One of the Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) leaders, Paul Siwela, was freed in June by the Supreme Court, more than 86 days after being arrested and charged with treason. MLF is a separatist group seeking an independent Ndebele state. Siwela joins Lance Guma on SW Radio Africa’s Question Time to answer questions sent in by listeners using Facebook, Twitter , Skype, e-mail and SMS.
Interview broadcast 16 November 2011
Lance Guma: Mthwakazi Liberation Front leader, Paul Siwela, was freed in June this year by the Supreme Court, more than 86 days after being arrested and charged with treason. Now the Mthwakazi Liberation Front is described by many as a controversial Matabeleland-based separatist group seeking an independent Ndebele state. Mr Siwela joins us on Question Time to answer your questions. Thank you for your time Mr Siwela.
Paul Siwela: Thank you.
Guma: Okay, opening remarks – do you see yourself as a controversial Matabeleland-based separatist group seeking an independent Ndebele state as you are often described by the media?
Siwela: Certainly not because unfortunately those who are arguing or suggesting that we are a controversial organization, they haven’t stated the reason what is controversial about our position that we have taken.
Guma: Okay, explain exactly what Mthwakazi Liberation Front is all about. What are you trying to achieve?
Siwela: Thank you. For the benefit of those perhaps who are not in the know, is that Zimbabwe which formerly was called Mashonaland before the white men came in here and Matabeleland which is Mthwakazi, there were two separate states living side by side and since then unfortunately the white men came in and combined the two. It is this amalgamation which has brought a lot of misery and suffering to the people of Mthwakazi and the people of Mthwakazi found its feet that they have to retain and regain their sovereignty which they lost in 1893.
Guma: Right, now Leonard writing to us from Victoria Falls says the world over, tribalism is taken very seriously. Do you not have any worries, he says, of being labeled a tribal outfit because if you are saying you are looking at a separate Mthwakazi state, are you saying you are looking for a separate state for Ndebeles?
Siwela: Sorry I think you are making a big mistake saying we are a tribal group or pushing a tribal agenda. In fact if there is anything tribal in Zimbabwe, it is what the Ndebele people or the people from Mthwakazi are being subjected to. So for that reason, this is why they have had to come up together, march and decide to regain their sovereignty.
And this is not surprising. Even where you are speaking from yourself, so-called Citadel of Democracy, the Scots are even advocating for a separate state from that island, so I don’t understand what you are talking about or whoever is talking about the issue of tribalism.
Guma: I suppose maybe his question is based on who are the citizens that comprise Mthwakazi?
Siwela: Well perhaps for the benefit of all those who have the way of that feeling or that thinking that Mthwakazi is meant only for the original people perhaps that were, that have always lived in this area, they should not forget that, in the geography of Mthwakazi, the eastern part of the province that we call Empumalanga currently which is referred as Midlands Province, you do have Shona speaking people so it would not make sense or any sense to anybody to suggest that Shonas were not welcome in Mthwakazi.
Why would they not be welcome? Those who choose to be citizens of Mthwakazi, they are free to remain there as long as they respect the constitution of the land, coexist with the other nationals without any problems, just like the Ndebeles who choose to remain in Zimbabwe, they are not going to be coerced to leave Zimbabwe and come to Mthwakazi.
As we have seen in the past in countries like Israel, when Israel was formed in 1948, a lot of Israeli nationals are spread in the Diaspora, they did not necessarily have to go to Israel and they stay there but they still maintain that yes they are, in terms of ethnicity, they are Jews. So they are Jews wherever they are but they become nationals of that particular or rather they become citizens of that particular country.
So in as much as Shona people who want to remain and become citizens of Mthwakazi, they are free to remain as citizens of Mthwakazi, the Ndebele people who would want to remain as citizens of Zimbabwe, they are also equally free to remain in Zimbabwe there.
Guma: Now from Facebook comes another question from Patrick Zororo Tawengwa he says does it mean Mr Siwela that you are going to claim back part of South Africa where you do not deny you emanated from and make it part of Mthwakazi. He says historically you fled Tshaka Zulu and came into present-day Zimbabwe empty handed.
