Edmund Chipamaunga's A Fighter for Freedom

Rino Zhuwarara, Ph.D., Chair, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe

The publication of Edmund Chipamaunga's A Fighter for Freedom (Gweru, Mambo Press, 1983) is important symbolically because it marks an attempt by a Zimbabwean writer to explore the experiences of a Black fighter who, unlike characters in the novels discussed so far, aligns himself with the struggle for independence (50-51). The novel is about Tinashe, who starts off as a precocious schoolboy who senses at an early age that all is not well in the African family. His father, Gari, is an archetypal Uncle Tom of a headmaster, running a mission school controlled by a dictatorial White missionary, Father Truss. The latter is a member of Ian Smfth's Rhodesia Front and believes wholeheartedly in the philosophy of White supremacy. Speaking about the role of teachers and the educated African e1ite, Father Truss states his mission and that of his government in no uncertain terms:

The only reason why you teach is to give the children some idea of culture, the culture that matters. That culture is British and that is the only culture that matters the world over . . . I am not saying we want you to be partners with us Whites. No! You should stand aside or aloof, neither with us nor with the common black man. If you do that you are well on your way to becoming educated, that is, acquiring British culture completely. Of course we will only be too pleased if you take our side during a crisis. (50-51)

Father Truss is a crude and violent missionary who does not hesitate to humiliate Gari in public. As if to nurse his bruised ego, Gari, in turn, runs the school like a dictatorial village headman who despises his own wife and children. But Tinashe is so perceptive that he comes to see his father as a mere underling who is meant to assist the White man in oppressing Blacks. The content of his education has alienated him from his own family and people. Tinashe becomes aware of the fact that education in such a colonial context is a tool with which the White government demobilizes the African 61ite. But unlike Sam, Farai and Rugare, Tinashe is not content to remain a mere observer in the colonial scheme of things.

Instinctively he begins to gravitate towards his more traditionally inclined Uncle Roro. With the help of the spirit medium, VaTendayi, Uncle Roro is able to educate Tinashe about the importance of African culture and dignity. More importantly, he also introduces him to some of the freedom fighters operating in his area. From then on, Tinashe's rise in the ranks of the liberation army is meteoric. As a former competent sportsman he finds the guerrilla training easy. In fact, he turns out to be a first-class trainee who is better than his military instructors. In no time he replaces his wounded instructor and becomes a regional commander. He turns out to be a cunning strategist who knows his terrain better than the locals of the area. As a marksman his performance is unparalleled; he is able to decimate scores of well mechanized Rhodesian troops. His military insight serves him so well that during the numerous battles waged all over the country Tinashe's military genius towers well above that of his senior colleagues as well as the second-rate Rhodesians. In brief, Tinashe becomes a local version of the legendary Napoleon. At the close of the novel there is no doubt at all that the freedom fighters will triumph over the White Rhodesian army and its Black sell-outs. And the Black nation will owe a great deal to Tinashe -- the new hero.

The question, which readers are bound to ask however, is: Why does Chipamaunga over-indulge himself in his romanticization of Tinashe and other Black fighters? Tinashe seems a figure straight out of the romance tale and is much larger than life. Anyone familiar with the actual Zimbabwean struggle will know that the liberation struggle was a slow, painful, and sometimes discouraging process fraught with perilous contradictions and costly mistakes. The creation of history & far more complex and more protracted than the Hollywood version which Chipamaunga offers in his only novel to date. Is there not a danger here that this kind of fiction oversimplifies history to the point of almost making it farcical?

In a sense Chipamaunga is responding as a writer to some of the most pernicious myths about Africans which were assiduously spread and faithfully believed in some of the Rhodesian Whites. In a recent novel which exposes some of these myths about Africans, T. 0. McLoughlin has one of his characters, Powell, say this -- "You know and I know those terrs out there can't shoot straight. If they tried to run anything more than a beer drink they would make a mess of it in six months" (Gweru, Mambo Press, 1985, 43). In the same novel, there are a number of White characters who regard Blacks as a race that is congenitally incompetent -- a race that is flawed genetically and, therefore, incapable of running the country. However, in the same novel, there is a priest, Falkland, who does not necessarily believe in some of these myths; here is how he tries to comfort a small White community that is fumbling in its own way to come to terms with the guerrilla war that is steadily mounting in the country:

In the gospel, Jesus gives us another way of looking at man's predicament. He tells us that even though we have become lost He is always on the search for us. Like a good shepherd, like the assiduous woman sweeping out her house in search of her silver piece, God yearns to find us. God is on our side. (175-76)

Strictly speaking, Falkland is not claiming that the Christian God is a tribal one out there to redeem Whites alone, but to a war-weary and abysmally prejudiced White community such a statement seems to say as much. The polarization of the races in Rhodesia was a logical outcome of the policies carried out by the Smith government.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Chipamaunga calls his hero Tinashe, which means in Shona, "God is with us too." As such, one can argue that Chipamaunga's story is a predictable response to some of the assumptions which some Rhodesians had about their Black countrymen. Tinashe is shown as a genius in organizing and fighting. Even his visit to Great Zimbabwe en route to the Eastern Highlands is a symbolic one in that it enables the hero to refute some of the claims made by settlers that the fort was not built by Blacks. The rationale is not difficult to see: Africans had a proud past and a civilization which some of the prejudiced Whites and their scholars have refused to recognize. In many ways the vision of ipamaunga is informed by African cultural nationalism -- hence the emphasis on African identity and dignity. Tinashe's role is that of rehabilitating the African in relation to his culture and history. As such, the guerrillas know what they are fighting against at the level of culture and identity but the novel offers very little in terms of the progressive revolutionary consciousness which should help bring about a new Zimbabwean society.

Another disturbing aspect with regard to the novel is the implicit emphasis placed on the individual as a creator of history. The attention given to other Black fighters as well as to the local population is, so the reader feels, mere tokenism. They provide the necessary social setting for the great man to act out his historical mission. The preoccupation with uniquely endowed individuals may be more appropriate when using a romance mode, but one wonders if indeed history is created that way any longer in the twentieth century. As a result, Chipamaunia's hero is a figure whose achievements have more to do with the need to heal a wounded racial psyche than to offer the reader a convincing vision appropriate for a post-independence Zimbabwe.

  1. An Introduction to Zimbabwean Fiction in English
  2. Novels of Cultural Conflict and Protest
  3. Zimbabwean Cultural Malaise of the 1960s and '70s
  4. Geoffrey Ndhlala's The Southern Circle
  5. Samuel Chimsoro's Nothing Is Impossible
  6. Edmund Chipamaunga's A Fighter for Freedom
  7. Garikai Mutasa's The Contact
  8. Spencer Tizora's Crossroads

This essay first apeared in Zambezia: The Journal of the University of Zimbabwe (1987) 14 (1987): 140-43.
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