Egypt, Libya and Syria may currently be the least expected destinations for a keen political scholar yet Mthwakazi nationalists will do well to cast their eyes on those countries’ opposition activities, especially the organisation of that opposition and its execution of its aims and objectives. It is too early to objectively judge the performance of Mthwakazi nationalist organisations; what is clear though is the perfection of anti-Zimbabwe rhetoric, the mushrooming number of independence orientated political parties, Mthwakazi focused civic organisations and nationalist debates yet the apparent confusion of aims of nationalists restricts both execution and progress on the ground.
While the number of nationalist organisations should ordinarily not raise alarm, the prospects of a fractured opposition as evidenced in Libya, Egypt, and Syria should be a source of worry. It is evident that the Mthwakazi nationalist movement is characterised by a polarisation of aims and objectives on what different groups propose to be the political role and/ or involvement of Mthwakazians within the current Zimbabwean state.
The independence agenda should not be reduced into a deprecating preoccupation with ethnic purity; Mthwakazi must be different in principle and practice from the current unified Zimbabwe farce. Ordinary Mthwakazians want a state that would spread privilege equitably across society; a state run by and for Mthwakazians.
Organisations are clear in their disapproval of Zimbabwean rule in Mthwakazi but that has to be followed up by a clear vision for an independent Mthwakazi. History instructs us that political independence does not always translate to personal freedoms; Mthwakazi citizens deserve to know what their leaders can realistically deliver, this is even more significant in a polarised political environment like Mthwakazi’s.
The fractured nature of the nationalist movements has an uncanny resemblance to the Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian ones. In the Egyptian context some groups were fighting Hosni Mubarak’s regime for a typically Western-style democracy while others were fighting for an Islam-orientated form of governance. It has become increasingly clear too that Libyan militias harbour specifically local loyalties as opposed to national interests; Libya has become an insecure country without a functional national army but regional militias only answerable to local leadership and not the state.
Different organisations within Mthwakazi have different and potentially irreconcilable objectives thereby raising the spectre for protracted future internal conflict. A cursory look at the three currently prominent nationalist organisations, the Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF), the Mthwakazi National Party (MNP) and the Mthwakazi Liberation Organisation (MLO) indicates an apparent chasm in ideology and with that, a strategic inter- and at times intra-organisational conflict. While MLP quite openly expresses its desire to expel all ethnic Shona people from Mthwakazi, MLO and MNP do not harbour such grandiose and irresponsible ideals; however, both MLF and MLO reject any form of participation in Zimbabwean organised elections yet MNP sees capital in participating in some elections, if only to deny political space to Zimbabwean parties and use electoral gains for bargaining political capital.
The MLP and MLO arguments that participating in Zimbabwean funded and administered elections legitimises Zimbabwe’s rule in Mthwakazi while understandable leave the nationalists with the unenviable task of convincing themselves, their supporters and the international community of the objective support of the independence agenda without tangible figures. Arguably, elections will provide nationalist politicians a platform to articulate their vision to a wider audience and more significantly elections are potentially a plausible tool by which an interest in the independence agenda can be objectively measured, providing votes for nationalist movements will be a reflection of people’s rejection of Zimbabwean rule and not a mere protest against the main Zimbabwean parties.
Another significant problem within the Mthwakazi nationalist movement is the foreign location of most of the supposedly significant players. There is significant activism on the internet yet the impact on the ground remains negligible, at best; if anything, the devolution agenda is better articulated within Mthwakazi. Contrast this with the Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian revolutions where most of the significant players were locally based. Leaders need to be visible to their followers on the ground which improves communication, trust and coordination of political activities.
Foreign-based nationalists have a vital role to play in the emancipation of Mthwakazi but dictating strategy from a computer in a plush foreign apartment should not qualify as one. Leadership of the independence agenda should be left to local-based Mthwakazians who understand the local political variables better while interested foreign-based nationals will have to settle for such roles as advisory, fund-raising, etc.
Disorganised opposition divides and disenfranchises the population; although it may still win political independence, it may not guarantee personal freedoms and safety. The fractured nationalist movement needs to take crash lessons from the Arab Spring and put its house in order sooner rather than later. It is important that all Mthwakazians (those at home and those abroad) work together but foreign-based leaders must consider walking or driving or flying back to Mthwakazi or settle for non-executive roles within the movement, coordinating political activity from a distance is impossible. Local-based Mthwakazians are good and able enough to lead the struggle to emancipate Mthwakazi. The vision of an independent Mthwakazi needs to be spelt out clearly or the devolution argument would strengthen its hold; objective measures of people’s appetite for the independence agenda need to be determined, it would be foolhardy not to assess wider interest in the project.