Matabeles must vigorously confront stereotypes

Zimbabwe’s independence has presided over the construction of barriers to openness and the creation of a social structure epitomised by a dangerous unconscious or conscious investment in the perceived superiority of ethnic Shona people while ethnic Ndebeles are subjectively seen as comparatively inferior. It is no wonder that the Matabeleland/ Mashonaland union has remained tenuous at best, not helped by the continued judgement of Matabeleland through the prism of Mashonaland stereotypes as evidenced by the latest cartoon from one of the state controlled newspapers.

Feb 2016, a cartoon from the state controlled The Chronicle newspaper

Feb 2016, a cartoon from the state controlled The Chronicle newspaper

The naïve amongst Matabeles and those pandering to hatred have sort to use their right to freedom of speech to sort to convince those of us condemning the overtly derogatory, sexist and unhelpful ethnic stereotyping cartoon into accepting that the work is not a manifestation of the inherent socio-political rot in Zimbabwe, chiefly ethnic discrimination, but merely an unacceptable, tasteless joke from an incompetent satirist. I am afraid that is simplistic, that reasoning should be shared with the nearest psychiatrist. It is an undeniable fact that Zimbabwe is a country in which expectations are by stereotypes and rarely by human ability; it is no surprise that an ethnic Shona male chauvinist saw fun in a distasteful satire about ethnic Ndebele women.

I accept that the main feature of satire is its hidden intention and its purpose is to strip off the cover of comforting illusion and half-truths while encouraging progressive debate. That however, is no licence to stereotyping a section of the population, satire should be well-intentioned. I am afraid The Chronicle’s cartoon fails the test, it is a bland outdated tribalism and sexist nonsense that celebrates hatred as opposed to stimulating an intelligent debate about challenges facing Matabeleland.

My concerns are not driven by a desire to be perceived as a victim; playing victim only works when your audience is humane. I have said in the past and will reiterate that my interest lies not in Matabeleland being given preferential treatment at the expense of other ethnic groups in the country but in being treated differently and fairly according to our socio-political and cultural needs. That means Matabeleland and Matabeles being afforded equal access to opportunity while being allowed to be themselves without the need to sacrifice their socio-cultural identity.

If the Zimbabwean state is conveniently uncomfortable to fight against negative stereotypes of Matabeleland and Matabeles, Matabeleland and Matabeles must take the lead and confront bigotry whenever and wherever it appears. In that fight we must be ourselves; our concern should never be to prove Harare wrong but prove to ourselves that we are right. We must not live our lives within the shackles of stereotypes of what we can or cannot do. Our socio-political world is too complex to be reduced to Harare stereotypes.

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