If ethnic diversity is the greatest social resource to grace Mthwakazi, ethnic multiplicity and the accompanying ethnic flexibility is – according to some Mthwakazians – the curse that threatens the social fabric and the very existence and/ or the maintenance of a substantive Mthwakazi social group identity.
Ethnic identity reflects the attitudes or emotional significance people attach to their social group (common nationality or culture) (Phinney, 1990); it is based on cultural traditions, norms and values transmitted across generations. The question has to be asked, in the face of Mthwakazi’s social fluidity, what values make an individual Mthwakazian and how much in terms of norms and values has been retained from the previous generations and how much attachment do Mthwakazians place on being Mthwakazi citizens and/ or descendants?
A sense of group attachment is essential for the marginalised Mthwakazi as it not only provides a shared sense of community but also serves to unify and rally people in the face of various threats. What is however becoming evident is that Mthwakazi is not united in the face of adversity as indicated by a plethora of conflicting socio-political ideals and political parties all of whom have a plan but no solution.
Some think the solution lies in the restoration of a Mthwakazi monarchy, some in devolution, some in independence, some want BuKalangaland, and some just cannot be bothered and so on. Indeed what remains is a desperate and even more confused socio-political atmosphere that only serves to delay the emancipation of Mthwakazi.
Mthwakazi’s modern demographics have changed quite considerably; citizenship can no longer be loosely defined in narrow ethnic terms. The objective now is not to replicate Mzilikazi’s nation per se rather, it is primarily to restore the geopolitical independence of the territory once under the great leader’s jurisdiction but now a colony of the Zimbabwean state. That is why I am not advocating for ethnic essentialism in Mthwakazi’s politics as I consider it an insidious neo-colonial strategy of social containment however; I still see value in a distinct Mthwakazi identity.
Arguably, Mthwakazi’s ethnic flexibility is rapidly growing into an identity crisis in which native Mthwakazians are turning into everything (South Africans, Zimbabweans, etc) but themselves. There is nothing wrong with looking at what other nations are doing and being inspired by them; the problem starts when people start believing they were actually the nations that they admire.
Just like many white North Americans are of British or Irish descent yet universally identify themselves not as British or Irish but Americans, Mthwakazians should see themselves as Mthwakazians of South African descent and not South Africans. There must be consented and deliberate efforts to create a strong Mthwakazi identity which though acknowledging the South African descent of some, remains independent of but not necessarily detached from South Africa. That is possible and probably the only long-term socio-politically beneficial approach.
Solidarity built around the hatred of particular ethnic groups is both superficial and unsustainable. The platform to Mthwakazi freedom lies not in the expression of hatred towards the Shona ethnic groupings but in its people being able to identify those symbols, experiences, socio-political administrative structures, norms and values that set them apart from the rest of the world, and more importantly being proud of their distinct identity instead of allowing themselves to be inferior cousins of other nations.
With pride in one’s identity comes a great sense of self, hence the desire to achieve and maintain a positive group identity. It is only when Mthwakazians affirm and start to cherish their separate identity that the desire to protect Mthwakazi interests shall be mooted and genuinely pursued by all.
Ignoring the Zimbabwean government’s role in Mthwakazi’s identity crisis and disunity will be foolhardy. I strongly believe the absence and/ or suppression by the Zimbabwean government of Mthwakazi’s common national socio-cultural (and lack thereof) activities in the mould of Inxwala impedes the development of a collective Mthwakazi identity as opposed to the unified Zimbabwean identity.
It is not a coincidence that the emotive Gukurahundi commemorations remain suppressed while the most imbalanced and worst piece of agreement in the political history of Mthwakazi – the 1987 Unity Accord – is immortalised. The Unity Accord is no less than a conquest celebration that serves as a reminder to Mthwakazians of what ZANU PF is capable of.
A distinct Mthwakazi social group identity precedes real national independence or true freedom. Without a distinct positive group identity, Mthwakazi will remain divided and fraught with damaging infighting in a political maze. A distinct Mthwakazi identity may not be the silver bullet that, overnight, solves all of Mthwakazi’s problems but a lack of collective identity will make it harder to identify shared problems and solutions and will certainly delay work towards emancipation; it will instead perpetuate and worsen Mthwakazi’s problems.