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Chinyoka on Tuesday: The trouble with Chamisa….. sorry, people like Chief Ndiweni

By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

I have written a dirge about Zimbabwe, and how much we have forgotten what it means to be Zimbabwean. I have written about compensation for land, and argued that the Rhodesians deserve no compensation for having put their farms on our land. I have written about American hypocrisy when it comes to our country.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka

But, despite all that, this week I have had to re-write my article in order that I might include my young brother Mr Nelson Chamisa’s name in the piece. Not doing so would have seemed like pandering to internet trolls that have decided that the best way to criticise my writing is by saying I always talk about Mr Chamisa. Well, I am not one to make liars out of people so, there we go. Box ticked.

This was of course the week when a Chief, holding title in terms of the laws of Zimbabwe, installed through a process managed by the Ministry of Local Government, driving a car that was supplied at great loss of political capital by President ED Mnangagwa’s government, decided that he would go on a rant about the illegitimacy of the said government and the need for the West to impose more sanctions. Just so that his people might suffer a little more.

This was the week when said Chief, unhappy that attention was going to my brother Mr Nelson Chamisa’s spot of bother with a certain High Court ruling, decided that the best way to focus said attention on himself was to “threaten” to burn his government issued vehicle. Threaten, mind you, not actually do it. We saw the pictures and videos, the Chief holding aloft a jerrycan and pouring what looked like some fluid on his car, his supporters gathered around.

And that is the key, which most seemed to miss. His supporters were gathering, cheering, and he was still pouring the fluid. Why?

The controversial traditional leader sprinkled petrol on the twin cab Isuzu vehicle and threatened to burn it, forcing the youth to scurry for safety.
The controversial traditional leader sprinkled petrol on the twin cab Isuzu vehicle and threatened to burn it, forcing the youth to scurry for safety.

We are told that the Chief threatened to burn the vehicle in order to deter “state agents” and ZanuPF supporters, but there are none in the videos and pictures we saw. Only his supporters. So, I ask again, why was he still pouring the fluid that was claimed to be petrol on his car?

And, with two hands on the jerrycan, where was the lighter? How did he show it to these “state agents” and “Zanu PF youths” in order to scare them off? And, so that we fully understand, as he was scaring them off with the putative matches, who was holding the jerrycan? Are we to believe that this “mob” could not grab the jerrycan from him?

But, more to the point, if the pouring of that fluid on the car was to scare them off, why was he still pouring it when his supporters were gathered around the car applauding him?

Here is a fact: Matabeleland is marginalised. Seriously so. Its children have left home, largely for South Africa. The demographic time bomb we are sitting on might mean that in a generation, there will be more Northern Ndebele people in Gauteng or in any event south of the Limpopo than anywhere else. So badly that I was telling my PA (who says her grandmother will be happy if she married “wematongo” – not her word, but my Ndebele is still poor) that she has a higher chance of marrying someone from her village if she travels to South Africa to look for him than stay in Kezi.

And that is not a joke, but fact. Look at the graduating class at schools, colleges and universities in the region and lament over the names: more than half are not from the area. NGOs, who pay good money, are no different. Look at all their senior staff, and you find children from other lands, coming “to bring development to the people” of this area. Their own children, it seems, are not good enough to run these sell-out funded but well paying organisations.

The other day, a teacher had the temerity to say to me: “the village where I teach, they do not like me because I can’t speak Ndebele.” And I am thinking, what genius in the Ministry of Education thought that deploying a boy from Mutoko to go and teach primary school children near Ndolwane was a good idea?

From time to time, usually around elections, politicians from the region talk about water from the Zambezi. That pipeline has become, pun intended, a pipe dream. It is not coming.

Travel the villages of Matabeleland North and South, and measure the distances that people have to travel in order to find the nearest ECD centre or decent high schools. Then understand why children have to start school at age 6/7, because the great distances they must walk is quite simply not possible for 4/5 year olds trying to access ECD. There probably were clinics there, but I have not seen many. The water, well, don’t start on the water.

Paramount Chief Nhlanhla Felix Ndiweni
Paramount Chief Nhlanhla Felix Ndiweni (Picture by GRAEME WILLIAMS FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE)

There was a lot of sympathy for Chief Ndiweni after his fluid pouring stunt. When some of us pointed out that he is a traitor, we were attached for being tribalists! I mean, like, seriously? The man is asking for sanctions against his country, of course he is traitor. Many Shona people travelled to Washington DC to ask for sanctions (I am trying very hard to not mention that boy, but he makes it hard!) and to me? All traitors.

But the reaction of the people unhappy with factual criticism of the fluid pouring Chief is telling: his stunts are easily commoditised into something they are not, and used to rally the people around useless causes.

The danger with people like Chief Ndiweni is that they appropriate genuine grievances for personal political renown and fame.  Whole college professors spent a whole day attacking me for calling a spade a spade, without pausing to think: what does defending privilege bring to Matabeleland?

Because at the end of the day, what is the point of Chief Ndiweni’s stunt if not to defend his use of a vehicle issued to him by a government that he does not recognise? How many ECD centres will be built in Umguza out of the fact that Chief Ndiweni got to pour some fluid on his car and got many diaspora based children of Matabeleland riled up over these fake state agents?

These bogus defenders of the region are in fact defenders of personal privilege. They let the people they claim to represent down. Yes, it is wrong that we have a whole section of the population which feels more at home in South Africa than here, but we are not going to solve that by labelling every critic of misguided (albeit Ndebele) individuals tribalists.

We are not going to build this country for us all when we think that some lunatics are sacred cows, immune from criticism. The Chief clearly lied about the attempted removal of his car from his person, he was out of line. The Chief clearly erred by asking for sanctions on his own people, he was out of line. Pointing this out is not being tribalist, it is factual.

The government’s devolution exercise has allocated millions of dollars to districts in Matabeleland. That is a good start. The danger we have is that with people like Chief Ndiweni being ring-fenced from criticism, it will be him and his like that will decide how that money should be spent.

That, would be tragedy. They have already shown they understand but one thing: defending personal privilege. And now they know that should they abuse that money, they won’t face censure because anyone that points this out will be…, well, a tribalist of course.

That, is really sad.

Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a Harare based lawyer and member of the ruling Zanu PF party