Since independence, the Zimbabwean state has been systematically driving Matabeleland and the Midlands (Mthwakazi) into a socio-political oblivion. The state actively aids and abets discriminatory policies aimed at sustaining the power and privilege of ethnic Shona people, in particular Zezurus, over Mthwakazians. Socioeconomic and political power is strategically concentrated in the hands of ethnic Shona people while Mthwakazians are consigned to less glamorous supporting roles.
The system has presided over Mthwakazi haemorrhaging unprecedented numbers of its youth to neighbouring countries. However, one unintended outcome of Zimbabwe’s siege has been the rebirth and growing Mthwakazi nationalism especially among the displaced youth.
There are active efforts by nationalist movements to rebuild the social and political capital of Mthwakazi. It would appear the Zimbabwean state has to date quite effectively atomised the Mthwakazi population, that is, people have been turned into a mass of isolated individuals incapable of constructively working together.
Through a myriad of interventions ranging from state sanctioned brutality in the 1980s, and freedom restrictive legislation to sophisticated state secret services sponsored infiltration of local social and political organisations and the frustration of local economic development projects, the local population has been disenfranchised and disempowered socially and economically.
The generalised fear of the secret services maintains an air of hopelessness, mistrust, uncertainty and resignation within the region making it difficult for people to ascertain the veracity of the many nationalist political groups and their leaders.
The nationalist movement is yet to breach the entrenched politics of public control and fear that ZANU PF has executed throughout the 33 years of its rule. The movement still largely operated from outside Mthwakazi has been subject to targeted infiltration by suspect characters possibly state sponsored agents who have on occasions successfully disabled or incapacitated the different organisations at different levels of their political operations.
High profile defections within the nationalist movement inevitably affect public confidence and attitudes to active participation in Mthwakazi nationalism as such defections are seen by many as confirmation of the presence and effectiveness of the secret service. This hampers campaigns and recruitment by nationalists.
Infiltration of political organisations is almost inevitable, even the most sophisticated of institutions in the world bear a degree of vulnerability. However, questions have to be raised of the sophistication and capabilities of Mthwakazi nationalists in carrying out crucial background checks to reduce the risk of unwanted intrusion. In an environment where organisations are desperate for more boots on the ground, enthusiasm remains the single most significant factor in appointing people to positions of influence.
The outcome has been a mushrooming of structurally weak organisations. Intellectual coherence within the organisations has been suspect; internally, the organisations are poorly organised, poorly coordinated and ill-disciplined on policy and strategic matters. It is characteristic of organisations to communicate one idea in the public media and go on to demonstrate completely different ideological perspectives on the social media. Such inconsistencies reflect the ideological disconnect between foreign and local based activists.
The expectations of the foreign-based groups are often devoid of the contextual realities within Mthwakazi. In principle, most Mthwakazians will be receptive to the idea of self-determination or devolution or any system that genuinely transfers real control of the Mthwakazi socio-political and economic space to Mthwakazi people.
However, there needs to be a broader objective debate on what is feasible and what Mthwakazians are prepared to sacrifice for. This debate has yet to be held as such the bellicose rhetoric expressed by some nationalists is premature and ill-advised; it simply does not resonate with the needs and expectations of people on the ground.
The absence of public input in the policies of these organisations is evident in their inconsistent and often poorly constructed arguments and incoherent policies including narrowly conceived definitions of nationality drawn from superficial analyses of a rather complex Mthwakazi nation.
Suggesting that significant proportions of Mthwakazi born individuals be denied citizenship solely on the basis of their ethnicity is reprehensible, myopic, unjustifiable, unsustainable and morally incompatible with the modern world value systems. It is apocryphal to suggest that the expulsion of ethnic Shona people from Mthwakazi will of itself guarantee better living conditions; only fairer policies and legislation that uphold human rights and equal protection of citizens (and not the exclusion of certain ethnic groups) will create a better society for all.
There is significant recklessness and immaturity in the way some organisations conduct their political business; their approach demonstrates a high degree of insensitivity to both the security and feelings of the people whose interests they claim to be protecting. Mthwakazi nationalism is turning out to be a refuge of political opportunists. Many of the current nationalist organisations’ reputations are built on what they are against and not what they stand for. The strategic gap between Mthwakazians at home and those abroad is compromising the nationalist agenda; if Mthwakazians cannot objectively identify with the strategies presented by nationalist organisations they will continue to be suspicious of and divorce themselves from nationalist engagement. A militarised geopolitical space is least preferred by the wider Mthwakazi public.