There has been much political activity in Mthwakazi over the last year yet one cannot confidently claim reciprocal socio-political progress on the ground during the same period.
Two distinct schools of thought have emerged: devolutionists on the one side and secessionists/ restoration (pro-independence) on the other. There is notable strategic chasm between the two pro-independence organisations which I would argue constitutes a third strand in Mthwakazi politics. One organisation calls for a gung-ho, non-diplomatic approach characterised by non-participation in Zimbabwean politics including boycotting elections; the other accommodates greater diplomacy and a strategic political participation including participating in elections. The latter argues that gains from such elections would be a useful bargaining chip with the Zimbabwean government.
I cannot start to say this or that ideology is best but I do believe there is political space for all ideologies. However, I am convinced the status quo cannot be maintained without further socioeconomic and political damage to Mthwakazi and Mthwakazians. The current system has not worked in almost 32 years; there is nothing to suggest the next 32 years will be different.
Ideologically, the situation on the ground is fluid and most likely to be even more fluid as the government reacts to the political environment and the political groups in Mthwakazi respond to the state reaction; that will dictate the nature, degree and balance of strategies to be employed.
Proposed solutions to Mthwakazi’s socioeconomic and political problems are dependent on how one contextualises the Mthwakazi geopolitical region. Is it a traditional independent territory forcibly merged with Mashonaland to form the Zimbabwean (Rhodesia, pre-independence) state by white settlers or it is merely a region in Zimbabwe unwittingly placed in ZANU PF’s grasp by PF ZAPU leadership? Pro-restoration/independence groups subscribe to the former perception while devolutionists identify with the latter, although they would rather exclude the PF ZAPU contribution. Arguably, whichever ideology is considered, the main focus remains the empowerment of the people of Mthwakazi and I believe whichever framework stands a good chance of achieving that goal.
Now, I will focus on the third strand of Mthwakazi politics, the debate between the two pro-independence organisations. Which way Mthwakazi? Is it violent or nonviolent means or both? Both groups claim (justifiably so) that Mthwakazi is a victim of internal colonialism within the unified Zimbabwe state hence their unapologetic stance in demanding independence. There are however major ideological differences between the two camps; debates on strategy or lack of it have been intense, if not less than civil at times.
One group favours robust non-diplomatic means, its basic tenet being that Mthwakazi must be free from ‘Shona rule, full stop!’; they argue that ethnic Shona people do not belong in Mthwakazi and all ethnic Shona residents will have to vacate or face expulsion from an independent Mthwakazi state! Significant but unsurprising, this group renounces all Zimbabwean institutions thus rejects participation in Zimbabwean run elections.
On the contrary, the other group espouses a philosophy of gradually building political power capacity to be achieved through formal participation in Zimbabwean run political activities such as elections held within Mthwakazi and then using any electoral gains as a mandate from Mthwakazians to pursue independence.
Conspicuous by its absence has been a clear-cut strategy from the violent means proponents unless if the apparent absence of strategy is of itself a strategy. I wonder how at this point violent means can be successfully sold to Mthwakazians and the international community.
Why should violence be sold to Mthwakazians as the only means necessary and possible when there is ample historical evidence of governments having been toppled in Philippines, Chile, and the former Soviet Bloc, almost without firing a shot? While some violent means have been successful (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Libya, Eritrea’s breakaway from Ethiopia, etc.), there is also an array of examples where violent means have failed or are failing dismally, e.g. Tamil Tigers (Sri Lanka), ETA (Spain), IRA (UK), LRA (Uganda), UNITA (Angola) to mention but a few.
Violent events such as violent independence struggles and revolutions seem in the past to have more often had a negligible or even negative impact on freedom. War creates enemies and those who win the war tend to tighten the noose around their political opponents and citizens to maintain their stranglehold on power hence violent governments have been replaced by highly suspicious, self-serving and equally violent regimes, Zimbabwe, Eritrea among others being good examples. What makes Mthwakazi an exception, when political opponents are labelled ‘sell-outs’ and chased down alleys in Johannesburg?
Admittedly, it is rather too soon to judge the organisations’ contribution to Mthwakazi politics or make informed projections on their long-term impact, that is, if they will break the unwelcome tradition of ephemeral political organisations that have afflicted Mthwakazi. What is apparent is the lack of information about the activities of the groups by Mthwakazians both at home and abroad. I wonder how different from their predecessors in terms of poor local inclusivity and publicity these groups will be. It is important to note that these groups are not ideologically different from those that have come before them. I think the problem in the past has mainly been that the groups have been driven by youthful enthusiasm and emotion and have tended to demand too much too soon of and from Mthwakazians.
Basically, all of the post-independence Zimbabwe Mthwakazi based political groups have tended to outpace their constituency. Mthwakazians are a cautious nation which means socio-culturally relevant and mood matching approaches will be vital at the start as organisations repackage Mthwakazi politics and allow their constituencies enough time to adjust to new expectations and challenges. I believe the failure to comport with the mood on the ground and the expectation or assumption that ordinary Mthwakazians will rise to the mood and enthusiasm of political leaders has resulted in the latter being frustrated and disillusioned.
No one can tell yet which strategy will be best in the long and short-term politics of Mthwakazi, Zimbabwe and the whole of the southern Africa region. I follow with interest the various debates within and between the two pro-Mthwakazi organisations and I do appreciate the two are ideologically poles apart. While I concede the ideological differences, I do not think these are wholly mutually exclusive; the strategies will be important at varying degrees at different stages of the process of fighting for an independent state of Mthwakazi. There is a need for the groups to weigh and consider their strategies to maximise efficiency and minimise potential and real human loss. That the two have not only failed to work as a single entity or in collaboration but have found it difficult to respect each other’s respective positions is worrying for a democracy seeking Mthwakazi population.