The Humanities Project

Music, Memory, and History on the Frontlines of Apartheid: Looking at Zimbabwe


Musekiwa Chingodza
Musekiwa Chingodza

The passing of South Africa's first majority president, Nelson Mandela offers a unique opportunity to reflect upon the political history not only of South Africa, but of an entire region. As in South Africa, where music and other forms of expressive culture constituted an important means of responding to the destabilizing effects of apartheid policies, music, memory, and history became deeply intertwined in neighboring states such as Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, where a shared sense of political identity emerged in response to the staggering human and economic costs of apartheid.

Among apartheid's "Frontline States," Zimbabwe offers the most compelling example of how intersections between memory, history, and popular culture served as a means of legitimizing the postcolonial state, a process Terence Ranger has described as "rule by historiography." Musicians, artists, and culture workers have been particularly caught up in this process, alternately reproducing and critiquing official narratives of memory, violence, and heroism. As Zimbabwe nears its thirty-fifth year of independence, this symposium will reflect on this unique political, social, and cultural history.