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Ndebeles must stop the derogatory term ‘ihole’

There is acute understanding among many Mthwakazi nationals that a socio-political change is necessary for progress. There is however, a lack of realisation of the importance of demonstrable inter-ethnic unity in achieving that change – a dangerous oversight, one would think. We need not forget that language has implications, a name or identity ascribed to one community by another often implies its perception of and/ or attitude toward that community. It is a social and political travesty that in the twenty-first century we are debating whether or not the noun ihole (plural: amahole) is outright offensive.

Those well-versed in the 19th Century Ndebele social and political system will appreciate that within a fairly rigid structure of the newly created nation, the amahole group (that consisted of the Kalanga, Rozvi, Nyubi, Nyayi, Birwa, Venda and other indigenous communities found in the southwest of modern-day Zimbabwe state who were incorporated into the Ndebele nation mainly in the 1840s) were conferred the indignity of the lowest social status; they fell into the third and lowest social status within the nation’s hierarchy below the Zansi and Enhla groups – the groups to whom they were effectively socio-politically subordinated; accordingly, amahole were generally belittled.

For a society that has collectively suffered extreme abuse from a tribal leaning socio-political and economic system of Zimbabwe, the retention and apparent societal tolerance to the use of such a term as ihole is quite frankly bewildering. Mthwakazi politicians and civil society should be stressing the importance of ethnic/ human equality and the use of such terms as ihole should by now be frowned upon.

It is literally mind numbing to even contemplate the idea that the greatest obstacle to the pro-Mthwakazi agenda may turn out not so much to be Zimbabwean systems and institutions but the ill-conceived perceptions of superiority routinely displayed by some ethnic groups over others within Mthwakazi.

Ihole is by all intents a derogatory term that sadly continues to be used liberally by many Mthwakazians to refer to specific ethnic groups: the non-Nguni groups including ethnic Shona people ordinarily resident in Mthwakazi and Zimbabwe. It is naive too for some individuals from the Nguni ethnic group to expect non-Nguni ethnic groups to believe the self-serving Nguni interpretations of what ihole describes and, in particular, means. As alluded to earlier, ihole is by definition of its usage not socio-politically different from nigger, paki, coon, kaffir and similarly rude terms – it is a rude, dehumanising and offensive term.

It would appear that to some ethnic Nguni individuals the truth is a transient, flexible concept that can be shaped at any given time to meet their needs. Mthwakazi historians writing from a privileged Nguni perspective are disingenuous in their presentation of the Mthwakazi society as somewhat fundamentally equal; they are quick to downplay the existence and/ or significance of social stratification within the Mthwakazi society, a stratification that invariably ascribed a low social status to the so-called amahole.

I do concede that Mthwakazi under Mzilikazi was highly tolerant and respectful of difference and fairly inclusive; some highly skilled individuals from amahole demographic groups did hold positions of socio-political significance within the nation, but then the emergence today of powerful black individuals in American and the Western political life should not be globally interpreted as the objective demise of racism. It is a mere indication of the presence of some social mobility but not necessarily of the extent of the fairness of the fundamentals of the prevailing socio-political systems.

To some ethnic Nguni individuals the offensive connotations of the term ihole are based on the alleged misinterpretation of the term rather than the real and substantive socio-political and historical significance of the use of the term. To such individuals the term ihole is not derogatory but a mere descriptor of some social groups within Mthwakazi yet those social groups so described strongly object to its usage under any circumstances.

Surely, the ethnic Nguni people’s subjective and self-serving social interpretation of the emotions attached to the term ihole is at best not to be trusted seeing they are speaking from a position of privilege and have never been on the receiving end of it. One thing for sure, ihole was not and it still is not a term of endearment.

Stop attempts at sanctifying bigotry. The term ihole is derogatory, never at any point of Mthwakazi’s existence has it been used as a term of endearment. For nationalists to achieve their aspirations of an independent Mthwakazi state, socio-political ethnic equality should not be a matter of option but a right and nationality should never be defined in simple ethnic terms. Politicians and community leaders have to be seen to be acting to dispel the myth of ethnic superiority within the Mthwakazi society. Human beings are created equal, the term ihole should be rejected across all of Mthwakazi society; the discriminatory and ethnically divisive Zimbabwean socio-political template should be despised and not emulated.


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