On why reviving the Ndebele monarchy may be misguided

King Lobengula (1845 - 1894), second and last Mthwakazi king (1870 - 1894)

King Lobengula (1845 – 1894), second and last Mthwakazi king (1870 – 1894)

Recently a question was asked of the role the Ndebele royal family should play in an independent Mthwakazi. My immediate thought was ‘What role is the Ndebele royal family playing in a subjugated Mthwakazi?’ Should we – in the knowledge of the demographic and political changes in Mthwakazi – entertain the idea of a Ndebele (or any other ethnic group for that matter) monarchy at the helm of a multi-ethnic Mthwakazi state?

Why should Mthwakazi have a monarch as the head of state or why should Mthwakazi adopt a monarchical system of government? How is the Mthwakazi restoration of a Ndebele monarchy justified? What is wrong with meritocracy that makes some believe being born in a particular household and only in that household is in and of itself a qualification to be head of state of Mthwakazi? How can the patriarchal nature of our monarchy be reconciled with the aspirations of a gender sensitive society?

Absolute or constitutional monarchy; the former is an absolute no while the latter may be considered tolerable by some yet convincing ethnic groups other than Ndebeles of the utility of using public funds to fund a monarchy at the expense of under funded public services may be impossible. I personally object to having a single household decide or impose its values on everyone and I am sceptical of the political role of monarchies in immature democracies or totalitarian governments. Monarchies can be used by or use rogue and repressive regimes or work in cohort with the said regimes to trample upon citizens’ rights. The state and the monarchy often need each other and in some societies their roles often overlap; if need be the two institutions will work together to the detriment of ordinary citizens. Conflict between the two is often non-beneficial to either, so the tendency will be to form an alliance of convenience that serves to put civic society in check.

There is a strong feeling that loyalists want the restoration of a Ndebele king out of sentimentality and nostalgia and not any objective value (social, economic, cultural and political) of the monarch to Mthwakazi. No justifiable reasons are being proffered for the calls for the restoration of the monarchy except that we are Africans and that the Khumalo family were the ‘creators’ of the Ndebele state. But then, the reality is that there are many African republics than monarchies and the monarchy has been lost to Mthwakazi for about a century. The Mthwakazi state has evolved culturally, socially and politically; loyalists are perhaps in denial of the reality of demographic changes that have occurred in the Mthwakazi state over the years. Ndebeles’ political grip on Mthwakazi has waned while other ethnic groups have managed to rebuild their separate identities and new racial and ethnic groups have become a permanent feature in Mthwakazi.

In the above context the effective restoration of a Ndebele monarchy presiding over all of Mthwakazi is inconceivable; it is a potentially divisive move. It is even questionable if the monarchy can effectively deal with present day socioeconomic and political challenges. Perhaps what is required now is the adaptation of newer political systems to suit the socio-cultural needs of Mthwakazi. Serious consideration should be given to democracy and its processes: the proportional representation as opposed to first past the post electoral system; and the rotational presidency as is the case in Switzerland and Nigeria. Consideration should be made of such options as the ‘right to reject’ candidates and redefining the role of chiefs, making them more significant in the country’s local and national governance.

Politically, any attempt to restore a Ndebele monarchy may be potentially damaging; it will most likely threaten the current intra and inter-ethnic relations. People writing from the Ndebele perspective tend to play down the brute force with which the Ndebele kingdom was created; it will be naive to believe other ethnic groups were assimilated by cordial invitation from the king and that all were happy to be subordinated by the Ndebele ethnic group. The truth is that the assimilation process was primarily made possible by astute organisational and fighting prowess and indeed brutality when need called; to think the assimilated were happy bunnies who willingly gave up their territories, and voluntarily learned to speak Ndebele, is for the gullible. With this in mind, I do not believe the restoration of a Ndebele king to preside over all of Mthwakazi will be a universally welcome move.

Indeed, talking about the potential role of a Ndebele monarchy in Mthwakazi is an unwelcome diversion from the real issues afflicting the region. The absence of the monarchy is not the cause of Mthwakazi’s problems; the management as opposed to accommodation of Mthwakazi by a repressive Zimbabwean government is. As such focus should be on breaking this human created vicious cycle of socioeconomic and cultural imperialism. Our problem is not the absence of a monarchy but the generalised and now normalised deprivation of human rights and dignity of Mthwakazi citizens.

In short, instead of talking of the restoration of the monarchy and expecting the institution to work miracles for the country, the Mthwakazi citizenry should be recreating their capacity to emancipate themselves from Zimbabwean repression; we need everyone to be their own king or queen, be their own defender of their rights, and be their own hero or heroine. Certainly, focus should be firmly on the socio-culturally appropriate adaptation of modern political systems, negotiating honest and realistic power sharing across the socio-cultural, racial and political divide. Serious consideration should be made of rotational leadership, redefining the role of chiefs in the politics of the country and increasing civic participation.

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