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is central - Interview with author and researcher Blessing-Miles
Makoni Muchemwa, Kubatana.net
February 10, 2011
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Inside/Out with Blessing-Miles Tendi - Read
Tendi (D.Phil) is a Zimbabwean researcher in African politics. Tendi
was educated at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Tendi's
research is principally focused on African intellectuals; the uses
of history in African politics; the political role of African militaries;
power-sharing in Africa; and human rights. He has subsidiary interests
in international relations; genocide studies; counterfactuals in
historical explanation; and the politics of land reform in Africa.
a regular contributor to the Guardian newspaper (UK) and has provided
political commentary for the BBC, CNN, Sky News, Press TV, NPR Radio,
amongst others. He is the author of Making History in Mugabe's
Why did you write the book?
The motivation started in 2000. I was in Zimbabwe at the
time, back on vacation from University. There was a parliamentary
election going on, and I was struck by the amount of history on
TV. I grew up in Zimbabwe, went to school in Zimbabwe, but had never
seen that amount of history on TV. Liberation history to be specific.
That intrigued me. Why is there so much history? What is it about?
In what ways is it being used? Years later a book came out of that.
did you learn from the process of gathering your interviews for
Zimbabwe is a deeply polarised society so working in that context
was extremely polarised. For example I remember meeting one particular
ZANU PF official, and I would get a very, obviously ZANU PF view
of current events. And then meeting an MDC official in the afternoon
and I remember at the end of the day, struggling to balance these
two competing perspectives on the country's history and current
events. But I have to stress, and I say this in the book, I found
it most easy to get access to very high-level ZANU PF officials.
I found it most easy to engage ZANU PF figures. Which is ironic
because often ZANU PF is presented as this scary violent party,
but in reality some of the most, if not the most intelligent political
figures present in Zimbabwe today, happen to be in ZANU PF and they
were willing to talk. There are sanctions against ZANU PF figures,
they cannot go out to Europe or the United States but I write and
live from the United Kingdom. My sense was that they wanted some
kind of engagement with the west, to give them their view. And me
coming from that context they viewed me as a way to do that. MDC
quite the opposite. It was hard to gain access to MDC officials.
There's a deep suspicion of intellectuals within the MDC.
I think it has to do with the leaders.
historian, how important do you think history is to the future of
It's very central. As I think history is central to any country,
its future [and] present. But more so in Zimbabwe, where you have
the nationalist movement be it embodied in ZANU PF that fought a
liberation war . . . this is something people forget - its just
about three decades from that time when the war ended. It's
fresh in our memories. Many of the figures that were involved in
that struggle exist today. There's a centrality of the liberation
history in terms of how we want to define ourselves in our politics
so I think it's very important to our future for that reason,
and the fact that history is important for any country or individual.
But I'm making that emphasis. I must stress that it must be
a pluralistic history, whatever it is. Various perspectives must
be allowed to compete and contend in the market of ideas about that
relevant is the history of the liberation war today?
Many of the trappings of the liberation war history period have
strong relevance today. One of the things I'm trying to emphasize
in the book constantly is that people want to dismiss ZANU PFs interpretation
of history as "this is all about preserving political power,
legitimising illegitimate ends" and this sort of thing. But
no there are actually very real issues as well that they're
articulating. It is important to understand this, to be able to
filter it to engage with that past. But again I stress in a pluralistic
environment. There must be many contending views.
has been the response to the book?
Outside the country I've been slightly disappointed, in the
sense that I didn't go out to write a book that's all
about bashing and attacking ZANU PF. There are some real issues
that ZANU PF has put across. I'll give you examples. The land
question, we can disagree on the methods used to resolve it but
there was a real grievance there, there was real land imbalance
in 2000. Race relations, racial reconciliation in Zimbabwe was seriously
flawed, ZANU PF has a point there. Western double standards, ZANU
PF has a point too right now. You cannot accuse ZANU PF of being
undemocratic and not say the same thing about Angolan President
Dos Santos just because Dos Santos has oil. There's so many
of issues. I think in many places where my publicist has tried to
have the book reviewed some have found that problematic, that I
am going to give some sort of a balanced perspective.
I've spoken to many figures in ZANU PF who have gone through
the book and I think they've given me credit for at least
having recognized the validity of some of their arguments. Interestingly
enough, I've encountered a lot of hostility particularly from
MDC quarters, for saying that ZANU PF does have a point about certain
things, and secondly, it has to do with Chapter 9 of the book, which
is devoted specifically to assessing the MDCs engagement with history.
It's a very critical chapter. The MDC folks have been unhappy
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