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Exposing Mthwakazi and Mashona quarter truths

By Freeman Chari

I have decided after many debates in different forums to delve into the issue of secession of Matabeleland. Whilst I can hide my political affiliation I cannot certainly hide my ethnicity.

King Lobengula
King Lobengula

I am Karanga from Chivi in Masvingo. I have divulged this so that the reader does not get the false impression that the author is an independent non-interested party to the debate. As is common in issues of ethnicity and politics by interested parties there may arise issues of conflict-of-interest where expedience may override consciousness of the truth. I will try however to attack the arguments and not the arguers.

The extent of the Ndebele Kingdom

The proponents of secession argue that the Ndebele State was a kingdom in its own right whose influence was limited to present-day Matabeleland. They argue that the colonial administration erred in officially unifying the administration of Matabeleland and Mashonaland under Southern Rhodesia; for Matabeleland had existed as a sovereign entity whilst Mashonaland was a different entity outside of Lobengula’s influence. This should be exposed as a complete fallacy.

1.       In 1890 Mr D C De Waal a member of Cape Parliament and  Ex-Mayor of Cape Town accompanied Cecil John Rhodes into Mashonaland  and wrote in one of his letters entitled “With Mr Rhodes into Mashonaland: The rediscovered gold fields of the land of the ophir” that they visited a chief named Tshibi (Chivi)  near Fort Victoria. It had been alleged that Chivi had given concessions to one Adendorf but they when they asked him he said; “How can I grant concessions over this land?  I have no authority over them.” When they asked him who had. He replied that only Lobengula had.

2.      It is important to review the contents of the letter that Lobengula wrote to Dr Harris and Dr Jameson on 13 May 1893. At that time, at the instigation of Harris, the BSAP had seized Lobengula’s cattle in Tuli as punishment for what “Amaswini”(Amaswina) had done. They had cut telegraph wires and stolen Jameson’s cattle near Fort Victoria. The white men accused Lobengula of not reigning in his subjects. Lobengula responded by sending one of his impis to punish these amahole but when the impi was shot at Lobengula wrote ; “You said before that you would not punish my Amahole, but now that I send to punish them for you for harm done to your telegraph wires you resent it” This letter shows that the people who resided around Fort  Victoria were subjects of Lobengula. The letter can be found in Review of reviews and world’s work, Volume 8 by Albert Shaw published in 1893.

3.      D N Beach in his paper “Afrikaner and Shona Settlement in the Enkeldoorn Area” published in 1970  writes that Mutekedza’s Hera chiefdom represented an outlying point of Ndebele influence, as Mutekedza and his predecessors apparently relied upon Lobengula’s support, and paid tribute through two tax-collectors from Bulawayo, Ruzane and Munondo. VaHera are found around present day Chivhu, Nharira and Buhera. These are areas that lie far off from Matabeleland.

The reason why I pointed out these examples is to demonstrate that by the time that Lobengula signed the Rudd Concession, he had influence that covered greater lengths into Masvingo, and Mashonaland. Thus the proponents of secession have relied on a convenient myth to justify their beliefs.

Characteristics of the Ndebele Society

Proponents of a separate state have sought to portray the Ndebele State under Mzilikazi and Lobengula as existing in tribal harmony and class equality. In a recent article Prof Gatsheni also tried to give credence to this myth by writing :

“What must be dispelled is that amaHole were enslaved people. How can 60% of the national population of the Ndebele society be enslaved by 40% of the population? AmaHole were full Ndebele citizens. Their children were drafted into amabutho (age-set groups) just like every other youth.”

This must be rebutted also as a deliberate attempt to distort history;

1.    In his paper in 2008 “Who Ruled by the Spear? Rethinking the Form of Governance in the Ndebele State” Prof Gatsheni  wrote “Some early observers had a wrong impression that the Hole were treated as slaves in the Ndebele state. The Hole were subordinated to the Zansi and Enhla groups socially and politically. Even though they were belittled and looked down upon by others, they were not really enslaved to the Ndebele.” This rebuts the notion that the Kalanga, Rozvi, Nyubi, Nyayi, Birwa, Venda and other indigenous people of the southwest were treated with dignity in the Ndebele State.

