A review of a book by Andrew Nyathi with John Hoffman, published by Anvil Press, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1990.
ANDREW NYATHI has written a book which all South Africans who are interested in human liberation will want to read. In 137 pages Comrade Andrew takes us through the story of his life — a story which began in a small village in rural Matabeleland and ends on a collective co-operative farm near to Harare.
It is a story of how a young farm boy grew to be aware of the injustices of colonialism and capitalism; of how he left the country to join the military wing of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) called Zipra and fight these injustices on the battlefield, and finally of how, together with some of his comrades in arms, he helped to lay the foundations of the collective cooperative movement in post independence Zimbabwe and to build socialism from the ground up.
BECOMING A GUERRILLA
Andrew was born in a small village called Emlotheni 150 kilometres north west of Bulawayo. His early life was much the same as that of any rural child growing up in southern Africa under colonial oppression. South African readers will easily understand the feelings of bitterness and anger felt by many of the people Andrew describes.
In 1974, after spending 9 months in Khami prison for subversion, Andrew decided to leave the country and join the Zipra guerrillas who were fighting the Rhodesian army. He was trained at camps in Zambia and then sent to the East Germany for schooling. There, he learnt about industrial, commercial and agricultural co-operatives. He was very impressed with what he saw and was convinced that co-operatives were one way forward for the poor and struggling people of Zimbabwe.
In 1979 Andrew was back in Zimbabwe fighting, when the political leaders of Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANLJ) and ZAPU — the two leading liberation movements who together had formed the Patriotic Front — agreed to a ceasefire and to negotiations. The leaders of both sides met at Lancaster House in London and worked out the transfer of power.
In April 1980, Zimbabwe became independent. But this was not the end of the struggle: economic liberation still had to be achieved. Some excombatants hoped that they would be given land on which to settle and that the new government would provide equipment, technical assistance and backing for these co-operative ventures. But they were to be disappointed.
YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN
Most of the combatants were simply demobilised and sent home with 180 Zimbabwe dollars pay per month for two years and then nothing. Comrades felt betrayed. They had dedicated their lives to a new Zimbabwe but instead they were returning to the same conditions they had left and with little hope of improving them.
But Andrew and his comrades were not prepared to give up. During the many long months in the assembly points, they discussed what they were going to do when they were demobilised.
They decided that collective co-operatives were the best way to improve living conditions and escape poverty and powerlessness. They dreamed of a society in which production was organised by collective co-operatives with a national government to represent their interests and support them in every way possible.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF STRUGGLE
On 15 August 1981, eight ex-Zipra fighters — including Andrew — formed an agricultural co-operative. The aim of the new co-operative was to find land in the Harare area. They called their co-op Shumba ye Nzara ("the lion of hunger").
The co-operators faced many problems. They were turned away by difficult bureaucrats who refused to register the co-op because they said the name was 'too political'. So the coop changed its name to 'Simukai' meaning "stand up and be counted".
But money was the greatest problem for the new co-op. They needed over a hundred thousand Zimbabwe dollars. Where would a group of excombatants find that kind of money? Another problem was that none of them had any business skills. No-one knew how to raise loans or deal with all the official paperwork.
The co-operators' hopes were kept alive by the Ndebele saying: "Kwasekungumnyama wezulu" — the darkest hour comes before the first rays of dawn. And in time, they were rescued. The Zimbabwe Project Trust (ZIMPRO) had been formed in London during the war to help refugees. ZIMPRO gave all the assistance it could to the new co-operative. It even paid for the first month's rent and established a training centre for cooperators.
The Simukai co-operators also faced a political problem. During the first years of independence, hostility between ZANU and ZAPU and grew. Simukai was caught up in this conflict, mainly because most of the co-ops' members were ex-Zipra guerrillas.
WE SHALL OVERCOME
The rest of the book describes how Simukai managed to overcome all the problems and become a successful coop with forty members. The road has not been easy — all along, the co-op has faced disappointment after disappointment, hostility from the
Today, irrigated fields of maize and tobacco stretch as far as the eye can see. The men and women work together as equals while the co-op creche looks after their infants. They share the fruits of their labours equally. When they are not in the co-op's school, the children join the adults and learn from them.
As you enter Simukai today, this message greets you: "Simukai Co-op. Simukai Collective Co-operative Farming Society (ltd.) We are our own workers and managers. We own the means of production. We are disciplined."
A red star on the banner is to remind the co-operators that the struggle to succeed as a co-operative is part and parcel of the struggle for national liberation and socialism.
For Andrew and his fellow co-operators, work is not just work for work's own sake. It is part of building a better life for all.
Andrew's book contains much more information than we can give in this article. There are many details about the other comrades who helped to build Simukai as well as details of the relationship between Simukai and other collective co-operatives in Zimbabwe — a relationship which Andrew believes is essential to the success of the co-operative movement as a whole.
For anyone who is interested in collective co-operatives and in socialism, this book is essential reading. It gives a clearer picture than any other of what the struggle for socialism means in Africa today.
In direct, clear English, Andrew's story is both a tribute to the courage and perseverance of a small group of freedom fighters who carried the struggle from the battlefield to the farm. It is also a flame of hope for all those who believe that living socialism can succeed even in a world dominated by capitalist forms of ownership and production.
* The book is available at Phambili Bookshop, 22 Plein Street, Johannesburg 2001 and costs R25.