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Ethnicity or tribalism in Zimbabwe: let’s dare to speak about it and find solutions

By Nomazulu Thata

It is not worth the effort to find definitions about tribalism or ethnic tensions as this word tribalism in Zimbabwe is embedded in the psyche of all citizens, its meaning and what it means to be different.

Nomazulu Thata
Nomazulu Thata

It is in the gene make-up of all Zimbabweans, even the young people are aware of tribalism and its relevance for survival either way. The roots of tribalism are very well documented there is no need too, to go back and talk about the AmaNdebele who came from the south and the AmaShona came from the North-East of African.

The San people are the original peoples of this Zambezi landscape right up to the beaches of Southern Africa. Those are tired stories spoken about many times and written about in history books, they do not bring solutions to most volatile, very dangerous and cancerous disease in Zimbabwe: tribalism. In post-modern societies it is called ethnic tensions to remain politically correct.

What is most worrying about tribalism in Zimbabwe is that there seem not be one single political party, even opposition parties whose agenda has a clause that openly pleads to eradicate tribalism and ethnic tensions in the country, economic imbalance that has generated discontent among ethnic groups, what steps are going to be taken to eradicate hate speeches, economic marginalisation, separate development, dominance of one ethnic against the other ethnic minorities.

Because everyone is aware of the ethnic divide, instead of building bridges and ties by seeking sustainable solutions, there is some appeasement in the form of political positions; a deputy will be Ndebele to balance diverse environments of tribal/ethnic existence. There will be some two to three white ministers too, to showcase some semblance of ethnic and race political correctness. My foot!

This hymnbook of appeasement was crafted by Zanu PF in 1987 when they signed a unity accord between Zapu and Zanu.

Again this unity accord had characteristics that undermined the very purpose of the pact; it is and was far from reducing negative impacts of diversity and its disadvantages. Rather it was some appeasement to symbolize unity, were to be seen to be reconciling the two ethnic groups: AmaNdebele and AmaShona peoples.

Sadly, the opposition parties subconsciously identified themselves with the same hymnbook of Zanu PF. In 1999 Richard Morgan Tsvangirai was selectively chosen to lead MDC because he was of the Shona ethnic group and not because he was the best leader of the founding comrades but because of ethnicity!

As if it was not enough mistake, MDC-Ncube went shopping for a Shona speaking leader and they got him, Professor Arthur Mutambara, to lead the break away party of MDC. This ethnic leadership of choice extended the feeling that the Shona tribe is the only one capable of leadership or deserves to be President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The unity agreement of Zapu and Zanu, however, was very far from creating a rainbow nation that respects diverse ethnicity and upholding the dignity of human beings of all ethnic groups and races.

This deputization of minority ethnic groups is and was simple a symbol, it genuinely lowers trust and it is very far from eliminating and eradicating tribal tension and finding durable and sustainable solutions to our most painful past and present ethnic antagonism existing in our midst.

Deep hatred among ethnic groups, non tolerance of tribal and race still co-existence. Some semblance of working together among ethnic groups is wholly cosmetic, like a pig wearing a lipstick. (if I am allowed to use Moses Chamboko’s words verbatim).

How many times have we seen hard-core hate speeches in Zimbabwe social media, said against Honourable MP Eddie Cross, Senator David Coltart, the farmer Ben Freeth and many other white minorities who dared to say something regarding Zimbabwe’s situation, its current political and economic challenges?

According to most black Zimbabweans, these white Zimbabweans are not Zimbabweans, are constantly labelled racists, Selous Scouts, constantly reminded about colonialism and Smith’s UDI at every turn.

Instead of building bridges and strong ties and extend inclusion, the power of destruction seems mightier than the power to embrace ethnic diversity that impacts cohesion, close-in social norms and respect the social capital that they bring with them.

How are we going to build bridges and ties with “other” Zimbabweans who are as a matter of fact a social capital on their own? With that mindset of hate-speeches coming from the black population, it does not end by insulting minority white people because if you are a racist, you are a tribalist equally.

These Zimbabwean white populations remaining are the third and fourth generations resulting from historical processes of white migration and the purpose of it, not anywhere different to black migration of previous centuries, now settled in today’s Zimbabwe. It is this minority group that fed the entire nation, brought food securities in the land and Zimbabwe was a bread basket of southern Africa.

Building social cohesion in Zimbabwe should never start with labelling one another with name-calling. We have heard enough of people pitting against each other on grounds of ethnicity. The Zanu PF system of divide and rule set negative patterns of diversity in Zimbabwe immediately after 1980.

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Disparities in social norms were visible and because of fear and mistrust, the white population was socially withdrawn from the rest of the black population. Tribalism/racism in Zimbabwe is so dangerous and has fallen to all time low hence a dangerous cocktail for yet another conflict that will claim many lives and impeding any kind of social and economic development. One is seen a hero or politically correct if one meted some form of insults towards other ethnic groups. Such utterances lower trust and undermine social cohesion.

Threats to other minorities was imminent, resulting in genocide of 1983 to 1987, the tribal divide, tribal card was used in all aspects of socio-economic development. Disparities in social norms were elaborated giving distinct demarcations of who was Ndebele (Madzwiti)– Shona(amaSwina) – White Settlers (Rhodies) – immigrants from the neighbourhood countries were denigrated by naming them AmaNyasarandi, zvinhu zvisina mitupo, people without totems.

It is these groups-attitudes that created tensions among the ethnic and racial groups. Because of the poisonous cocktail of Zanu PF, of dividing and ruling, the majority of the groups tended to dominate the minority groups in political, economic and social aspect of the country’s development leading to prejudices and resentment.

