Walking a Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured Community of Zimbabwe [Review]

Walking a Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured Community of Zimbabwe [Review]

H-net Reviews
April 2007

Elizabeth Schmidt, Professor of History
Loyola University Maryland

James Muzondidya. Walking a Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured Community of Zimbabwe. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2005. xviii + 323 pp. (cloth), ISBN 978-1-59221-246-0.

Based on a wide range of archival sources and more than two dozen interviews, James Muzondidya’s book provides a major historical reassessment of Zimbabwe’s colored community from the early twentieth century to 1980. This small community has largely been ignored in Southern African historiography. The few works focusing on the colored population generally have perpetuated a distorted view, arguing that the mixed-race community had no authentic identity. Rather, they posit that “colored” was a state-imposed category without roots in popular experience or consciousness. According to this view, coloreds were merely a product of the colonial state’s divide-and-rule tactics. While Africans viewed them as dupes, collaborators, and beneficiaries of the colonial system, Europeans dismissed them as a marginal population that was more African than European and, as such, unworthy of European rights and privileges.

In this important contribution to the historical literature, Muzondidya reassesses the construction of colored identity, rejecting the proposition that colored social and political identities were solely state-imposed. He argues instead that these complex and contested identities were the product of colored historical agency and the political, economic, and social structures in which the actors operated. He disaggregates the mixed-race category, too often viewed as homogeneous, in terms of gender, generation, class, culture, and historical background. In a particularly fascinating section, he explores the deep divisions between South African-born Cape Coloreds (or Cape Afrikanders) and the indigenous “EurAfrican” population. Cape Colored immigrants to colonial Zimbabwe were predominantly Muslim, Afrikaans-speaking descendants of African and Asian slaves, the Cape’s original Khoikhoi inhabitants, and Afrikaner settlers. Generations removed from their exclusively African or European past, they belonged to the Western-educated middle and professional classes…

Read the entire review here.

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