In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo and Songs of Protest in Colonial and Post-Independence Zimbabwe

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Background

Music Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo and Songs of Protest in Colonial and Post-Independence Zimbabwe
Richard Muranda, Weston Chimbudzi, Wonder Maguraushe
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0308


This bibliography covers scholarship on selected protest songs of the musician Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo (b. 1945) that were written in colonial and postcolonial Zimbabwe. In keeping with the Marxist cultural theoretical orientation that is evident in research on this subject, the organization of these entries traces the sociopolitical engagement of Mapfumo’s songs that reflect praise and dissent during the Second and Third Chimurenga wars of political liberation, respectively. Discourse on Zimbabwe’s economic challenges has positive and negative interpretations. Mamdani 2005 and Bond and Manyanya 2002 (both cited under General Overview) state that the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) inherited an economy that had already suffered due to pre-independence policies. Dossa 2007 (under General Overview) argues that development is meant to perpetuate Western dominance. Manjengwa 2007 (under General Overview) blames the ruling party’s top-down approach in implementing development programs. The first section of the bibliography analyzes the songs “Pfumvu paruzevha,” “Kuyaura,” “Chiruzevha chapera,” and “Tumira vana kuhondo,” which Mukanya composed to express the experiences of Zimbabweans during colonialism. Zimbabweans’ way of life was disrupted and Mukanya mirrored this cultural upset through protest songs. The songs resonated well with the ideology of the ZANU-PF. Soon after independence, Mapfumo sang celebration songs (“Zimbabwe” and “Rakarira jongwe”). The second section examines protest songs penned after independence (“Varombo kuvarombo,” “Ndiani waparadza musha,” “Musatambe nenyika,” “Disaster,” “Corruption,” “Mamvemve,” “Maiti kurima hamubvire,” “Chauya chauya,” and “Ndangariro”). The scenario deteriorated due to alleged misgovernance by the ruling ZANU-PF elite, a situation that attracted Mukanya’s criticism. The bibliography traces how the transition of ZANU-PF from heroes to villains is portrayed through Mukanya’s music. During the armed struggle, Mapfumo sided with the liberation war movement. This changed after independence, and Mapfumo allegorically poses questions pointing at the empty promises ZANU-PF leaders made to uplift Zimbabweans’ standard of living. Mukanya sang about the contested land redistribution in Zimbabwe. Consequently, Mapfumo was stalked by state repressive agents until he fled to live in exile in the United States in 2000. He yearned for Ubuntu philosophy, nationalism, and unity. People may differ ideologically, but they ought to accept one another as a nation. This fosters positive peace, which Zimbabweans have yearned for over four decades. Mapfumo wants people to be economically empowered. He has been incarcerated before and he is fearless. Chimurenga music is a voice for the downtrodden masses. Mukanya’s songs that have explicit political messages were banned from airplay by the government. Mapfumo has remained united with the people he is fighting for despite living in exile. Mapfumo uses music to complain about the people’s suffering. He bears memories about Zimbabwe that remain engrained in Chimurenga music in the backdrop of ZANU-PF hegemony. He has called for free and fair elections because Zimbabweans have a right to choose leaders, but election results have been contested since 2000.

General Overview

According to Pongweni 1997 and Turino 2000, Mapfumo fights for the freedom of the people. These authors focus on Mapfumo’s trajectory. Gunner 2015 indicates how the once celebratory musician fell out with the liberation stalwarts in independent Zimbabwe. Bhabha 2004 shows how the state can be repressive to the point of prosecuting its own citizenry due to political differences. Ranger 2004 argues that the Third Chimurenga was an attempt to restore lost confidence in ZANU-PF’s rule due to failed promises to the black majority. Chikowero 2008 expresses the problems encountered by musicians during the ZANU-PF’s reign.

  • Bhabha, Homi K. “Foreword: Framing Fanon.” In The Wretched of the Earth. By Frantz Fanon. Translated by Richard Philcox, i–xl. New York: Grove Press, 2004.

    This is a life history of Frantz Fanon, who used a pseudonym to avoid being prosecuted as he faced incarceration for political issues away from his US home.

  • Bond, Patrick, and Masimba Manyanya. Zimbabwe’s Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of Natal Press, 2002.

    Argues that the fall of Zimbabwe was a result of pre-independence policies that left debt, liabilities, and a deflated economy. ZANU-PF adopted the IMF and World Bank’s Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) that resulted in economic decline.

  • Chikowero, Moses. “‘Our People Father, They Haven’t Learned Yet’: Music and Postcolonial Identities in Zimbabwe, 1980–2000.” Journal of Southern African Studies 34.1 (2008): 145–160.

    DOI: 10.1080/03057070701832932

    Expresses problems faced by musicians before and after independence up to 2000; musicians fail to earn revenue from their careers due to the difficult sociopolitical conditions.

  • Dossa, Shiraz. “Slicing Up ‘Development’: Colonialism, Political Theory, Ethics.” Third World Quarterly 28.5 (2007): 887–899.

    DOI: 10.1080/01436590701371595

    Argues that development is designed to serve Western dominance, and is used by Western powers to subjugate and exploit natives in other lands.

  • Gunner, Liz. “Introduction: Mapping Performance and Social Meaning in Africa.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 27.3 (2015): 247–254.

    DOI: 10.1080/13696815.2015.1075785

    Analyses of selected southern African countries focusing on performance of the state, as well as national imagery and how this is portrayed by musicians.

  • Mamdani, Mahmood. “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Origins of Terror.” India International Centre Quarterly 32.1 (2005): 1–10.

    Analyzes how the US government views good and bad Muslims, and the attitude of Muslims toward the US government.

  • Manjengwa, Jeanette Marie. “Problems Reconciling Sustainable Development Rhetoric with Reality in Zimbabwe.” Journal of Southern African Studies 33.2 (2007): 307–323.

    DOI: 10.1080/03057070701292608

    Says there is a gap between the micro and macro levels in the ZANU-PF government’s implementation of development programs, which fail due to the top-down approach.

  • Pongweni, Alec J. C. “The Chimurenga Songs of the Zimbabwean War of Liberation.” In Readings in African Popular Culture. Edited by K. Barber, 63–72. Oxford: James Currey, 1997.

    Analyzes the context and meaning of selected Chimurenga songs to convey what they purport and mean.

  • Ranger, Terrence. “Nationalist Historiography, Patriotic History and the History of the Nation: The Struggle over the Past in Zimbabwe.” Journal of Southern African Studies 30.2 (2004): 215–234.

    DOI: 10.1080/0305707042000215338

    Explores the intellectual and practical implications of “patriotic history” and contrasts it with an older “nationalist historiography,” a newer “history of the nation,” and attempts at the University of Zimbabwe to move on to pluralist analyses and multiple questions.

  • Turino, Thomas. Nationalists, Cosmopolitans and Popular Music in Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226816968.001.0001

    Examines the emergence of cosmopolitan culture among the black middle class and how this gave rise to a variety of urban-popular styles modeled on foreign influences.

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