Should the people of Mathebeleland utter or echo their political, social and economic exclusion, Zanu PF will always give threats by shaking their match boxes, making no qualms about the return of Gukurahundi and anomie once more.

It is for this reason that there can never be social cohesion, no sensible inter-ethnic living together under Zanu PF political dispensation. Sensitive measures of diversity are wholly ignored; the deterioration of civic spirit is the order of the day in Zimbabwe as it the element that defines political acceptance and correctness.

If I was asked to suggest how to eradicate tribalism and racial conflicts in Zimbabwe, I would first and foremost ring-fence Gukurahundi atrocities, atrocities committed during the farms invasions, atrocities committed during the Murambatsvina of 2005 and Mavhotera papi, the atrocities committed in 2008 general elections.

The reasons would be that these atrocities were committed by the Zanu elite and they cannot be heaped on the peoples of Mashonaland. It would be incorrect to paint the entire populations about Mashonaland with the same brush. These atrocities should be dealt with separately and not against a people of Shona ethnicity.

It is in this loaded context that a solution to ethnic tensions can only be solved outside Zanu PF political dispensation. Again there is no judiciary system in Zimbabwe with a mandate to competently execute justice against genocide and crimes against humanity committed by Zanu PF.

Political/economic solutions to tribalism

1) Devolution, which is the statutory granting of powers from the central government to regional level of power, is imbedded, curiously in the new Zimbabwe constitution. If it was implemented with accountability, transparency, honesty and political-will, it does give confidence to minority ethnic groups to be seen to be running their own social and economic development in their designated regions.

Political inequalities are solved when in each province or district or some local governments begin to take their fate into their hands, have greater control of their destiny. Through allocated budget from the national cake, each region will improve better services and infrastructure development in their regions. Front line services: health, education and agriculture will improve significantly.

Devolution dampens cleavages between ethnic groups and it can all erode prejudices between race and ethnic diversities in the country as a whole. It undermines stereotypes generating group trust. Devolution boosts some social cohesion connectivity and reciprocation in trust among ethnic diversities.

2) Mthwakazi Liberation Front and Mthwakazi Republic Party: It is my strong considered opinion that political groups such as Mthwakazi Liberation Front and some other groups of the likes should be approached by opposition parties and engage them and dialogue with the young men and women create some level of trust and connectivity, what are the issues that are common and what are the issues that separate us from them.

Has any opposition political party approached MLF and suggested solution either than secession? The position of the current government and almost all opposition political towards the Mthwakazi Liberation Front/Mthwakazi Republic Party of resentment and anomie towards these young people is regressive.

MLF concurs completely with most peoples of Matabeleland there is a deliberate of socio-economic marginalisation in almost all regions of Matabeleland.

Some of them but not limited are the following grievances: economic aspects which resulted in growing poverty and economic inequality between ethnic groups, competing for jobs, deliberate closure of companies relocating to Harare leaving massive unemployment, no solution to perennial water problems in Bulawayo and most of Mathebelelands, no meaningful infrastructure development, no good quality education is given to the children of Mathebeleland, deny students from Mathebelelands placements in tertiary institutions, no preservation of minority ethnic languages, the people of Mathebeleland are treated as second-class citizens in all aspects of social development, the list is very long. This imbalance generated social discontent that subsequently led to the wish to secede from Zimbabwe and the birth of Mthwakazi as a country

It is my considered personal opinion, however simple, that there should be some dialogue between all opposition parties and this special group MLF. I said special deliberately because, these young people have been the louder voice of Mathebeleland for a long time and we have systematically ignored them because they openly want secession from Zimbabwe. It is becoming impossible to ignore them. The people of Mathebeleland do acknowledge them and inherently love these young men and women, in retrospect they are our children.

3) Social cohesion means embracing these differences we have as diverse ethnic groups and dialoguing to find solutions to their elaborate grievances. To engage them is the beginning of building bridges and ties, this may be the most important step to reduce polarization of ethnic groups, the end of tribalism and unnecessary conflicts.

If we stop condemning that “other” who hold different views from ours and never see them as morally inferior, this will be entry point to mature politics. Until we have dialogued we will not know if we can even strike a deal, or some solution, leading to win-win situations.

4) Singing together a national anthem will not solve tribalism in Zimbabwe. Politics is a trade that one gets through tough competition to be the one to manage the nation’s resources. So whoever is elected has to have those numbers first. It is for this reason that the people of the Shona ethnic groups will always get the vote because their numbers are bigger than all other ethnic groups.

Tribalism in Africa general is very ethnocentric. How do you convince a people of the other group that you are the one for the top job? To deal with tribalism is to remove it political decision makings. Then people can only concentrate on the ability of a politician to deliver and not his/her ethnicity. Removing ethnicity in our political landscape is again through devolution.

When people vote at provincial level it is less the ethnic orientation and more of seeking a competent leader who will deliver his/her promises he will have made to the electorate. People will focus mostly on political ideology offered, policies and choices they hope to implement. Accountability, transparency and honesty become easy to check and balance.

5) Eliminating tribalism in Zimbabwe will be possible if we start to make some serious introspection in our lives beginning with me.

There are plenty of things we can do as individuals to reduce tribalism in our country: refuse to participate in toxic arguments of outrage culture; seek opportunities to expose yourself to others who have different views than your own; seek to engage with others as individuals with unique views and not ethnic grouping; be critical of bad behaviour by those within your tribe; know that you have been wrong before and you can be wrong again; learning the wisdom of listening and less talking; opting for non violent conflict resolve; refrain from hate speeches; respect of a human being.