Let’s tell our own stories

Freedoms have returned to Zimbabwe, and no subject is taboo anymore. Plays such as “1983 … The dark Years”, a Gukurahundi story, is showcasing in various theatres around the country. Why not turn it into film?

This can be done through public-private partnerships, which is not a new concept.

Historian Hugh Trevor Roper once remarked that Africa had no history prior to European exploration and colonisation. He said before the Europeans arrived on the continent, there was only darkness and that darkness is not a subject of history.

The above remarks have been quashed by the likes of Professor Ngwabi Bhebhe and the late Dr Stan Mudenge, who have written extensively about the history of this country before colonisation of any kind.

Besides exposing his ignorance, Roper also sought to entrench Europeans’ racial supremacy over Africans and other races, but what cannot be ignored is the message between the lines.

The implication being that Africans, not just in Zimbabwe, have allowed external forces to distort African stories.

Although many nationalists and nationalist historians have come forth to counter colonial history as propounded by Roper and some of his students, that is not enough — colonial historians continue to try and portray Africa as an insignificant, dark continent.

The emergence and proliferation of Rhodesians on the internet, who continue to live in the past, churning out material meant to discredit the country’s achievements since independence, goes to show that the intellectual war and attempts to shape the future and future thinkers are not over.

This is not just limited to capturing of history through books, but through documentaries, films, essays and other articles that contribute to building a truthful, unbiased account of the African story.

So, when President Mnangagwa took time from his exceptionally busy schedule in April to go to a movie house and watch a film about Zimbabwe, it revealed just how serious the highest office in the land regards the country’s history.

After watching the film, President Mnangagwa commended the makers of the motion picture, saying it marked the beginning of documenting the country’s history.

“May I say to the comrade who produced this film, as well as those who participated in this film, that this is the beginning, I believe, of recording the history of our struggle,” he said.

The movie, which premièred last weekend, is about the gallant sons of Zimbabwe, the first trained and armed freedom fighters to enter Zimbabwe to begin the armed struggle against the racist regime of Ian Smith.

They all perished.

But their blood was to irrigate a protracted liberation war struggle that ended with the enemy coming to the negotiating table in spectacular capitulation, which eventually led to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

The writer, Moses Matanda, and many others like him, the likes of Charles Munganasa, the writer of box office hit theatrical production “Operation Restore Regasi”, are the minds needed in telling Zimbabwean stories.

Imagine if the “Chinhoyi 7” story had been told by Rhodesians.

The end product would be completely different from what the Matanda-made film portrays.

Matanda should inspire others across all sectors to guard jealously the stories of this country, its people and the continent, so that no one distorts this important history.

Yesteryear artistes like Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Dr Thomas Mapfumo and liberation war hero Simon Chimbetu, among many others, played their part as musicians in documenting through song the story of Zimbabwe and that of the different struggles that the country has gone through.

Playwrights, filmmakers, novelists, archaeologists, historians, musicians and even journalists need to be awake to the dangers of allowing other people to tell our stories. Only Africans, in particular Zimbabweans, can be the authorities in the telling of our own stories and not outsiders.

Theatre practitioners have recently upped their game mostly because the genre is not capital-intensive.

If Government chips in and Zimbabwe revitalises its film industry, tens of thousands of jobs could be created within the first 12 months of the revival of the sector.

Freedoms have returned to Zimbabwe, and no subject is taboo anymore. Plays such as “1983 … The Dark Years”, a Gukurahundi story, is showcasing in various theatres around the country.

Why not turn it into film?

This can be done through public-private partnerships, which is not a new concept.

Local writers in conjunction with Government must now make sure that stories such as Operation Restore Legacy, for instance, are turned into film, but not with Hollywood stars like Forest Whitaker taking up lead roles.

Zimbabwe must create and promote its own Forest Whitakers — India and Nigeria have done it.

Government should also come to the party, especially when foreign filmmakers are documenting Zimbabwean stories.

This ensures participation of locals, thus, getting a say in the said story, and money also gets to be spent in the country as a direct injection into the economy.

South Africa, through the Department of Trade and Industry, sponsors upcoming black filmmakers and even foreign films, provided they meet certain criteria to qualify for the funding.

This is because the South African government has realised that the film industry has great potential as a key driver of economic development through the creation of jobs, both direct and indirect, and skills enhancement.

If Zimbabwe follows the South African example, there will be a lot of opportunities for thousands of arts and film students, graphic designers and animators that continue to be churned out by colleges and universities.

There is a saying that when an African elderly person dies, society does not just lose a member but a library. This need not be the case.

The aforementioned professionals should put Zimbabwean stories in black and white, and motion picture for posterity.

Relying on material recorded by Europeans and other foreigners is dangerous as most of it ends up biased.

Let us use oral tradition, let us listen to and record the stories of our elders before we lose them.

As Kwame Nkrumah said: “The forces that unite us are intrinsic and greater than the superimposed influences that keep us apart.”

It is important that Zimbabweans and Africans in general tell their own stories.

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