No power vacuum in Matabeleland!

Matabeleland lacks leaders who love the region; Matabeleland suffers from a power vacuum since the death of Dr Joshua Nkomo; the region is being disrespected by other ethnic groups. These are some of the assertions made by Mr Lovemore Moyo, a Matabeleland based senior member of the opposition party, the MDC-T. To his credit he said it openly and in the process made a little history for himself for being perhaps one of the very few new breed of post-Gukurahundi politicians from Matabeleland belonging to one of the major political players in Zimbabwe to point at the obvious neglect of the region. However, the cynic in me questions not all of what he says but the motive of all that he has had to say.

I agree there is a systematic disregard for the interests of Ndebele people in particular and people from Matabeleland in general. This has been going on since independence: people from Matabeleland have been perpetually treated like second class citizens of Zimbabwe. I wonder why the honourable politician has only seen it fit to raise it in 2011, after 31 years of independence. Is he doing it out of his newly found ‘love’ for Matabeleland or he is doing it for his political career? One can be pardoned for suspecting that the Speaker was trying to claim relevance for himself and his party in Matabeleland in the face of the challenge of the smaller faction of the opposition and the rapidly growing and vocal regional socio-political organisations.

I strongly contest the assertion that Matabeleland leaders lack the love for the region. To begin with, how does one objectively measure ‘the love’ for the region? Many leaders from the region who have served in various capacities in the ZANU PF government since independence have failed to deliver but is that due to the ‘lack of love’ or the failure to break the ethnically biased policies that have been put in place by the Ethnic Shona dominated ZANU PF government? People like Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu did extraordinary work for their constituencies until they were recruited into the ZANU PF government. Can we objectively argue that Dr Ndlovu suddenly lost his love for Matabeleland on joining the ZANU PF government or he, among many others, has become a victim of ZANU PF’s entrenched ethnically repressive governance and political system? Lack of love for the region cannot account for the failure of Dabengwa’s passion, the Matabeleland Zambezi water Project.

I am not trying to make excuses for failures but ‘lack of love’ simply cannot adequately explain the failure by politicians from Matabeleland to serve their region with distinction. How much influence do regional leaders, e.g. provincial governors have and how much influence do Ndebele politicians in ZANU PF and MDC-T have on major policy decisions? At best they have very minimal influence and that will be even less for those displaying their ‘love’ for Matabeleland, I would suggest.

The claim of the extant power vacuum in Matabeleland is a misnomer as the traditional power structures had first been weakened by successive white-only colonial governments and the little that remained was wrestled from the people of Matabeleland at ‘independence’ by the repressive government of Zimbabwe that imposed leaders if it was not restricting or undermining the power of existing ones. It is through the creativity of current Matabeleland leaders that the region has begun to openly question the system. The use of the phrase ‘power vacuum’ is therefore a ploy to fool Matabeleland citizens into a panic and cause them to lose sight of current socio-political initiatives in the region.

There is a lot of social and political activity by different organisations run by people from the region. These groups are not necessarily stepping on each other’s toes to fill some imaginary power vacuum; there is mutual respect and engaging debates among and between groups. It is worth mentioning that Mr Moyo is not oblivious to these activities and their potential impact on the political landscape in Matabeleland. There is Mthwakazi Liberation Front pursuing the independence agenda, there are private online radio stations promoting Matabeleland interests, and the intensification of ZAPU (especially the Canada-Province activities) arguing for devolved powers. Lest I forget, there are ‘leaders’ within the region who have been arrested and abused by the Zimbabwean state that Mr Moyo ironically serves.

The death of Dr Nkomo has not necessarily left a power vacuum as implied by Mr Moyo; rather the death has allowed new and young leaders to emerge. Dr Nkomo had not been groomed, he was a self-made leader which is exactly what has been happening over the years; leaders and potential leaders such as the late Gibson Sibanda, Prof Jonathan Moyo, Prof Welshman Ncube, Paul Siwela, Paul Themba Nyathi, Moses Mzila-Ndlovu, Pius Ncube among others, have emerged. There is a generational shift in which Matabeleland is increasingly being identified by many of its residents as a separate entity from Zimbabwe and the politics of the younger generation reflects that. Calls for independence are certainly a new kind of politics that Dr Nkomo would possibly not have approved of since he viewed Zimbabwe as one country.

People of Matabeleland have reinvented their politics and are maximising resources at their disposal to promote their ideologies and highlight emotive regional activities of historical significance, such as celebrating their leaders, events and commemorating Gukurahundi victims through art, among other media. Leadership should not be narrowly seen as the preserve of political leaders heading an organisation. Individuals and groups are involved in many projects to promote the cause for Matabeleland and the impact of the different groups in integrating communities and enabling people to contribute in pursuing Matabeleland goals cannot be underestimated. Thus, I argue that Mr Moyo’s statement was calculated to hijack local initiatives thereby substitute these groups and individuals with the MDC-T as the only legitimate representative of the people of Matabeleland or the conduit through which people of Matabeleland can be heard at national level.

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