PROMINENT historian and expert on African and Zimbabwean history, Professor Terrence Ranger has died.
Reports said Ranger died on Friday and according to the Britain Zimbabwe Society he “passed away in his sleep” in his home at Oxford.
Born in 1929, Ranger took his first degree and doctorate at the University of Oxford. He moved to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) at the height of African quest for self-rule and was accepted by the nationalists of the time as a comrade.
He taught Medieval and Early Modern History at the then University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland but his work as an activist for African independence and self-rule led to his deportation in 1963.
He was to move to Tanzania where he taught at the University of Dar es Salaam. It was around this that the nationalist movement saw the split of ZAPU and the formation of ZANU.
So bad were the relations between the nationalists that some of them hardly spoke to each other. In his book, The Story of my life, the late former VP Joshua Nkomo narrates how one day when he visited the late Herbert Chitepo’s home in Dar his wife, Victoria, who was inside the house together with Ranger, walked out leaving the liberal academic to tell him to leave.
Ranger leaves behind an impressive academic record having held chairs at the Universities of Dar, Manchester, UCLA and Oxford. He was also a fellow at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies. In the early 1980s, Ranger was the president of the African Studies Association of the UK. He also founded the Britain Zimbabwe Society.
Ranger supervised many Zimbabwean PhD students. He wrote many books and articles on Zimbabwean history and spent a lot of time researching in the country in the 1990s. He also wrote a blurb to the book titled The struggle for Zimbabwe, a controversial account of the history of the liberation struggle.
On leaving Oxford he taught at the University of Zimbabwe as Visiting Professor for four years. In the mid1990s he was honored by the University of Zimbabwe for his contribution to historiography and was capped by his then friend President Robert Mugabe.
From 2000 onwards Ranger was vocal as a critic of President Mugabe’s policies, particularly his use of violence as a political tool. In 2008, Ranger was one of the many scholars who responded to Professor Mahmood Mamdani’s controversial London Review of Books piece titled Lessons of Zimbabwe.
Ranger, like many who responded, felt that Mamdani had missed the point, failing to provide a correct analysis of the Zimbabwean problem.
However, Ranger himself has been widely criticised by fellow academics for having given little attention to Zanu PF’s excesses in the 1980s.