No man feels satisfied being looked upon and all these were man and by extrapolation were and could not be satisfied. By the way Prof Gatsheni in an attempt to back his assertions by empirical evidence forgets that over 11 million people of Zimbabwe were held captive by a colonial regime whose population numbered less that 2% of the population.

2.    WILLIAM A. ELLIOTT who was a missionary at Inyati from 1877 to 1892  wrote; “The Ma-Tebele say Ama-Swina for Ma-Shuna, and “Swina” in Shuna parlance is dirt. The ” dirt(y) people,” is that the Tebele meaning? No doubt it is true in fact, but it will hardly pass as an etymology. They are commonly called by their black masters, in contempt, “Amaholi” i.e. “the draggers,” from their habit of wearing their blankets long, so as to nearly drag on the ground.”  This is a clear evidence of discrimination and contempt that the Ndebele people viewed present-day Shonas.

3.    In the same article Elliot attributes the following words to one old Hole:

 “How can we pray now that the Ma-Tebele have conquered us. We are afraid to go pa dzimbahwe (to the graves), but offer our little offerings in our villages and houses. Our oppressors have taken all we had.” This again is testimony that Amahole were not equal, they were oppressed and had most of their belongings confiscated.

Tribal relations in post-Lobengula Matabeleland

In an attempt to rally tribes that had been subjugated by Lobengula, most advocates have tried to downplay the fact that the relationship between the Ndebele and other western tribes has always been skewed towards Ndebele superiority.  

1.      Most Kalangas were forced to speak Ndebele out of necessity although culturally they were not  Ndebeles. This was the case in schools that were erected in Kalanga areas of Tsholotsho, Kezi,  Gwanda,  Matobo.

2.      Msindo  in LANGUAGE  AND  ETHNICITY  IN MATABELELAND:NDEBELE-KALANGA  RELATIONS IN SOUTHERN ZIMBABWE,  1930-1960 deals effectively with this issue. Of interest is where he refers to  one Rev.  Mtompe  Kumalo  (a  descendant  of the  former  Ndebele  ruling family) who taught at Hope Foundation around  1940 who used to preach in church ,  “Akunga  Makalanga  kwakuyi  kudla komkonto.  Sikota  igazi  lakho.”  Meaning   “Kalangas  were  food  for the assegais. We licked their blood from the assegais.” 

3.      In the 1950s Matabeleland Home Society which was a Ndebele-centric organization but labeled itself a national organization vehemently opposed the existence of Kalanga Cultural Society arguing that it was a tribal formation.

Of Shona Supremacists and blameless Ndebeles

As is common in cases where there is conflict between a majority population and a minority population, the majority suffers from cannon attacks which if it were to respond in the same manner would be greatly condemned as suppression and abuse. Proponents of secession label everyone Shona as a supremacist without considering the implication of pre-Gukurahundi relations especially in Matabeleland.

I have shown how the Ndebele rulers subjected Amashona (Amaswina) to ridicule and subjugation. Let us not forget that the existence of the Ndebele State only lasted about 57 years and it is only about 116 years since the death of Lobengula. The events of Lobengula and Mzilikazi rule are not far off in time and have been preserved in memory by those people who were affected. It is important though to delve in those that have been documented and are closer in time.

1.                  The Matabeleland Home Society which was formed around 1924 whose objective was to unite Ndebele people, guide them in the way of ‘purity, peaceful  advancement, good, and right living in their homes’ and represent the Matabele people before the government became increasingly violent and tribal resulting in the attack of Shona workers in Bulawayo on 29 December 1929.

2.                  The  MHS members Luza and Mazibisa took Empandeni matron to task for introducing Shona language at the school.

