cultural heritage; they carry

scars from lives lived at the psychological and social junctions of

cultures without the benefit of support.

Ajuba’s story is a story of such a life, and True Murder reflects many unspoken experiences.

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