Saturday, February 19, 2011

Leveraging Matabele discontent for national good

Matabeleland has a special way of captivating national interest from time to time. 

Recent political developments in the region have once again set the agenda for national debate. 

It is interesting how Welshman Ncube has dominated media coverage in more than two weeks now. 

His ascendancy to the helm of his MDC formation comes on the heels of the revival of Zapu and the less known Mthwakazi Liberation Front. 

These other two developments have met with lukewarm interest nationally, but it is Ncube’s ascent that has captured attention. 

The debate has inevitably turned tribal in many instances and has brought to the fore how the issue of ethnicity has not been dealt with and how the country is yet to come to terms with the manner in which it treats minority groups.

Inevitably, there has been a lot of criticism and scorn poured on Ncube with some quick to pronounce that his rise will not alter the political landscape nationally. 

Interestingly, there is a fresh sentiment that the party will now be regional, something that was not amplified when Professor Arthur Mutambara was still at the helm. 

It would appear that Ncube is in the frying pan with renewed charges of how he is allegedly to blame for the split of the MDC and revelations from diplomatic circles that he is “a very divisive player” in the country’s political terrain and “the sooner he is pushed off the stage the better”. 

There is no doubt that Ncube doesn’t have many friends in this country but for an objective thinker, it is difficult not to sense tribalistic undertones in these criticisms.

Surely, for all his other limitations and shortcomings, Ncube is not as bad as he is portrayed by some of his detractors. 

The man may be aloof, bookish, elitist, and sometimes too engrossed in his personal perspective of issues, but this is nothing compared to the transgressions of other national leaders whose limitations are hardly ever hung out for the world to see. 

Ncube’s sympathisers have charged that he is being persecuted by Shona supremacists who believe that a Ndebele should not occupy the top post of a national political party or government for that matter. 

I have particularly found interesting Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga’s opinion pieces suggesting how Shona supremacists have connived with white capital to deny the Ndebele meaningful leadership positions in this country.

The current discourse has found ample fodder among hard-line Ndebele tribalists who have found fuel to fire the desire for secession. 

They are also actually using the South Sudanese case to portray secession as a viable option to deal with regional and ethnic discontent in the contemporary world.

What this should show us as a nation is that we have lived with underlying ethnic tensions for far too long without speaking about them and not doing anything to deal with them. 

It is a fact that Shona supremacists exist in this country and that they do not think Ndebele people should play a meaningful role in leadership in this country and they are there in all the major political parties. 

They think that the Ndebele and other minority groups should be the recipients of token positions like Deputy So-and-so. 

The Ndebele themselves have perpetuated this state of affairs by accepting it. There are very senior Ndebele leaders in the major political parties who feel that they should be grateful to their principals for the positions they hold. 

They hardly challenge for top honours and seem to be content from this seemingly overt arrangement. 

This should stop and everyone should not feel constrained not to contest for any position as indeed this is a country for all its occupants. 

It is also a fact that there are some angry people in Matabeleland who hate Shonas with a passion.

They hate them for the harm that was visited upon their kith and kin by Robert Mugabe in his Gukurahundi campaign in the early 80s. 

Non-Ndebele people will probably never know the extent of hatred and the feeling of non-belonging in the Matabeleland region which will take a generation to heal. 

The reluctance of the powers-that-be over the years to conduct an effective transitional justice programme that prescribes how to deal with these issues has compounded our predicament as country.

While the grievances of the Ndebele are justified, it is regrettable that this period of history has stunted their ability and desire to contribute to the national project. 

There are people who are so bitter that they have resigned themselves to participating in anything with Zimbabwe in it. 

Some are so angry that they are vociferous supporters of retributive justice as a way of settling the score. 

Some are so vindictive that they barricade Shona leaders from addressing the public in some parts of the country. 

This is the extent to which Mugabe has killed a section of the country and decimated nationhood in Zimbabwe.

Sadly, it is the Ndebele themselves who have to pick themselves up and begin to behave like people who belong to this country because no one will come knocking on their doors to beg them to participate in the national project. 

The Ndebele should also learn that they are not the only minority group in the country and that other countries in the world are also working on how to fully integrate their constituents in their nations. 

People should also learn that no one has any legitimate claim to any geographical area bearing in mind the mobility that has been necessitated by globalisation as well as the economic and social realities of this world. 

The nation-state is itself becoming an obsolete concept considering migration.

Countries can no longer drag their feet in the manner that they treat minorities as this is the source of protracted conflict in many an African state. 

The Ndebele and other minority groups should in fact channel their energy into fighting for their rightful space in this country. 

This does not mean discarding their pride for their ethnicity but locating it in the national landscape.

The Ndebele have displayed shameful “good manners” in dealing with some of their Shona counterparts perhaps in the hope of receiving favours. It would appear that they are ashamed of being Ndebele. 

We have abstained from the ethnicity debate and only whisper about it in hushed tones. 

We should also fight hegemonic tendencies and structures that have been put in place overtly to subordinate one ethnic group to another in this country. 

We should also embark on affirmative action mechanisms that will go some way in ameliorating ethnic discontent in Zimbabwe. 

Development institutions have also risen to the occasion by developing development indicators that exhibit how much the state is spending in what are widely viewed as minority constituents in comparison to other constituencies. 

Zimbabwe is for everyone who lives in it.

Mziwandile Ndlovu is a researcher and media practitioner working in Bulawayo.

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MDC Youth Assembly Secretary General

MDC Youth Assembly Secretary General
MP candidate for Matopo South