Last week I argued that disunity within the Mthwakazi nationalist movement did not necessarily compromise the independence agenda as much as the other competing political ideals. In particular, the vastly publicised devolution of power defined as the statutory decentralisation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at regional or local level poses a real and sustained threat to nationalists. The proponents of devolution have ramped up the perceived local empowerment potential of the ideal within Mthwakazi leaving nationalists with a real fight in their hands to prove independence was the more credible argument.
The devolution argument is a problem for the nationalist movement from two perspectives: first that its leading proponent is the Welshman Ncube-led MDC and the second is what the ideal espouses. Contrary to Tsvangirai’s ill-advised reference to the MDC-N as a regional party, Ncube’s political ambition is not to be a governor of Matabeleland or the Midlands but to be the president of Zimbabwe; he has neither made secret his belief in the unitary Zimbabwe nor his rejection of secessionist ideals. He is not only an astute political operator (as evidenced by his goodwill in settling bail fees for a nationalist leader facing treason charges) but also being Mthwakazian, Ncube identifies with and is in turn easily identified with Mthwakazi society hence as a leader he is acceptable to many Mthwakazians.
To date the mostly foreign-based nationalist movement leadership has not only failed to install credible and visible challengers on the ground but has also been unable to come up with a viable strategy that would adequately address the MDC-N/ devolution threat to the independence agenda. In terms of branding, the inexperienced and poorly funded nationalist movement has at times come out as being out of sorts, out of depth and out of touch hence the movement has so far been no match to the well oiled, innovative and fast growing ‘Green machine’.
In theory, devolution presents Mthwakazians with a real chance to control and directly benefit from their vast natural resources. It should be worrying for nationalists that many pro-independence Mthwakazians are increasingly receptive to devolution of power (even within a unitary Zimbabwe state) seeing it as an inevitable path to independence. There is quite clearly a problem in the perception of the nationalist movement on the ground. It is crucial that nationalists package their message to the effect that it is not just attractive but is relevant and reflective of the needs of the Mthwakazi constituency. Espousing violent means as opposed to democratic means does not sound an attractive option. Calls for violence from nationalists based outside the country are counterproductive; the last thing Mthwakazians require is a militarised geopolitical zone.
The highly vaunted devolution model has sufficient gapping holes for nationalists to exploit. Important caveats have been quite deliberately omitted, thus devolution maybe wrongly sold as the best option in terms of its potential to genuinely empower Mthwakazi and Mthwakazians. Proponents flaunt the potentiality of devolution to empower as a certainty; the reality is far more complex than that. There is a perception that devolution will organically translate into local exploitation of and benefits from locally available resources; nothing can be further from the truth. In the UK’s devolution model Scotland does not necessarily have exclusive control or enjoy greater benefit from the oil reserves from the North Sea. In reality the degree to which devolution is beneficial is a preserve of central government legislation and that may be temporary and is liable to revocation at the whims of the central government.
Singing devolution’s potential for empowerment is insufficient; to better understand the potential benefits of devolution and make informed judgment, Mthwakazians need to also examine what is currently not being said about the ideal. Devolution is not federalism, the balance of authority will remain tipped towards the Harare Parliament, so which legislative powers would be devolved and which ones will be reserved by Harare? Only when there is clarity on that point can people make informed judgement of devolution. Why should Mthwakazians consider devolution as a credible option within the unitary Zimbabwe when the most influential people in the country’s politics, the president and his prime minister, two men with no regard for democratic processes, have previously poured scorn on the concept?
Devolution within the unitary Zimbabwean state goes against the grain of Mthwakazi nationalism; while nationalists want total independence to determine their future, devolution only confers increased self-rule to the degree that would be determined by Harare and not Bulawayo. Under devolution Harare reserves all constitutional authority and with it the right to repeal devolved powers in the same way as any statute. Mthwakazi will have to negotiate with Harare on which powers can be devolved and which ones should be reserved; significantly, Harare Parliament will have the final say on what decisions can be devolved to Mthwakazi.
It is not by complaining about how dirty the river is but by cleaning it that true revolutionaries are judged. The MDC-N is not the only legitimate interpreter of devolution; to occupy the Mthwakazi political space nationalists need not shy away from taking devolutionists on. There needs to be clear water between devolution and secession; the nationalist movement has to revamp its marketing strategy, better organise and increase its visibility on the ground. The nationalist movement needs to start being unwavering in its efforts to expose the obvious weaknesses of the Ncube-led MDC devolution agenda as much as it attacks ZANU PF and the Tsvangirai-led MDC’s record within Mthwakazi. In theory devolution presents great potential for regional empowerment but in practice that is a complex function of prevailing political dynamics which influence how much and which legislative power is devolved.