The irresponsible comments made by Mr Mugabe about ethnic Kalanga people at a recent SADC meeting in Harare are abhorrent, they have no place in modern politics and public life. The comments are out-of-order, bigoted, unfortunate scapegoating and not statesman-like.
Unfortunate as they sound, they are not unexpected; anyone claiming to be surprised that Mugabe would not only hold such views but will publicly express them risks having their own credibility questioned. Tribalism has been the only constant in Mr Mugabe’s politics; this has been a politics defined by ethnic identity, building clan and tribal allegiances and the exploitation of ethnic differences to weaken rather than to empower society.
Arrogance and paranoia define Mugabe and his politics, a politics constantly defined according to clan or tribe. He has presided over an exclusivist system that specialises in dividing communities and subjects ethnic Matabeles who include Kalangas to despicable levels of discrimination.
The purpose of the recent rant lies not in highlighting the ‘problem of Kalangas’ itself but in scapegoating and creating schisms within Matabeleland. Linked to Gukurahundi, the worst feature of Mugabe presidency has been its sustained effort of keeping different ethnic groups apart, always trying to widen the divide between communities by selectively showering certain individuals and/ or groups within society with favour while castigating others.
The profiling of Kalangas as uneducated petty criminals is an attempt at diverting attention from the problem of his poor governance. Predictably, instead of owning up to his failures, he withdraws into his comfort zone; he attempts to plant a seed of self-doubt and anxiety among Kalangas, subtle instigate Kalanga nationalism and create a socio-political space of ‘us – Kalangas’ and ‘them’. The effect will be weakening Matabeleland nationalism which represents a long-term real threat to Mashonaland dominance in Matabeleland. Matabeles should resist any such attempts at dividing the region; we have always been united by our differences.
Matabeles of various ethnic origin have been able to successfully share a common social space. Through the experience of over a century of living together, Matabeles have built socio-political processes that encourage tolerance and respect among the different ethnic groups. Indeed, boundaries that divide one’s ethnic identity from Ndebele are at best shadowy and vague; it is often not clear-cut where being Nguni or Tonga or Kalanga or Sotho or Xhosa or Venda stops and where being Ndebele starts. We have identified ethnic differences and used those to empower the region.
Far from leading, Mugabe has been dividing communities; his politics of sectarianism has created deep-seated schisms in the country’s socio-political space and has by and large successfully kept different ethnic communities apart. He has failed to recognise, accept and celebrate ethnic differences; instead, he has constantly used those differences as a tool for separating communities.