Zimbabwe- A House Tribally Divided


Despite the myriad pressing problems that Zimbabweans of all tribal backgrounds are facing, the age old animosity and distrust across tribal lines is alive and healthy, adding to the mix of hunger, poverty, lawlessness and disease. In fact it might be asserted that poverty, disease frustration, and a bleak political and economic outlook are the fodder that is feeding tribal factionalism in our country.

The Mthwakazi Nation as the extremist Ndebeles who belong to all sorts of online forums call themselves have even put out a call for cessation of Matebeleland from the rest of the country. There are calls for a referendum on cessation, much like what has occurred in South Sudan in the last few weeks. South Sudan is made up of black Africans who are predominantly Christian while the north is made up of Arabs and is predominantly Muslim. The Mtwakazi Nation speak vehemently against being “Shonarized” and rendered a worthless people who are nothing but slaves to “amaSvina” as some of them refer to shona speaking people. There is a bile- like bitterness in their rhetoric as they bemoan the fall of Umqabuko (Joshua Nkomo), father of the Ndebele nation and currently there is anger in the nation because of the down fall of the resurgent Zapu- UK which is already plagued by scandals in its infancy. What is even more fascinating is the tribalism within the Mtwakazi nation itself.

Here is an interesting quote from a forum in new Zimbabwe.com:

“Ndebele-Kalanga V.S Ndebele-Nguni struggles; No change yet.

This is the life and death struggle whereby the Ndebele-Kalanga folks have dominated over the Ndebele-Nguni folks. The Ndebele-Kalanga maintaines a stranglehold of dominance to regional institutions like the Bulawayo City Council and Government Departments and also Highlanders F.C.

Yes, we know this often a taboo subject as the Ndebele-Kalangas have always had a tacit support from their Shona cousins in oppressing and discriminating these original true Ndebeles (Ndebele-Ngunis). e.g

-Lookout Masuku (a Ndebele-Nguni) and Dumiso Tavengwa Dabengwa (a Ndebele-Kalanga) were detained in Chikurubi by Mugabe in the early 1982. Lookout Masuku never came out to enjoy independence but Dumiso Dabengwa was made to survive and later prospered within Mugabe’s cabinet.
-Enos Ngara Nkala a Ndebele-Kalanga was treated well as compared to the former Govenor Mabhena a Ndebele-Nguni.Now the ZAPU revival flop has been the latest casualty of this as (once more) Ndebele-Kalangas have hijaked it with the tacit help of their Shona brothers and in the process (once again) sidelining the long-suffering Ndebele-Ngunis.”

Responders to this write up basically castigated the author of this piece chiding him for trying to use ‘divide and conquer” tactics in order to destroy the Mthwakazi Nation. What was clear however was the fact that many were offended at the idea of being remotely linked to Shona people. The real enemy is definitely Shona people.

To paint a balanced picture of our tribal landscape, the Shona have had their in house divisions as well. There are the Karangas, Zezuru, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore. There was a time when within Zanu-PF political alliances were formed based on these tribal lines. Representatives from the different provinces, named according to the tribe that resided therein, would align themselves with other reps from the same province in order to fight, vote for and advance policies that would benefit their constituencies/provinces.

Here is the problem with tribal politics: It fails to take in the concerns of the whole nation and each tribal group is merely concerned with advancing their own cause which will benefit their own people. It is no concern of theirs that other tribal groupings do not benefit or that they may indeed suffer, due to their actions. Tribal politics may up to a point advantage one group. However in disadvantaging all other groups, it creates a maelstrom of hatred, bitterness and frustration which ultimately will find its outlet in barbaric bloodletting. Tribal politics does not push forward a national agenda, neither is it expansive enough to accommodate the various political, civic and religious groupings that should be part of a vibrant democracy in the twenty –first century. Tribal politics is reductionist in nature and shrinks and narrows the world view of those who seek to practice it. It is disconcerting that there are citizens in a country such as ours who do not view themselves as part of Zimbabwe, but rather as a separate nation altogether, whose members are prepared to take up arms and fight for their sovereignty.

While it is proper and necessary to look at and acknowledge the more recent atrocities that were committed by Zanu PF and the fifth brigade in the Gukurahundi Operation of the early 1980s in Matebeleland, it would be disingenuous omit to mention the Ndebele raids on Kingdoms from 1838 under their ruler Mzilikazi all the way until (according to some embittered Shonas) Lobengula signed the country away in 1888. This is the history of Shona and Ndebele people, a history that is peppered with battles and skirmishes and therefore a deep rooted distrust or even hatred of each other. However one cannot omit to mention the fact that despite this tacit co- existence of the two tribes, there has over centuries been a mixing of Shona and Ndebele people through intermarriage and through prisoners of war taken by the Ndebele after their raids. Therefore it can be argued that there is no true Ndebele and no real way of proving that one is of pure Nguni origin. Likewise the ‘purity” of the Shona is questionable for the same reason and also because there was some mixing with Portuguese traders, who began trading with the shone kingdom in the 16th century.

That there are distinct geographical areas in which people who speak the language of Sindebele and people who speak the language of Shona exist, is not in dispute. What is arguable is the purity of tribe of the people who exist in these geographical areas. To take it a step further, in this day and age, in 2011, WHO CARES? Are our national woes not enough to keep us awake at night trying to figure out how to resuscitate our dying country? Is our national identity not more important than the tribe into which we were born? Of what significance is tribe if there is no nation in which to exercise one’s right to exist, to freely express political views and practice one’s religion in liberty? Zimbabweans of all tribes and races should be engaged in the business of trying to figure out what their options are in terms of leadership of their country, rather than to be concerned with delusional aspirations of secession and tribal supremacy.

The reality on the ground is that we all have to co- exist and in this day and age, in 2011, we can use our brains to make decisions that are constructive for us collectively, rather than to foment hatred. Not only is this counterproductive, it also creates a perfect avenue through which ruthless politicians can exploit our differences to their own selfish ends. Zimbabweans need to realize that politicians use us like pawns on a chessboard, in a game in which we gain absolutely nothing and they gain power, influence and they plunder the country’s resources.

As long as we are a house divided, we will continue to be dysfunctional and we will continue to get opportunistic leaders who do not have our interests at heart. What we need to realize is the fact that Ndebele people did not go out to massacre Shona men and steal their women and cattle of their own free will. Their leadership sanctioned this and they obeyed orders. By the same token, Shona people did not travel en masse to Matebeleland to butcher innocent civilians during Gukurahundi. The leadership of the day sanctioned the operation and many Shona people had no idea that this atrocity was being committed. Therefore to continue to blame each other over politically motivated maneuvers is unintelligent and highly destructive. On both sides there is a need for genuine reflection and analysis of the facts of our history and a concerted effort to overcome our prejudices so that we can move on and move forward.

To put it in the words of an elder who is part Kalanga, part Shona, part Ndebele: “If we continue to think primitively and to behave primitively towards each other, then we must expect only primitive results. Tribalism belongs in the dark ages, not in the technological age. While other nations contemplate sending up space ships and advancing science, we continue to dream about the days of grass skirts, bows and arrows and shoving spears into each other’s hearts. While our country and its wealth is at the mercy of callous and cunningly devious leaders, we waste energy and time trying to devise ways in which to inflict the worst kind of damage to each other. What will you young ones tell your children when they ask you how Zimbabwe fell apart? How will you explain to them how you ended up in the Diaspora? That is what should be occupying your minds, not this tribal mumbo jumbo.”

Dzosai Mabhuku