Can you help?

When I agreed to write this column under a “history” label, I was thinking a lot more widely than the party political history that is taught in schools.

President Robert Mugabe

If you can see most of the erroneous assumptions that are present in a history of “Robert Mugabe’s struggle with the British”, you will realise that these errors will not be adequately corrected by just including other politicians and other political parties in the story.

Look at the wealth of history that is expressed in Mbare street names, just waiting to be dug up.

You won’t find ZAPU or MDC figures among those names, and that will need to be rectified eventually, but you do find trade unionists and politicians whose concept of politics was much wider than a narrow adherence to one party; Mzingeli, Job Dumbutshena, Rakgajani to name but three.

You will find community leaders and organisers of a wide variety of struggles for people’s rights. Women’s rights were on the agenda for Mai Musodzi; but why is nothing named for Bertha Charlie? Her house used to be a well-known landmark, but today’s youth couldn’t tell you where it was.

Local church people are remembered, who helped to turn imported churches into African communities: Canon Chipunza, Major Nhari (hands up youngsters if you thought he was a soldier who carried a gun) and Reverend Machingura immediately come to mind.

Then there were people who contributed to the vibrant social life and lively, varied culture of Mbare: musicians and sportspeople, such as footballers and boxers. I regret that I did not try harder to collect Tar Baby’s story before he departed a couple of years ago. How many readers realised that he lived that long?

How many realise that accepting a wage from the colonial administration could, for those with a bit of imagination and courage, be combined with playing a constructive role in the emerging community? Don’t write off Sergeant Vito, or the various librarians and postmasters who are memorialised in our street names.

Yes, others have written about life as they knew it in Mbare over the years. Outstanding among them is Bill Saidi, with his Old Bricks Lives and The brothers of Chatima Road, but, while these capture an atmosphere and give a true picture of life, they don’t claim to tell us the stories of the actual people recorded in those street names. Doing that would be a worthy objective for research by the youngsters who live on those streets today.

The missionary Barbara Tredgold is rightly remembered for her efforts to raise the status of women. There may be other white people who contributed significantly and in a positive way to the life of Zimbabwe’s real capital.

For example, a generation of older citizens, many of whom are still with us, would argue that an Irishman called Roberts who worked for the social welfare department deserves to be remembered for the support he gave to sporting activities when they were boys (and a few girls) – football, swimming volleyball.

History isn’t just about rulers. It’s about all of us, how we live, how our ancestors lived, and why they lived like that. It’s about our roots. Just as a tree can’t grow without roots, we can’t grow as human beings if we lose touch with where we came from.

As a latecomer to Mbare, I need help, as old people seem to die off at least as fast as I can find them. We remember the wise man who said “Every time an old person dies, a library goes up in flames”. We want to save the libraries of their memories before it is too late.

I would welcome any information that helps. You can e-mail me direct: [email protected], (that .co.uk only means I prefer English to American as my language of communication) or via the editor. If you want to be quoted as a source or if you positively want to remain anonymous, just say so.

Telling the truth
Watchmen on the Wall – and the rebuilding in Zimbabwe

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis
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