Mthwakazi finds itself a region of Zimbabwe today because the ZAPU political elite unilaterally defined the needs and solutions for Mthwakazians. As is now apparent, ZAPU misdiagnosed the problem, lost the Mthwakazi roadmap and botched the treatment. For the renewed chance to rectify Mthwakazi’s political crisis the diagnosis of the problem has to be right, reliable, and precise and so should be the assessment tools and interventions.
The re-emerging Mthwakazi nationalists are an encouraging start yet the civic society response has to date been dismal. The changes that people want will not happen until ideas are put into practice. Civil society must take a greater political role in dictating the direction and speed of the Mthwakazi liberation agenda; politicians must be people’s employees not employers.
Zimbabwe’s systematic repression of Mthwakazi and its citizens is deliberate, comprehensive and efficient. Nationalist movements are right in continually identifying and exposing blatant acts of discrimination against Mthwakazian socioeconomic interests within the unitary Zimbabwe. However, the packaging of the argument by most nationalist organisations can hardly be described as reliable, safe, politically useful and devoid of political opportunism. Misdiagnosis of the problem is of itself a problem. In particular, the political objective and benefits of framing the argument in such a way that Mthwakazians invariably assume the victim status is questionable.
The reductionist method that reduces the cause of Mthwakazi’s problems to ethnic Shona people is a disingenuous and dangerous simplification of a complicated reality. Mthwakazians must defy crude and ruthless politically engineered ethnic polarisation through which the political elite manage civilians for its greater benefit. The nationalist argument purposely misinforms the Mthwakazi public by not distinguishing between the executive and ordinary Shona people when in fact there is a gulf between the two. The nationalist organisations’ argument is guilty of trivialising the significance of unchecked state power on Mthwakazians today; either by design or pure coincidence, the political argument ignores the effect of the balance of power relations within and between the state and the people. People’s focus is quite conveniently diverted from the essential scrutiny on power flows within the political system to the emotive ethnic rivalries. It is telling too that while people favour democracy and more devolution of power, politicians within the nationalist movement are bent on betraying those aspirations by pursuing the misguided restoration of a Ndebele Monarchy over Mthwakazi.
While it is crucial not to overlook your enemy’s abilities and strengths, one need not forget their own. It is rather preposterous for any nationalist movement to expect to appeal to the inner resolve of Mthwakazians’ to break the fear barrier by inadvertently imploring nationals to adopt the victim status! Playing the victim status will never be the engine that drives the revolution but a generation of inhibiting fears. A prime example is the defensive mechanisms that see politicians attributing all of Mthwakazi’s socioeconomic failures, including poor academic achievement to Zimbabwe and ethnic Shona people. It is perfectly fine to uncover real injustices but it would be even better to identify and emphasise Mthwakazi’s strengths and take advantage of opportunities, turn dreams into reality, instead of wallowing in victim status.
Patriotism must not blind people to reality, individuals can be both Shona and Mthwakazian; blindly arguing that Mthwakazians are victims of ethnic Shona people is discriminatory as much as it is misleading. Absolving non Shona Mthwakazian politicians from blame and implying an absence of non Shona Mthwakazian beneficiaries of the Zimbabwean system is politically disingenuous. The reality remains that although mainly dominated by ethnic Shona people, the ZANU PF and Zimbabwean executive has since 1980 been propped by Mthwakazian political elite.
Democracy as conceived by many in Mthwakazi today is primarily politicians’ selective political interpretation of the concept which often decontextualises it hence, it is highly misunderstood. An ignorant population provides fertile ground for political parties and all the brainwashing that goes with them; indeed many people join a political party out of ignorance while the shame of leaving keeps them at the mercy of politicians. The paramount political challenge for the Mthwakazi civil society is therefore to reconstruct the socio-political space and adapt democracy such that it becomes congruent with the pre-existing socio-political structures (e.g. local credit associations, development associations and burial societies). In particular, local and national governance has to be redesigned such that power is effectively shared within and between the political executive and the people.
Organising people for a political cause is not a preserve of political parties. The Mthwakazi agenda will only thrive when the civil society stops waiting for politicians for political solutions. The onus is with people to lead the change they want; Egyptians have shown what people (more than any single political organisation) are capable of, politically. Systematic checks between the state and the people are vital to curb state excesses. Without accountability all that Mthwakazians would have fought for would be lost in smoke by the end of the first parliament. It would be a tragedy were people to allow the benefits of Mthwakazi’s independence to be privatised by the socio-political elite while the burden of its failure was disproportionally socialised.