Chimurenga Music – The Soul Of the Liberation Struggle for Zimbabwe's Freedom

 I have always wondered about what the liberation struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe – The Second Chimurenga – was like. I always attempt to put myself in that epoch and try to comprehend the immensely selfless sacrifices that were made in order to secure the independence of this country. It was essentially and in all terms a war of Fire and Blood. 

Thomas Mapfumo Chimurenga music Zim liberation struggle history
Thomas Mapfumo, one of the leading Chimurenga music artists

My understanding of the world as a young male adult in this contemporary society is that almost all of the inequality in the world can be traced to the colonial conquests of Europeans who were infinitely greedy and unleashed destruction for the locals wherever they went. They were the agents of every incorrigible moral thing your mind can ever imagine. They were masters of plunder, and took evil delight in the divide and conquer rule, ensuring that my race was forever shackled in chains, and even in Latin American lands where the colonization was outright evil and sadistic. My people, for the longest part of all modern history, were made to believe they should resign to a miserable fate where there is absolutely nothing to relish from the experience of existing. And so, to fight oppression, you had to employ ugly tactics to win.

When the European settlers found permanent settlement in Zimbabwe from South Africa and named this land Rhodesia after the imperialist Cecil Rhodes, they never regarded the African as a human being. And it was deeply embedded in their psyche that the African would never rule this land. They made a raft of legislative pieces that enforced complete racial separateness (copying from their counterparts in South Africa). They took the best land for themselves, and yet were only a minority. They sidelined the majority of the population, the Africans, to native reserves, African purchase areas and the ghettos. I try to imagine how living in that era was like. The black man could not even rise in society, and this lack of social mobility was a source of intense anguish and resentment against the settler regime. Put bluntly, the settler regime was heartless, merciless, cruel, sadistic, outright evil, and really really blind. My people were in chains. (And still are.)

It was inevitable for a nationalist movement expressing the dissatisfaction of the African people to spring up. It started in peaceful ways (mostly through unionism) but these ways made people to become disillusioned. The rise of the parties ZAPU and ZANU saw the nationalist movement turning militant. The brave, under the military wings of ZIPRA and ZANLA, were sent for military and intelligence training to bases in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, the Soviet Union and China. The battle was on. For the Rhodesians, it was a matter of “defending” their “motherland” (which in my thinking this was a very distorted perception of the world that they possessed). For the Africans, it was a matter of emancipating ourselves in ALL areas of life. All of them. For the white man dictated the fate of the African.

Enter the war songs. War songs were a very vital ingredient of the liberation struggle. These songs were necessary for political indoctrination and to boost the morale of the masses on the overall. These songs were the soul of the movement. These songs were the soul of the uprising. All messages were encapsulated in these songs. By just listening to them, obviously one would get a picture of the nature of the war and what was at stake. For in essence, war is a matter of life and death. War is ugly.

Listening to these songs helps me get an image of the liberation war. I begin to truly understand the sacrifices that were made by everyone who died for this country and who dedicated their lives to the liberation cause.

Many songs depicting the liberation struggle were sung, but for this piece we will rely on a few ones. There is Flavian Nyathi and Blues Revolution with their piece Ropa reZimbabwe. With this song, you can actually get the emotions of the Chimurenga. A bloody phenomenon that revealed the intransigence of the Rhodesians. The melodies give the song a truly Zimbabwean feel that anyone, and I mean anyone (African or otherwise) could relate to. And this song is still played on local television say during Heroes time or when a liberation war hero dies.

Speaking of when a hero dies, there is a song that rings in everyone’s head – Yei yei yei, yei, ye ye ye ye. This legendary, emotional masterpiece called Tormented Soul was made by Matias Xavier. And it’s still being played today. The trauma of the war so deep that he failed to find words on how to clearly describe the pain that comes with war. It shows the depths of human trauma as a result of the devastating effects of the war.

There is one by Chitungwiza Mbira Unity that goes by the title Zimbabwe Yakauya Nehondo. It speaks for itself. Blood had to be spilled for the black person in Zimbabwe to be free. For you to be having that Engineering degree, blood had to be spilled because these opportunities were the exclusive preserve of the white man. You had to be industrious ten times to be having successful business enterprises, professions. But you would still be termed “native” as of you belong to the wilderness and not part of humanity.

Then there is Thomas Mapfumo. He scaled heights with his music. His discography is way too vast. But the song Zimbabwe Mozambique exudes a spirit of unity, a spirit of a one Africa, a spirit of a fierce revolution. In it he talks about the unity between the Zimbabwe and Mozambique fighters, and says that had we been united Samora Machel wouldn’t have died. Which is true. He talks about the unity between Robert Mugabe and Mozambique’s leaders Joacquim Chissano and Samora Machel. It’s a masterpiece really. The instrumentals are arranged in a heavenly manner, making a beautiful conflation of reggae, blues and other traditional sounds. Kubatana kwemasoja eMozambiqe neZimbabwe, Kubatana kwevanhu veMozambique neZimbabwe. Especially when one considers the central role that Mozambique played in the struggle for independence. 

Zimbabwe Liberation War songs are a reservoir of knowledge. In terms of human feeling about war. As expressed here by Mbuya Madhuve in Ndega Ndega. It's a tale of a fighter who has been left alone after fellow comrades are killed. Very deep content. Vamwe vangu vakafa shuwa, ndokusara ndega musango, ndega ndega. 

Or Maruza Imi perfected by Cde Chinx Chingaira here. Probably one of the biggest Zimbabwe liberation war song. A strong warning to vapambi vepfumi (plunderers of wealth through violence) that their illegal colonial rule was coming to an end. That they had lost because of the guerrilla warfare waged by ZANLA and ZIPRA. There was also Nzira Dzemasoja which laid out party principles and served as motivation for freedom fighters to be disciplined. Such a powerful war cry song. 

For anyone of my generation who would want to understand the Chimurenga fully, I would recommend listening to Chimurenga music. You get the whole picture. 

It is sad and shameful that despite all the heroic efforts made by those who fought for this country, we are mired in abject poverty and in a shambolic state as a country. And that government continues to pursue wrong ideologies politically and economically (neoliberalism). 

Chimurenga music still lives on.

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