A Tribute to Terence Osborne Ranger

One strand of Africanity, defines an ‘Africanness’ as determined by ideological commitment to the cause of African liberation. Terence Osborne Ranger fits into this category. He actively participated in the early phases of the nationalist struggle in Zimbabwe provoking the anger of the Rhodesian white colonial state, which eventually deported him. At the same time, Ranger used his skills as a historian not only to formulate anti-colonial nationalist historiography but to provide the struggling African nationalists with the desperately needed ideological resources. His uncovering of ‘Murenga’ (as a spiritual anchor in the 1896-7 Uprising) from the archives, gave birth to Chimurenga, which became a usable ideological resource in the armed anti-colonial struggle in the 1970s. Ranger’s expansive academic work was at once nationalist and decolonial, while remaining relentlessly fixated on capturing African initiative. Consequently, Ranger actively played a leading role in overthrowing what Valentine Mudimbe termed the ‘colonial library.’ While Ranger’s early work could be designated as part of mainstream ‘nationalist historiography’ of the 1960s and 1970s; with Zimbabwe’s attainment of political independence, he shifted his focus to ‘history of nationalism,’ delving deeper into its complex rural and urban dimensions. By the 1990s, Ranger became pre-occupied with trying to understand how Zimbabwean nationalism had mutated into an authoritarian, violent, intolerant, and repressive format, while at the same time highlighting how nationalist historiography contained in his early works had been appropriated and rechanneled by ZANU-PF into what he termed ‘patriotic history.’ Throughout his academic career Ranger demonstrated exceptional reflexive abilities of revisiting, revising and critiquing his own work in accordance with new evidence and changing perspectives. 


Professor Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni

Head of Archie Mafeje Research Institute (AMRI)

University of South Africa (UNISA)

Email: sjndlovugatsheni@gmail.com