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  • Guerrilla Veterans in Post War Zimbabwe: symbolic and violent politics 1980-1987
  • Peter Kagwanja (bio)
Norma Kriger (2003) Guerrilla Veterans in Post War Zimbabwe: symbolic and violent politics, 1980-1987. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

This book is a critical study of the veterans of Zimbabwe's war of independence. It presents an extended analysis of the relationship between Robert Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and war veterans in the first seven years of contemporary Zimbabwe (1980-87). A continuation of Kriger's doctoral dissertation on the guerrillas during the war against settler rule in the 1970s, the book provides a useful historical backdrop to the recent Zimbabwean crisis. However, it is limited to the 1980-1987 period when 'the demobilization and re-integration of programs for ex-combatants had ended' (2003:33). Conscious of the book's tapered coverage, the author introduces an epilogue (1997-2001) that attempts to provide a comparison of the guerrilla past and present but fails to cover the 1988-1996 gap, which is only mentioned in passing in an appendix.

Organised around six chapters, including a lengthy introduction, an epilogue, an appendix and exceptionally useful footnotes and bibliography, the book considers four main subjects during the years 1980-87: first, the peace settlement arising from the Lancaster House Negotiations (1979), the implementation of the agreement, the independent election (1980) and its aftermath; second, the 'assembly phase' where provision of food rations, housing and assembly pay to guerrillas awaiting demobilisation and reintegration into the military to keep them under control saw increasing collaboration with ZANU-PF to ensure future power, but also witnessed frequent collisions over unmet expectations. Next is the military integration [End Page 112] of ZIPRA and ZANLA guerrilla armies led by Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe respectively into the mostly black Zimbabwe National Army. While suggesting that integration put an end to the 'multiple sovereignty', the author also documents the government's manoeuvres to cultivate the loyalty of the National Army to the ruling party and increased reliance on extra-legal machinations to privilege and strengthen ZANLA ex-guerrillas and weaken rival ZIPRA soldiers in the army. During this phase, whether war veterans colluded or collided with the ruling party, the author argues, they saliently 'appealed to their war contribution and often resorted to violence in pursuit of the power and privilege they believed they deserved' (2003:104). Finally the book focuses on employment programs which the ruling party skilfully used to retain the loyalty and support of demobilised ex-combatants to enhance its power and legitimacy. 'Veteranism' (one's contribution to liberation war) not only formed the basis of deployment of ex-combatants into cooperatives to symbolise economic transformation towards socialism but also offered mostly demobilised ZANLA soldiers privileged access to employment and training in the civil bureaucracy and private sector.

To its credit, the book is based on broad-based research that blends interviews (involving over one hundred government, non-governmental personnel and ex-guerrillas, as well as British military experts who helped set up the new army) with newspapers and parliamentary debates as well as British sources.

The book successfully demonstrates a case of continuities in the relationship between ZANU-PF and guerrilla veterans in the first seven years in contemporary Zimbabwe (1980-1987). The collaboration, and the ubiquitous use of violence and liberation war rhetoric, ensured ZANU-PF's retention of power during the controversial elections in 2000 and 2002, and got a new lease of life in the wake of land seizures and attacks on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). These events, although outside the scope of the book, confirm the author's central argument that the guerrillas remain a volatile disgruntled lot, prone to violence, real and symbolic, to achieve their own and their party's ambitions.

While the book makes an important contribution to the subject of peace-building (ending civil wars and rebuilding fractured societies), its introduction reads like a doctoral dissertation, routinely citing titles and paying homage to 'war-to-peace transition literature' and the thoughts of its gurus. The author makes an ideal choice of Zimbabwe as example, for long [End...


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pp. 112-115
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