Siwela: Yah I think what my brother needs to know is that no-one was created by God in this land which we call Zimbabwe. In any case there was nothing called Zimbabwe before the white man came in here. The name Zimbabwe, it was a continuation of what Cecil John Rhodes did in his (inaudible) when he was trying to get this country colonized and obtain charter which he decided to amalgamate both Matabeleland and Mashonaland and called it, initially there were three names – he wanted this country to be called Cecilialand the other name he opted for was Charterland and the other one was Rhodesia and then his confident Starr Leander Jameson decided to use the name Rhodesia and that’s why this country has remained so.
But of course you have to realize that during that time, it became also difficult for them to amalgamate Matabeleland and Mashonaland, so these countries remained like that until in 1923 when about 8000 white people participated in a referendum where they were given two choices – either to have this country amalgamated to South Africa and become the fifth province or they were given the option of self-governing status and 8000 whites, realising that they were going to be overwhelmed by the numbers of the Afrikaners in South Africa decided to have the first option of self-governing status. Then they decided to amalgamate Matabeleland and Mashonaland. That’s where these two countries were joined.
Guma: K Muchemwa sent us an email saying Mr Siwela how do you see the economy of the proposed new state of Mthwakazi being sustained?
Siwela: Oh that’s going to be a beautiful economy because look there’s everything that you may need to have to run a economy. We have got gold, we have got coal, we have got diamonds, we have emeralds, we have got chrome, we have iron ore, we have timber, we have industries of course and everything is there.
We have cattle which we will export to Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe doesn’t even have cattle there except those that were looted during the so-called land reform programme in after the year 2000. A lot of cattle were looted here in Mthwakazi and taken to Mashonaland.
So we are prepared, we have all those things but otherwise everything is there to run the economy; the population, you are looking at about four point, between four million to four point five at most. Remember the demarcation of Mthwakazi and the Republic of Zimbabwe will run along from Kariba, running down to Kwe Kwe, going down to say about a hundred, to two hundred kilometres from Beit Bridge on the eastern side.
Guma: Now some will say to you Mr Siwela your intentions might be noble but you are trying to do the right thing at the wrong time because Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crisis where the focus is on removing a very repressive regime and unity is key whereas you are chasing a project that basically is splitting the energies of many Zimbabweans and it will take much longer to remove the regime if people like you continue advancing sectional interest like this.
Siwela: Well first of all those people are people who are on a self-denial about the suffering of the people from Mthwakazi, that’s why they will be talking like that. If they knew how much the people of Mthwakazi are suffering since 1893 when the white men came here, remember the Miekles Looting Committee they took over a million of our cattle from our forefathers here and nothing was done to the Miekles Looting Committee.
Guma: But would you say only people from Mthwakazi are suffering? The argument would be that the whole country…is suffering.
Siwela: No no the suffering has been going on but what we have seen after 1980, the people on the other side, Mashonaland have always been given first preference in everything – education, employment, economic empowerment. Selective treatment even when it comes to the judiciary itself so we are pretty aware of all these things and there’s no any other way to redress those things…
Guma: But are you not therefore contradicting yourself there because that is precisely the point being made that the regime in power at the moment is the one that created that scenario and removing that regime is the priority? Then you can have all these solutions. It seems you are probably putting the cart before the horse.
Siwela: Lance don’t mislead people. A classic case for your listeners to understand is in America when Obama came, a lot of our black brothers there, they were so much excited thinking that when Obama gets there, overnight the situation was going to change for them and of late we have seen the black people complaining because there’s a system that is entrenched which you cannot remove overnight.
So even if the people of Mthwakazi were to participate to remove Zanu PF from government, there’s a system there and in any case if those people were desirous that we should have one united front, the first thing they should have done was to come and approach and speak to us and say guys look you have your own grievances as well against this regime, “we joined later but our grievances are different from yours, can we amalgamate these grievances and we hear what your proposed solution would look like?”
Once we’ve got a common agenda of the post Mugabe situation, then we can work together. That situation was going to be perhaps a miracle even to us on the other side. But for us we’re not going to remove Mugabe for the sake of pleasing other people and then (inaudible) it’s not sensible at all.
Guma: When you say ‘to remove Mugabe to please other people’ which other people are you talking about?
Siwela: No the people of Zimbabwe, the people of Zimbabwe are the ones who are complaining of late, they have just joined in to complain about Robert Mugabe – right? And all the years they have always been happy, they even tell you, Mugabe has always been good right from 1980, we read those statements, they made those statements in public, he only started to be bad guy from the year 2000.
