Obituary for Terence Ranger

4 Feb 2015 - 11:45

There are many detailed and beautiful overviews of the life and work of the much acclaimed and recently departed Professor of History, Terence Ranger.   Jocelyn Alexander and David Maxwell, historians  who worked closest with Ranger and who have succinctly capture his character and life path in an obituary published in the Guardian, described Ranger  as a champion of African nationalism and one of the continent’s most influential historians.  Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga’s concurrent piece captures the different experiences of Ranger as a person and as a pivot in debates on the politics of historiography for Zimbabwean students and scholars over time. There have been retirement conference special editions on Ranger’s influence, his own published memoire, and there will be more tribute publications forthcoming.  His ground breaking work will continue to be built upon and his curiosity and warmth will be missed by many.  I first met Terry in the archives in Harare when I was a student at the University of Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. He convinced me that the tea breaks that the archival staff instituted could be used productively to talk to other researchers rather than half hours of irritation waiting to be allowed to go back inside.   Terry generously shared insights into the workings of the archives and what he felt were crucial gaps in the historiography of colonial Zimbabwe.  He was an amazing combination of calm and productive. He was determined, humble, and generous, sending detailed consolidated summaries of his archival documentation of the building narrative of experiences of colonial Bulawayo that I began to research.  I used to think of him, and his very good friend, Yvonne Vera, as mentor parents- relishing in the laughter filled conversations between them that I was lucky to be privy to which so often was about how to capture the past and illuminate its presence in the present.  Vera was a novelist and her poetic book based on stories passed down from her mother, Butterfly Burning, inspired Terry to look into the same time and place through a historians eyes and produce Bulawayo Burning.  She would have written the most beautiful obituary had she outlived Terry, and knowing they both believed in the afterlife, I hope they now get their chance to compare notes.

Koni Benson

3 February 2015