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Africa Today 48.4 (2001) 150-152

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Ranger, Terrence. 1999. Voices from the Rocks: Nature, Culture & History in the Matopos Hills of Zimbabwe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 305 pp.

This book is a history of the various parts of the Motopos hills of Zimbabwe and the people who have lived in them over the century between 1897 and 1997, presented in terms of the various ways in which this history has been seen by different types of people. The visions and voices of Cecil Rhodes and other white settlers, missionaries, African nationalists, the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean governments, and white and black conservationists are included. But Ranger emphasizes the visions and voices of the local people and their Mwali (the High God) rain shrines, and the sharp differences between them and all other actors. He explains why, with very few exceptions, the inhabitants' visions and voices have not prevailed at any time during this century. And he clearly states his view that they should have prevailed.

Some of Ranger's rankings of outsiders in terms of their hostility to local interests were surprising to this reviewer, as they will be for some other readers. Rhodes is portrayed as far less unfavorable than many of his successors. It is suggested that Ian Smith's Rhodesia Front's (RF) policy of community development was the most favorable government policy during the century for some Motopos inhabitants, although not for others (p. 182). The Zimbabwe government is sometimes as hostile as was the Rhodesian government. The political party that won elections in Motopos and neighboring areas—the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU)—has not been effective in protecting local interests, either before or since its 1987 merger with the governing party. The most hostile actors, however, have been those calling themselves conservationists, who have successfully demanded the movement of many people and have denied the existence of a powerful traditional conservationist tradition.

Ranger carefully details the relevance of his previously articulated ideas on the construction of ethnicity to the people of Matopos. Although coming from a number of precolonial ethnic groups—Banyubi, Kalanga, Sotho, Venda, and Ndebele—they have developed, under the leadership of modernizing intellectuals, a composite Ndebele identity, not because of [End Page 150] the nineteenth century military conquest but rather as part of formulating a strategy to protect their interests most effectively. The formation of this composite identity received substantial support from both government officials and missionaries.

Why does Ranger portray conservationists in such a negative light? He begins his analysis of them by stating (p. 39), "Once the Motopos had been conquered and Cecil Rhodes buried there, the mountains became a white playground." Since then, Ranger believes, conservationists have justified this use of the land by arguing that rocks, trees, and wild animals are more important than people there. They tend to think of early hunters and gatherers (whose rock paintings they want to conserve) rather than more recent inhabitants as the people of Matopos. Beginning in 1919 they advocated the creation of a National Park, which was established in 1926. Between the early 1950s and the early 1960s, all residents were forcibly evicted from the area of the park. In the communal areas, the conservationists opposed local interests primarily by advocating major destocking.

To some extent developmentalists—including Rhodes, missionaries and their progressive Christian converts, capitalist farmers, various governments, and the late ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo—have been in conflict with both conservationists and local people. There have also been conflicts among developmentalists. The partition of the Matopos into the National Park, commercial farms, and communal areas (the latter division having been made more rigid by the Land Apportionment Act of 1930) mitigated the former conflict but exacerbated the latter. Ranger's analysis is based primarily in the area that became the National Park and the adjacent Matopo communal area, and in the Wenlock area immediately to the south of the latter, and he discusses differences as well as similarities between these areas. Rhodes attempted to combine something like feudal paternalism with capitalist...


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