Brian Raftopoulos, Tsuneo Yoshikuni, eds. Sites of Struggle: Essays in Zimbabwe's Urban History. Oxford, England: Weaver Press, 1999. vii + 279 pp. $24.95/Â£14.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7974-1984-1.
Reviewed by Elaine Windrich (Stanford University )
Published on H-SAfrica (September, 2000)
The idea for this book emerged at a Zimbabwe Research Day conference on Urban History organised by Zimbabwe's foremost historian, Terence Ranger, in June 1994. After the conference, the editors of this volume proceeded to gather together the scattered but growing body of work being done on Zimbabwe's urban history with a view to displaying its diversity and vitality. That this was a welcome and long overdue task was confirmed in Ranger's review of Africa's Urban Past, edited by David Anderson and Richard Rathbone (Oxford: James Currey, 2000) in which he wrote that it was "a salutory shock" to discover that southern Africa was represented in only two of the seventeen chapters and neither of them (on Durban and Cape Town) were "in the political economy or social history mode." Since he himself had turned, "belatedly," to urban history, he had searched the literature on southern Africa for a "context" for his forthcoming social history of Bulawayo. Most of these sources, however, were studies of South African towns or cities and were derived from a South African historiography dating back to the 1980s in which the social history of urbanisation featured prominently. In contrast, Zimbabwean historiography has only recently been enriched by "the first published fruits of a long, if silent, tradition of Zimbabwean urban scholarship", including "the invaluable collection of essays" which is the subject of this review (African Affairs 99, 396 July 2000: p. 467).
The study of urban history in Zimbabwe, as the editors explained in their introductory essay, brings into focus a wide array of subjects: "the space created for different groups of Africans at different periods of the urbanisation process; the contradictory responses of the colonial state to the problem of the stabilisation and reproduction of labour; the relationship between ethnicity, the labour process and differential relations to rural production processes, the effects of rural-urban linkages on labour organisation and on the broader struggles for the imagining of national identity; the effects of regional labour supplies on urban structures and forms of urban organisation; the struggles over the mapping of the city along racial, class and gender lines; and finally, the gendered nature of the colonial city and urban struggles" (pp. 1-2). These concerns constitute the subject matter of the dozen or so essays in this volume; and the somewhat lengthy quotation listing them provides a fairly typical example of the vocabulary and style of writing if the authors.
Among the contributors to this volume, Raftopoulos would appear to be the only Zimbabwean, the others presumably being British, South African, Danish, Swedish, Japenese or American. But several of the authors have previously studied for a degree, engaged in research or taught courses at the University of Zimbabwe, including its affiliated Institute of Development Studies. Both of the editors have also contributed essays reflecting their own research interests: Raftopoulos on labour and African nationalism between Federation and the UDI and Yoshikuni on the influence of town-country relations on African urban history before 1957.
Other aspects of Zimbabwe's urban history were undertaken by Richard Parry, who wrote on class and culture in Salisbury from 1892 to 1955; Stephen Thornton, on an emerging petty-bourgeoisie in Bulawayo between 1893 and 1933; Timothy Scarnecchia on the mapping of respectability and African residential space; Jon Lunn on the general strike of 1948; Patrick Bond on capital flows in colonial Harare; Carl Hallencreutz on religion in the city; Preben Kaarsholm on culture and politics in Bulawayo; Teresa Barnes on the urbanisation of African women from 1930 to 1944; and John Pape on domestic workers in the liberation struggle.
With Terence Ranger now based at the University of Zimbabwe, many more informative volumes on this subject can be confidently predicted to follow. More coverage of education, literacy and the media available in the urban areas would be welcome additions to this splendid collection.
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Elaine Windrich. Review of Raftopoulos, Brian; Yoshikuni, Tsuneo, eds., Sites of Struggle: Essays in Zimbabwe's Urban History.
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