3.                  In  1955,  the  Shona-dominated  Advisory  Board  persuaded  councilors to  accept  the  name  Rufaro for  a  Western  Commonage  No.  3  township  (now Njube). The MHS responded by moving a motion to forbid Mashona on the Advisory Board from taking  part in matters  affecting  Matabele people despite the fact that the population of Shona people in Bulawayo was equal or even more than that of Ndebele people.

If these events were not an attempt to elevate Ndebele people above other people then I wonder what they were. 

Hitting the nail on the head

Having exposed the fallacies that the proponents of secession have been peddling it becomes important to explore the reasons why such myths have found good audience.  THE PROCLAMATION OF UMHLAHLO WE SIZWE SIKA MTHWAKAZI laid out the core of what the people of Matabeleland identified as forms of oppression.

a)      Marginalization of the Elected MPs of Matabeleland.

b)       Instituting the Reign of Terror in Matabeleland.

c)      Perpetrated ethnic cleansing against the People of Matabeleland.

d)      Translocation of the Economic Resources of Matabeleland to Mashonaland.

e)      Reserving Key Jobs for the Shona People in Matabeleland.

f)       Depriving Education Opportunities to the People of Matabeleland.

g)      Retarding the Cultural Identity of the Inter-Cultural Society of Matabeleland.

Of these I will address only three.

Ethnic cleansing against the people of Matabeleland

The history of Zimbabwe’s politics is littered with tribalism. The biggest problem that the Ma-Tebele are making is to believe that tribalism in Zimbabwe starts and ends with a group of people they conveniently lumped into one and called Amaswina (Mashona). The split of ZAPU and ZANU in 1963 is attributed to Shona supremacists without interrogating the fact that SRANC was a fusion of tribalists from Kalanga Cultural Society, Matabeleland Home Society and Monomotapa Offspring’s Society.

These are the people who went on to make the bulk of ZAPU leadership.  Even in ZAPU we discover the presence of tribalism when  the Dengezi faction of the Kalanga radicals forced the 1972 split with the Shona. In ZANU we also come across the Nhari rebellion which also boiled down to tribal fights between the Karanga and the Manyika.

Core to all these confrontations was the issue of political power. Despite the myth that the massacre of the people of Matabeleland between 1981-1987  was an act of tribal cleansing by the Shonas it remains a fact that the motive was political rather than tribal. Nkomo represented the only formidable challenge to Mugabe both in military and electoral mighty.

Had Nkomo been allowed to work  and organise freely and ZIPRA was freely assimilated into the Zimbabwe National Army, there is no doubt that at the period when Zimbabwe clamored for a dear leader he would have successfully overcame Mugabe.  This I assert because, Morgan Tsvangirai won elections in 2008 but failed to take power because of his lack of military mighty.

Indeed given the historic rivalry and at the most animosity that existed between the Shona and Ndebele people there is great possibility that there are many Shonas who celebrated the invasion of Matabeleland. Nevertheless, given the manner of secrecy and deceit by which Gukurahundi was done it could be that many Shonas did not know nor realize the extent of the savage acts, had they been informed I do not think there is any normal human being who would have celebrated such.

To further support my belief that gukurahundi was an attempt to silence political enemies, we need to revisit the atrocities of 2008. This time it was in the MaShona area where a challenge to Mugabe’s political hegemony emanated. He did not hesitate to kill. He is going to kill wherever there is a possibility of a threat  to his power.

Had it been an issue of tribal cleansing then we should have seen an equal impetus towards the Shangaan people of the old Gaza kingdom but we didn’t.

Translocation of the Economic Resources of Matabeleland to Mashonaland

Matabeleland is a dry  region and most of its areas are not suitable for commercial farming. Nevertheless there are rich pastoral lands that sustain cattle ranching.  Hwange National Park, Hwange Coal Mines, Hwange Thermal Power Station,  Victoria Falls are all important revenue generators in Matabeleland.

Before the collapse of the economy, Bulawayo also had a vibrant industry. It is indeed a genuine concern that whilst there is so much being produced in Bulawayo, very few in terms of developments are being seen as a result of the exploitation of the area’s resources.

