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

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive on 2013-03-10 00:19Z by Steven

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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Walking A Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured People of Zimbabwe

Posted in Africa, Books, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2009-11-13 23:02Z by Steven

Walking A Tightrope: Towards a Social History of the Coloured People of Zimbabwe

Africa World Press
May 2004
300 pages
SKU: 1592212648
ISBN: 1592212648

James Muzondidya, Senior Research Specialist of Democracy and Governance
Human Sciences Research Council

This book examines the history of the Coloured or “mixed race” community of Zimbabwe, a group that has not only been marginalized in most general political and academic discourses but whose history has also been subject to popular misconceptions. The book focuses mainly on the process of identity formation among members of the community and the development of political ideologies and strategies within the same community. Challenging conventional wisdom on race and ethnic identities, this book argues that understanding the process of identity formation among members of the Coloured community requires transcending two approaches: essentialism, based on the notion that Coloured identity is a biologically determined, inherent quality derived from miscegenation, and constructivism, which projects Coloured identity and any other identities of subject groups as simply inventions of the colonial state in which the subjects themselves played no active part in the formational processes.

While this book focuses on the Coloured community, its overall observations have a broader significance than the group it focuses on. Through its critical analysis of political developments within the Coloured community and detailed examination of the various influences in the mobilization of Coloureds in the national protest movement, the book not only manages to highlight problems encountered in building a national consciousness among the various interest groups in colonial societies, but also to unravel the contradictions in African nationalism. Focusing specifically on the relationship between African nationalism and Coloured identity, the book also explores in detail the ambiguities of both Coloured social identities and African nationalist ideologies and some of the ideological and strategic shortcomings of Africa’s past and present nationalist movements movements, the most apparent being the lack of tolerance or a proper discussion of the problems of race and cultural diversity.

When viewed in the broad perspective of studies which focus on identities in general, this work is one of the few that clearly tries to demonstrate how social identities are produced and reproduced in the dialectic of internal and external definition while paying adequate attention to the role played by the people themselves in the identity formation process. Yet, in emphasizing self-identification, the book does not seek to wholly diminish the importance of the state in the whole process.

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