Colonialism, Gukurahundi and a Mthwakazi state

The agenda for Mthwakazi self-determination is gathering pace though most of the work is still being conducted and pursued on online social networks. The cyber world location and action is comprehensible from the contextual understanding that advocating for a nationalism of the oppressed remains a good way of getting one killed (e.g. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Khalil Ibrahim among others).

The restoration advocates base their demands for Mthwakazi self-determination on the perceived colonialism of Mthwakazi by Zimbabwe and cite the Gukurahundi atrocities and the inaction of the Shona dominated ZANU PF government on the issue as evidence of lack of interest in the region. This blog will discuss the colonialism argument and the validity of independence demands including the Gukurahundi link.

The restoration advocates’ colonialism argument is best understood from an internal colonialism perspective conceptualised as the intra-national exploitation of distinct cultural regions and/ or groups. Pro-Mthwakazi groups perceive the geographical region of Mthwakazi (Matabeleland and Midlands) as a colony of Zimbabwe.

According to restoration advocates, Zimbabwe is a colonial power that holds sole and sovereign authority while Mthwakazi is an internal colony who remains dominated politically, exploited economically, suffocated culturally and humiliated at every opportunity. It is difficult to argue against such a perception when the socioeconomic and political framework of Zimbabwe is built so as to manage Mthwakazi and Mthwakazians at the same time perpetuating Shona supremacy.

First, let us put to bed the argument that it is poor academic qualifications and not discrimination or a desire to manage Mthwakazi that has led to less representation of Mthwakazians at managerial level in the public sector. Do the poor academic qualifications also account for the renaming of some streets in the major Mthwakazi city to Shona names? If Mthwakazians are illiterate (which is blasphemous), they surely can speak; what then stops the educated (used advisedly) ethnic Shona people from asking Mthwakazians what they would like to call their streets?

It is not a coincidence that police stations and other major public institutions in Mthwakazi are overseen by ethnic Shona people. It is also not a coincidence that ethnic Shona people imposed on Mthwakazi have no intention of learning local languages. If it were only poor skills base and not for a strategic management of a Mthwakazi nation by the Shona dominated government, employees who do not speak a local language would be required to undergo mandatory basic language and culture lessons or the government would provide interpreters so that Mthwakazians do not end up being coerced into learning and speaking Shona in order to access basic services. I wonder too, why commemorating Gukurahundi atrocities has been turned into a crime of some sort.

I will not repeat the details of the Gukurahundi genocide in Mthwakazi not out of disrespect of the victims but because I believe the details are readily available online. My interest is the amount of political involvement yet less action on the ground. I do agree there should be some political focus on the genocide; it was an evil act, a crime against humanity, an act for which perpetrators are yet to be charged. The question is what should be the objective of the focus on Gukurahundi?

Gukurahundi has been used for pretence sympathy by some Zimbabwean political organisations while some Mthwakazi nationalists or at least some of their members and/ or supporters have appeared to use the Gukurahundi genocide more as a tool with which to attack Shona people and justify bigoted calls to remove all Shona people from Mthwakazi.

I believe Mthwakazi’s independence stands valid even without the Gukurahundi link. The two are equally important but independent issues that should be handled separately. The genocide issue can and should be dealt with by the Mthwakazi civil society. No political entity should be allowed to monopolise or claim ownership of the struggle for the international recognition of Gukurahundi atrocities. There is already the not-for-profit Matabeleland Action Group on Genocide in Matabeleland and Midlands (MAGGEMM) working on gaining international recognition of the atrocities and justice for the victims. The scope of MAGGEMM can be expanded as required to oversee an impact assessment study of the ZANU PF engineered crime and come up with recommendations for the way forward.

Using the Gukurahundi to stir up generalised Shona hatred is not beneficial to the victims of the ZANU PF genocide; it exposes Mthwakazi political organisations to a dangerous and unhelpful tribal trap often conveniently triggered by Shona dominated organisations to dismiss pro-independence Mthwakazi groups as simply tribally divisive. The last thing any Mthwakazi organisation needs now is fighting for its credibility in the face of the international community; stereotyping the whole Shona community for the crimes of a few is illogical and dangerous.

Perhaps the most recent case of the reckless political use of the Gukurahundi was when an individual from one of the pro-Mthwakazian organisations implied (on their Facebook status of December 2011) that PF ZAPU was somehow culpable for Gukurahundi, demanding that PF ZAPU explain its role in the dissident activities which ZANU PF used as an excuse to butcher innocent Mthwakazians. This was not a random statement; it came as a package of attacks directed at PF ZAPU’s opposition to secession.

While every organisation has a right to defend its interests, I feel abusing a serious issue such as the Gukurahundi was crass politics, an abdication of responsibility to the people of Mthwakazi; it was a miscalculated use of democracy and an ill-advised, if not wrongly weighted, attack on another political institution because of ideological differences.

In this day and age of information technology, one would have expected a serious politician discussing such an emotive issue as Gukurahundi to have done their research and a simple search on You Tube would have shown Dr Nkomo’s interview with the BBC in the 1980s in which he eloquently and honestly answered the question on dissidents.

I have already pointed out that Mthwakazi is a recognised traditional state. However, for administrative purposes, it was forcibly incorporated into a colonial state called Southern Rhodesia. Mthwakazi statehood was somehow ‘lost’ in Dr Nkomo and PF ZAPU’s grandiose delusion of a unified Zimbabwe during the struggle for the emancipation of black natives from white settlers in the Black Nationalist politics of the 1960s through the 70s. PF ZAPU and Dr Nkomo, in particular, overlooked the necessity of specifically preserving the geopolitical boundaries and interests of Mthwakazi and thus inadvertently turned a country into a region of another country.

PF ZAPU was caught off guard fighting the ‘wrong’ common enemy (white settler government) yet the real common enemy for Mthwakazi was the black phony ally (ZANU). In fact to say Dr Nkomo or ZAPU were caught off guard is being polite because the organisation was naïve not to see the dishonesty in ZANU’s commissions and omissions during the war of liberation. It would be a travesty if Mthwakazi were to sleep walk into extinction due to the carelessness of a few politicians; there is no question of Mthwakazi being a state and the arguments for its reinstatement as such are valid.

I think pro-Mthwakazi groups have a point but they owe it to the ordinary Mthwakazians to get things right in the short and long-term efforts to restore Mthwakazi. It is difficult to say whether devolution or secession will be the answer to Mthwakazi’s perennial problems yet Mthwakazi cannot continue to foot the bully’s gym membership bill hoping he will one day feel within himself to stop bullying; if anything, the bulkier the bully gets, the harder and more damaging the punches get!


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