These Bones Will Rise Again


Panashe Chigumadzi
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What are the right questions to ask when seeking out the true spirit of a nation?

 In November 2017 the people of Zimbabwe took to the streets in an unprecedented alliance with the military. Their goal, to restore the legacy of Chimurenga, the liberation struggle, and wrest their country back from over thirty years of Robert Mugabe’s rule.

In an essay that combines bold reportage, memoir and critical analysis, Zimbabwean novelist and journalist Panashe Chigumadzi reflects on the ‘coup that was not a coup’, the telling of history and manipulation of time and the ancestral spirts of two women – her own grandmother and Mbuya Nehanda, the grandmother of the nation.


‘Chigumadzi successfully nests the intimate charge of her poignant personal story in the sweeping historical account and mythology of Zimbabwe.’
—Brian Chikwava, author of Harare North

‘Chigumadzi’s exploration of personal, family and national history reincarnates in stark, vivid images, many of those interred in the shadows of her country’s ‘Big Men’.’
—Tsitsi Dangarembga, author of Nervous Conditions and This Mournable Body

Dimensions: A format paperback with flaps
Length: 144 pages
Published: 14 June 2018
ISBN: 9781999683306
Cover design: © House of Thought

Publicist: Susie Nicklin at The Indigo Press
Agent:Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge & White
Foreign rights: The Marsh Agency

About the author

Panashe Chigumadzi was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, where she is considered one of the most promising young writers of the ‘Born Free’ generation. Her debut novel Sweet Medicine (Blackbird Books) was published in 2015 and won the K. Sello Duiker Literary Award.

She is the founding editor of Vanguard magazine, a platform for young black women coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa, and a contributing editor to Johannesburg Review of Books. Her work has featured in The GuardianThe New York TimesWashington PostDie Zeit and Transition.

These Bones Will Rise Again

‘Mudzimu waivepiko, mudzimu mukuru isu tichinetseka?’ The Jairos Jiri Band asks this of me as I listen to them over my iPhone speaker. Where was our ancestor spirit, our great ancestor, while we were suffering? Someone had just sent their song ‘Take Cover’ to one of the many WhatsApp groups keeping me updated with the latest in fake and genuine news of what was happening in Zimbabwe. The day before we had seen the videos of tanks moving on the outskirts of Harare after army chief Constantino Chiwenga denounced Robert Mugabe’s sacking of then Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. My friends in Zimbabwe told me about the gunfire they heard. By the morning we had all seen the shaky recordings of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) announcement in which Major General Sibusiso Busi Moyo declared that the army had taken over. Apparently it was not a coup. Mugabe was safe. They were ‘only targeting criminals around him’. The army was merely safeguarding the revolution, lest it be betrayed.

When I forward the clip of ‘Take Cover’ to my friend, she in turn shares her recordings of the Chimurenga music playing on ZBC that morning. She says she is feeling patriotic. Apparently, so are a number of other Zimbabweans on my Twitter timeline.
Zimbabwe has had many versions of history. The history of this moment, that some are already beginning to tell, is that this is the ‘Fourth Chimurenga’.

As I listen to the Jairos Jiri Band, I am unsteady. Mugabe’s impending removal feels as if the bottom half of one of Zimbabwe’s famous granite balancing rocks is being dislodged while we are still sitting on top of it. Where we are, suspended perilously above the ground, is not good, but where are we going to fall? What are we going to fall onto?

There are many questions and I am looking for answers. The kind of answers that slip past the facts of history books or analyses by pundits and experts. Answers that are not party politics. That are not Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), or Zimbabwe African
People’s Union (ZAPU) or the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Answers that are not Cecil John Rhodes, Ian Smith, Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai or Emmerson Mnangagwa, or any other Big Men in the history of the nation. Instead, the answers I need are answers to politics that are about how we live, hope, dream, cry, laugh, pray and believe. As I search, I realize that if I want different answers, I need different questions. The kind that the Jairos Jiri Band is asking: ‘Where was our ancestor spirit, our great ancestor, while we were suffering?’

