What type of Zimbabwean stereotype are you?
By Tsungai Chipato
Are Ndebele men really more prone to violence than other Zimbabwe ethnicities or, is it really true that Shona men are generally greedier than Ndebele men? Has it been shown that, Shona people subconsciously take Ndebele culture and language for granted?
Are all our self-inflicted stereotypes true or just simply a symptom of some deeper cultural affliction within Zimbabwe that our leaders refuse to discuss?
Are Zimbabwean males and females alike; really more prone to copying other culture identities rather than defining their own? Do we as Zimbabweans really allow ourselves to feed into these over-generalizations?
With ongoing media stories regarding various social scandals and the recent 40 year jail sentence of Pastor Gumbura, are we as Zimbabweans corroborating the western views that Africans cling to their religion and traditional superstitions creating a bi-polar theology.
In a thesis by Edmore Mutekwe and Maropeng Modiba on gender insensitivity they posit that stereotypes such as ours; have been forming human societies for thousands of millennia amongst different ethnicities. However within our Zimbabwean society; checking for the validity of stereotypes has never been actively pursued for fear of arousing sensitive social issues, considered best left as taboo.
Most biases or stereotypes have a historical background or connotation that is rarely ever researched for historical validity; this is the same for most Zimbabwean myths or archetypes created by some common misconception within the community.
The problem with avoiding a dialectical analysis of misconceptions; is that they end up becoming the very dirty thread of fabric, within a community that ends up defining it to society at large.
Mutekwe and Modiba in their paper cite, Antonio Gramsci an Italian thinker who is well known for his writings on “cultural hegemony”. In one of Gramsci’s works he explains how a community has a social structure; and that within this social structure “a community common-sense” exists. However he goes on to say that a Zimbabwean commonsense may not necessarily be the same as Jewish or South African commonsense.
This begs the question of what really is Zimbabwean commonsense; and what truly defines our psyche? Are generalizations such as, Shona men are more chivalrous with women compared to Ndebele men true, or are Ndebele men more fiscally conservative than Shona men false?
In our patriarchal society; are our Zimbabwean gender roles and social discussions truly open for debate? Do we see generalizations such as Ndebele women being more sexually-liberal than Shona women as true? Or is the bias that Shona women are seen as more manipulative and power hungry than Ndebele women true?
These types of questions are passed along seamlessly through generations fomenting into fallacious conclusions, which usually have no substantive precedent. Again according to Mutekwe and Modibo citing Anthony Giddens a well known British Sociologist, a people’s consciousness is born from the ideology disseminated within the structure of the community.
When an average person hears a stereotype it may feel or seem true however few people ever take the time to delve into discovering whether the view actually holds water. This stereotype through the course of time may form into an organic ideology within the community waiting to be dispersed to the wider society by intellectuals, different types of institutions, or cultural organizations including the church, schools and media.
Archetypes and caricatures that our Zimbabwean psyche and consciousness create at times, may only cause more fracturing and confusion furthering the systemic divisiveness that may subconsciously exist amongst us as a nation, regardless of political or tribal inclinations.
Asking a person where he or she is from within Zimbabwe in order to categorize them and pass a conclusion is wrong at its core, especially if it disenfranchises someone. Nevertheless Zimbabweans and most multicultural societies take this trait as a way of life without pondering on what social constructs they are creating within their society.
Again according to Antonio Gramsci, “organic ideologies” within social structures such as Zimbabwean society, overtly and covertly organize people into patterns and help create terrain on which men and women move and acquire consciousness of their social position.
Therefore when we ask if Shona people really take the Ndebele language for granted, or if there actually are; certain Shona tribes you should not trust because they are associated with a history of selling out to the highest bidder even during the liberation struggle, we take it first as a fact before testing for its validity.
Remember that most of these generalizations or stereotypes we often hear or create for ourselves, however they all emanate from a consciousness within our organic ideologies. These ideologies have become part and parcel of our lives and have at times been manipulated in the exercise of hegemony by various social groups within our community.
When we complain about Zimbabweans being incapable of being united; few of us take the time to delve into the underlying social ills that foment this lack of trust and cohesion within our community. Prejudice and stereotype predicates discord and violence within a community, most Zimbabweans take for granted the stereotypes they are fed by their fellow compatriots without taking the time to investigate the truth.
Is the Zimbabwe Government although really strapped for cash; really tracking all foreign Zimbabweans through it embassies? Are Zimbabweans really academically smart but lack any practical or innovative intelligence?
Do Ndebele people privately still ascribe to their caste system? Are Diaspora Zimbabweans simply carpetbaggers; trying to cash in on any opportunity without contributing to Zimbabwe? Is the South African Xenophobia mainly directed to Shona people because Ndebele people are quick to shed Zimbabwe tendencies and meld into the South African lifestyle?
Mutekwe and Modibo in their paper mention the tendency for individuals to react, to social issues according to the certain construct that the individual would have created for themselves. This construct is then compared to other people within the community and used as a barometer by the individual in how they progress through life.
All venom, hate, overgeneralizations and biases start from the manner in which people objectively view their self-concepts, this evolution starts from a child within the family setting being fed predisposed views; and is then further developed and effectively disseminated by the education system and cultural institutions around the child. All this exists within the ether of what it means to be Zimbabwean, far from any other ethnicity to understand, “it’s a Zimbabwe thing”.
The social ills within Zimbabwe may end up being our ultimate downfall compared to what is occurring politically. Abstract values such as integrity, honor or justice are not taught but nurtured within a community just as much as; hate is best taught and shown.
Not having enough sensitive and difficult conversations with our own Zimbabwean neighbors has resulted in facades being created and used as ways to conduct community activities and projects.
The high literacy level that Zimbabwe has, gave its citizens immense analytical skills however it also made us as a nation that is very competitive against each other often in a negative way. Therefore the next time when you come across a stereotype, please stop the perpetrator and repackage the stereotype as a question in order to check for its validity with evidence.
Are Manyika people more prone to violence? Do Ndebele men really prefer to carry knives on their person? Are Zimbabweans very religious and traditional according to what suits them at the time? Are Shona men more criminally minded than Ndebele? Are “maSalala”, really spoilt and lacking Zimbabwean substantive cultural depth?
This Black History Month it is best to remember the words of Malcolm X when he said that: “we have to change our own…..we’ve got to change our own minds about each other. We have to see each other with new eyes.”
Tsungai Chipato is a journalist and a blogger based in Toronto. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org