terence ranger on the state of zimbabwean historiography


Terence Ranger, ‘Constructions of Zimbabwe’, Journal of Southern African Studies 36, 2 (2010).

Some selections:

Yet the absence of a scholarly history of Zimbabwe has been sorely felt by all sort of people – by diplomats, for example; by teachers and students; by intelligent tourists; by the ‘general reader’; and by all those who find the relentless proclamation of public history and its lists of heroes and villains implausible and even repulsive. Of course, it is not as though there is nothing to read about aspects of Zimbabwe’s history. As readers of JSAS know, there is a superabundance of published Zimbabwean historiography written by Zimbabweanists and increasingly by Zimbabweans. Much of it is of high quality. A lot of it is exciting. But much of it takes the form of district case studies, of histories of individual towns or histories of great events, like the 1948 general strike or the guerrilla war; of biographies; of denominations. Anyone who wants a book that seeks to put everything together has had until now to depend on L.H. Gann’s A History of Southern Rhodesia (London, Chatto and Windus, 1965) or Ian Phimister’s An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe (London, Longman, 1988). But the first only goes up to 1934 and the second to 1948; neither is now available in Zimbabwe.


‘[A] generation whose time has come to take the reins of the state cannot be stopped by anyone’. Sabelo writes this from Johannesburg. He was offered a place in the Prime Minister’s office in Harare but he chose to go on being an academic. Change will come if the academics get it right. It would be nice to think so.

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