In the midst of the confusion, I turn to a more familiar song: Thomas Mapfumo’s ‘Mhondoro’. My Shona is proficient but not literary. The long-exiled Mapfumo, whose lyrics are less ambiguous in their revolutionary message, should have been far easier for me to understand. He had not really featured in our household, despite the fact that he, along with family favourite, Oliver Mtukudzi, played music based on the mbira dzevadzimu, the mbira of the ancestors, an instrument of the Shona people, discouraged from being played by both missionaries and the Rhodesian state. The colonizers were right. They recognized that the mbira is dangerous – a mouth through which spirits can stir up their people.

I had ‘discovered’ Mapfumo on my own in the last few years. His Greatest Hits album is in my car, so I look for him on YouTube. In the video I often play, we hear Mapfumo’s deep bass explaining the song before it starts. This song, like many songs of the mbira, is one that is used for communication between the living and the dead. When it is sung, the ancestors, communicating through the spirit mediums, tell the living what they should know about the past, present and future.

As a people who believe that a person is both flesh and spirit and lives on after death, we often commune with our ancestors, but it is especially in times of crisis and need that we look to them for answers about ourselves. Answers that fall outside the categories of birth and death, that move with and against time, that collapse time, that are of and outside a place, that perhaps only a mudzimu, a familial ancestor spirit, or a mhondoro, a royal ancestor spirit, can provide. Singing as if he is witnessing a spirit medium being possessed by an ancestor, Mapfumo declares that Zimbabwe is the land of the mhondoro. Those who fought in the Chimurenga looked to the royal ancestral spirits to guide and lead them. This is how the war was won. In his words, I can feel I am closer to the heart of what defines our people, a deeper truth that eludes news reports and punditry.

Book Authority, 17 September 2019: ‘100 Best Political Activism Books of All Time’

Panashe Chigumadzi for New York Times, 10 September 2019: ‘Opinion: Mugabe Is Dead, but Big Man Politics Lives On’

Bryan Davis for Sunday Times Books, 2 May 2019: ‘These Bones Will Rise Again breaks 120 years of oppression’

Rewrite, 27 February 2019: ‘Book Review: These Bones Will Rise Again’

Shaazia Ebrahim for The Daily Vox, 6 December 2018: ‘These Bones Will Rise Again Is An Intimate Retelling of Zimbabwean History’ 

Jacqueline Landey for Review 31, 12 November 2018: ‘‘Perhaps she was’ this, ‘perhaps she was’ that’

Cheeky Natives, 8 November, 2018: ‘Panashe Chigumadzi: These Bones Will Rise Again’

Rufaro Samanga for Okay Africa, 27 August 2018: ‘Rufaro Samanga interviews Panashe Chigumadzi’

Terry Simelane-Mathabathe for Live Mag, 23 August 2018: ‘Book Review: Panashe Chigumadzi’s These Bones Will Rise Again’

Alex Preston for The Guardian, 8 July 2018: ‘Best summer books 2018, as picked by writers and cultural figures – part 2’

Jennifer Malec for The Johannesburg Review of Books, 30 April 2018: ‘Panashe Chigumadzi reflects on Zimbabwe’s ‘coup that was not a coup’ in her new book, These Bones Will Rise Again’

The Johannesburg Review of Books, 6 August 2018: ‘Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Panashe Chigumadzi in conversation—Meditations on the traumas and triumphs of Zimbabwe’s histories’

Panashe Chigumadzi for The Cheeky Natives, November 2018: ‘Panashe Chigumadzi: These Bones Will Rise Again’

Panashe Chigumadzi for Dipsaus Podcast, April 2019: ‘Bonus – GB On Black Togetherness & Solidarity with Panashe Chigumadzi & Amal Alhaag’

Panashe Chigumadzi for The Spriacle Podcast, August 2022: ‘In conversation with Panashe Chigumadzi’

South African edition

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