And yet to us, Mugabe was bad from 1980. Recall that around 15th August 1980, he went to sign an agreement with the North Koreans to train the Fifth Brigade which came and killed our people, over 40000 of them. One million of them were displaced and three, two point five, three million of them were traumatized, they are denied employment, they are denied education, they are denied economic empowerment. What do you expect those people to do?
It’s not our business to go and remove Mugabe. Those people if they want us to participate and we are ready to do so, provided we agree on a common template which is going to accommodate our interests and our aspirations as well. But under the present environment where the idea is just to remove Mugabe, that has nothing to do with us, we’re not going to participate in that movement.
Guma: How much support do you have? We have an email that’s just come in from Barbara who says in Magwegwe and she says and I quote from her email ‘is MLF a genuine party since we only hear them in newspapers and it seems they operate mainly from South Africa?
Siwela: Well I can tell you, I would say to be very realistic, give it over 75% of the population here is quite in favour of what we are doing, they are solidly behind the MLF agenda to recreate and regain our sovereignty and they are very enthusiastic about the whole project.
Guma: Are you not guilty of not being able to separate people identifying with grievances and necessarily supporting your cause because some would say there’s a difference…
Siwela: We were already segregated. Lance we were segregated before so I don’t understand what is new today with us concerning that segregation. I can tell you right now if you go even to private clubs, after hours in social life, you go there and find the people who will be there, here in Matabeleland. You won’t find, go to the police stations, go to ZIMRA, go to any government department and see the people who are employed there and tell me if…
Guma: Let me give you a classic example which maybe you could answer – I’ll give my own example: I’m a Shona speaking Zimbabwean born in Marange but all my life I grew up in Matabeleland so the question then comes in… PS: There’s nothing wrong with that.
Guma: …yah I know first hand some of the issues you are articulating because I saw them first hand, I went to schools in Matabeleland, I know about the marginalization that you are talking about, so the question then comes in when addressing this how do you then split Zimbabwe into compartments and you tackle the issue because you have people who identify with what you are saying but who might not necessarily agree with your solution.
Siwela: Lance what is going to happen is you have a choice yourself when you decide to come here – either because you grew up here you are happy with the political governance system that we are going to put in place in Mthwakazi or you opt to go to Zimbabwe right because your maybe originally your parents came from there. The choice will be entirely yours where you want to stay.
No-one is going to force you and say go and stay there; no-one will be forced, don’t stay there, go the other side. No, it is the people who will decide where they want to stay but what we are doing ourselves is to confirm what the people of Zimbabwe, through Zanu PF have done to say we are second class citizens, they don’t want us to be part of Zimbabwe.
Just imagine, even the little kids they will ask you at home, my father will tell me why is it that the ZBC will not have Ndebele language being spoken there in the morning? That’s common knowledge when Mugabe went there after his foreign trips, he checked the use of the people who formed that entourage, you’ll never find a person from our side part of that entourage.
You will never see Morgan Tsvangirai’s entourage as well and see the people who accompany him – you don’t see anyone coming from our side. So what does that tell you? You look at the principals of this government – you’ve got Mugabe, you’ve got Tsvangirai, you’ve got Arthur Mutambara – none of our people are there who participate in the decision making.
Look at all the service chiefs, none of our people are there. Look at, come here to Bulawayo at the central police station look at the people who are at the top there, there’s none of our people in there. So…
Guma: But the question is – who is to blame for that whole arrangement? Who is to blame?
Guma: Who is to blame?
Siwela: It’s now an institutionalized apartheid system in this country which has to be dismantled but to dismantle it may be very difficult so the best way, these people don’t want the people from Mthwakazi to be part of them so if that is the case, let us not bother them or force ourselves upon them. The best way is just okay guys let’s confirm this, these two countries were joined by the white colonialists, let’s go back to our original position before the white man came in here.
Guma: Okay Mr Siwela, we have so many questions to ask you, we had a huge response from people, we’re probably have to do a part two with you and get you again next week and continue asking.
Plenty of questions coming in and I think a lot of people will be disappointed I didn’t get to ask their questions but I promise we’ll get Mr Siwela again next week Wednesday and continue this discussion. That’s Mthwakazi Liberation Front leader Paul Siwela joining us on Question Time. Thank you for your time.
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