We would expect that since the coal and the electric plant is in Matabeleland the people of Tsholotsho, Kezi, Gwanda would not have any trouble accessing electricity, unfortunately there is a powerline that runs from Hwange through Chertsey to Triangle more than 1300 km away. This is a pain to the people of Matabeleland, unfortunately such a situation is not unique to them alone. 

The people of Chiredzi have the biggest sugar estates around them. Every day they breathe polluted air from burning sugar cane but there is little to show for their sacrifice. They have only two boarding high school, their town is under-developed and sometimes they run out of sugar yet in the shops of Bulawayo it will be there because most of the brown sugar is sent to Zimbabwe Sugar Refineries in Bulawayo. 

The people of Chilonga, Chisumbanje and Malipati are not being employed rather most artisans and apprentices are coming from Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo. This same scenario is reproduced in Marange where the area is rich in diamonds but the community is living in abject poverty. The same with the  Nyanga people, the Dorowa and Buhera people. 

Whilst the Ndebele people may feel that only them are on the needle’s end,  there are many other people in Zimbabwe who have been subjected to equally if not worse treatment.  This reduces our problem to a structural failure than tribal deprivation.

Depriving Education Opportunities to the People of Matabeleland

Whilst this statement is broad and vague it is important that I touch on it. Firstly I have to defend the current bottle-neck system in Zimbabwe as one that makes each student equal before it.  I am sure that there is no Ndebele who has had 4 points at Grade 7, 5As  at Ordinary level and 3As at Advanced Level who was denied a place at the University of Zimbabwe.  There have been equal opportunities for Ndebele and Shona people of good grades.

Where the people of Matabeleland may be having a bone to chew with the government which as usual is reduced to Mashona is the development of schools in their province. From my engagements with many Ndebeles they feel they have fewer schools in Matabeleland than what Mashona people have. Again this situation is not unique to Matabeleland .

Up to today Chivi district has two boarding schools- Berejena and Chibi High School. Until 2000 Chivi had only 5 schools that offered A Level classes.  We had to walk 20 kilometres a day from Nyahombe to Shongamiti for school. There are many who walked longer. The only secondary schools which had electricity were Berejena, Chivi and Ngundu. Those in Razi and Chomuruvati were in the dungeon.

The same with Buhera  where the only boarding  schools were Nyashanu and Makumbe Mission.  Matabeleland is littered with many mission schools but there are few government schools. The schools have no electricity which makes it quite impossible to teach science subjects like Physics and Biology. In the end you have more Ndebele pursuing arts subjects.

To make matters worse the government builds a Science University in Bulawayo without addressing the core shortcomings of the system. The result obviously is that NUST ends up being populated by people coming from areas where sciences had been taught at O Level and those areas are mostly in the better developed areas of Mashonaland and Harare.  In the eyes of the tribalists it becomes a tribal issue yet again it is a manifestation of failure by the system to manage national resources.

Finally, I would point out the situation in Botswana where  Batswana thought they were punishing BaKalanga by sending them to school. Today Batswana are crying foul when Kalangas occupy higher offices in government despite them being a minority. It is not a secret that the Ndebeles preferred other things than school that is why Lobengula only allowed 5 missionaries at Inyati. In Mashonaland though missionaries found  people willing to learn. Schools only began to flourish after the fall off Lobengula hence the perversion of Seventh Day Adventism – a later church- in Matabeleland.

In Conclusion

Having dedicated a lot of time and space on myths and fallacies it is imperative that I also begin to interrogate what I believe is the solution to Zimbabwe’s political and economic woes – federalism. I hope this will be the subject of my next article.

In the mean time, I hope the debate on tribalism continues earnestly.  It is my hope again that this work although largely a defense of the majority not be viewed as a defense of the status quo but an attempt to present a broader picture to a sensitive matter which  the majority would wish to ignore whilst the minority would wish to shove down the majority’s throat.