Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

The idiocy of tribal politics

By Hopewell Chin’ono

Growing up in a post colonial and independent Zimbabwe, I only became aware of tribal politics when I was at college at 19 years of age.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

My parents never spoke about tribal affiliation or anything related to such at home. I later learnt that tribal politics was actually a hideous portfolio of toxicity, used by politicians to divide citizens in order to rule them into submission with the tacit support and approval of one’s tribe or assumed tribal home.

Do these politicians exercise power on behalf of their tribesmen? The answer is a robust NO.

They use their tribal affiliation to capture power and use it for themselves. Most of the politicians that I have spoken to in Zimbabwe acknowledge privately that they don’t even belong to the tribes that they invoke their affiliation to.

A good example was Edison Zvobgo, he was identified as the Karanga Godfather in the 80s and 90s until he passed on in 2004.

However, Zvobgo was not even Karanga, he was actually Ndau, a fact he acknowledged in an interview with Ibbo Mandaza before he died.

Edison Zvobgo used the Karanga affiliation to devastating effect and yet his relationship with the Karanga tribe was only geographical & functional to advance and solidify his successful political career.

When my sister Hope Bakasa Sadza asked me to look at our family tree, we laughed when I told her about how my father, later in my adult life, always told me not to get involved in tribal issues, as we were not affiliated to any of the contesting tribes anyway.

My great grand father, Mukusha and his two brothers Bakasa and Karumekai moved from modern day Mozambique from the Barwe and settled in modern day Mashonaland East.

Functionally, I would then be called Zezuru merely because of Geography, but I am not Zezuru and yet I find many people in my situation invoking tribal affiliation in relation to their modern day geographical associations, which is something I find quite ludicrous and laughable but real.

It is the equivalence of a child born in Scotland to Zimbabwean parents and then abandoning their Zimbabwean heritage because of their current postcode or Mzilikazi’s progeny calling themselves, Shona because they settled in an area inhabited by the Shonas.

I was disappointed when I realised that tribal politics was now one of the platforms used to define and choreography the current Presidential succession race and politics in general.

The political group in ZANUPF called G40 sang and danced to the divisive, ‘Zezurus Unconquerable’ song and Temba Mliswa the Member of Parliament for Norton declared that he would never vote for a Zezuru Presidential candidate and yet he is an MP in an area inhabited by Zezurus and he defined himself as Karanga.

This is dangerous politics and this is why the Rwandese genocide happened because of such reckless and idiotic statements, which have NO place in a civilized society.

It is slippery political terrain which if unchecked can result in bloodshed and ethnic strife. It should be thoroughly condemned.

Some of the characters in G40 invoking the Zezuru tribe are not even Zezuru themselves, so are the characters in Lacoste invoking the Karanga tribe.

These are political opportunists who want to ride on people’s identity and emotions to capture the presidency and other related political offices.

What this means is that communities are being pitted against each other by opportunistic & parasitic politicians who are not bothered by both the short & long term political implications of their charlatanry.

Any Zimbabwean should be free to live anywhere he or she likes to call home in Zimbabwe and should be free to run for any office they aspire to occupy without tribal identity being an issue or ascribed to their campaign.

Ndebele children should not grow up thinking that they can only be a Deputy President to a Shona in an independent postcolonial Zimbabwe.

We should only identify with each other as Zimbabwean and assess one’s competencies as the basis for running for political office.

Like my great grandfather Mukusha who came from modern day Mozambique and Zvobgo’s father who was Ndau but went to Masvingo as missionary or even Supa Mandiwanzira’s father who was Malawian, we are all Zimbabwean.

In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda’s father was Malawian, but Kaunda rose to become Zambia’s first postcolonial president. Had the Zambians looked at his tribal affiliations, he wouldn’t have made it, but the fact that he was born and raised in Zambia was enough for him to be allowed run for office.

The Kenyan history of tribe should be instructive to modern day African states and their citizens, tribal scars of yesterday are still prominent in the Kenyan body politic.

Let us learn from that ugly history and not be slaves of a backward tribal narrative. The notion of tribal narratives is colonial and it is therefore sad to see those who claim to be anti colonial using the very colonial architecture used against our forefathers.

For instance, to have provinces named after tribes, Mashonaland, Matebeleland, Manicaland was a deliberate political ploy to divide our people, this was a colonial construct to divide and rule which our current political class has aped and is now using to advance their personal political objectives.

Like racism, tribalism is taught, it is not part of the human condition. We should teach our children to think beyond such backward ascriptions as tribalism.

Instead, let us talk of inclusivity and regional representation otherwise if we stick to tribes, where will the mixed race citizens aspiring for political office fit in?

Hopewell Chin’ono is a Documentary Filmmaker, International Television Journalist and The New York Times writer. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow for Journalism. He can be contacted at [email protected]