Panashe Chigumadzi’s non-fictional These Bones Will Rise Again is a thought-provoking reflection on the intertwined histories of Zimbabwe, and how they have been told. In this book, she relates the two intimately related stories of the family and the country she was born into.
The problem the book identifies is that the history of Zimbabwe has so often been told as a story of Big Men. Big Men have been chronicled as the actors, the movers and the shakers, that make History-with-a-capital-H happen. Women and their enormous contributions to Zimbabwe’s freedom struggles have too often been elided or rendered invisible. Chigumadzi sets out to draw forward these (wilfully) forgotten women, to assert their agency, and prompt us to think about what it might mean, in the Zimbabwean context, to brand revolution as female rather than as an exclusively male prerogative.
The narrative plaits this into Chigumadzi’s navigation of her own personal familial history, traced predominantly along the lines of female ancestors, while confronting the wildly different cultural contexts she, living in urban South Africa, and her elder relatives in rural Zimbabwe now inhabit.
Her account of Zimbabwe’s history takes readers all the way to the 2017 ousting of the 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, president of the country from 1987 (and prime minister from 1980). This coup that was repeatedly labelled not-a-coup sounded the death knell of the reign of a man who for many, including Chigumadzi, had been the only leader of Zimbabwe they had ever known; a man whose name was long understood as synonymous with national liberation from white supremacist rule, as well as with economic mismanagement and corruption on a grand scale.
The book’s content is fascinating and in the historical work it does – its offering of important but less visible vantage points – is textured and compelling. Passages at a time are captivating and draw you in to the story they tell. Yet the vignettes seem to remain just that, and at the end there is a sense of many strands that have not been fully tied together, or of an absent cohering principle. Nonetheless, it’s well worth a read, especially if you are looking for some insight into Zimbabwe.