What is Matabeleland to do in these protests?

As Harare burns, Matabeleland finds herself at political crossroads. We are faced with a difficult task of deciding how to behave as Mashonaland protests against the uninterrupted 36-year rule of Robert Mugabe. The question we wrestle with is: How do we engage without damaging – but emphasising – that which matters the most to us?

We certainly have no confusion about our feelings for the Mugabe and ZANU PF regime; we have reserves of experience and witnesses of his heartless rule over Matabeleland; we have spent the whole of Zimbabwean independence feeling vulnerable, alone and in bondage; we reserve no emotions for both ZANU PF and Mugabe but we cannot rush our decisions as regards the ongoing protests in Harare. It would be intellectually and politically naïve for Matabeleland to make major decisions based on ‘facts’ held by Mashonaland; ‘facts’ not immediately available for our scrutiny and ‘facts’ that exist hidden in endless speculation of what might happen should Mugabe be removed.

Making good decisions is a crucial political skill and ability to interpret an interplay of various factors at stake. The wise make their decisions, while the ignorant take pleasure in following public opinion. Let us not be moved by hashtags but our values; it is primarily our values that should determine our decisions. What we ought to avoid right now is making decisions on what Harare thinks is the solution to our problems when Harare remains our problem. How does a problem that has retained its feature in its entirety bar a change in its shade of paint suddenly become a solution?

Let us be patient, reflective and distance ourselves from the preconceived notions of choices we are supposed to make. We want to be strong, be in control, be attentive and sensitive and make sensible decisions about Matabeleland’s future. What we are seeing right now are hashtags but not the depth of their meaning and certainly very little about their origins let alone where they are taking us.

Just because Mugabe and ZANU PF have stopped working for Mashonaland does not mean that tribalism is totally asleep. Tribalism stems from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human. It is a self-centred falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing it is right to treat others as we would not want to be treated. Matabeleland must not be blindly roped into the current protests whose focus is narrow. The removal of Mugabe is not the removal of systems and structures that many in Mashonaland have not only been beneficiaries of but also supported wholeheartedly.

Our experience of Zimbabwean independence is that it has distorted the efficient allocation of resources and access to opportunity in the country to the extent that Matabeleland has become a victim and not a beneficiary of the ouster of the Ian Smith regime. Zimbabwean independence is, to Matabeleland, not an alternative democracy or freedom but a tribal dictatorship that has turned ethnic Shona creed into law. For a region that has borne Gukurahundi brutality of 1983/4, Matabeleland may find it impossible to identify with the motives of the current protests. Unfortunately, many in Mashonaland fail to appreciate our perception and thus find it confusing, if not petty, when we argue that their solutions retain our problems.

To conclude, I remain unconvinced that the mere removal of Mugabe from power is the solution to our problems. Yes, he is the central and one of the most recognisable figures in a brutal system but he is merely an essential component in a much larger piece of equipment. There is no evidence that the protesters’ target is dismantling the heavy machinery of tribalism and not merely replacing what they now perceive to be a malfunctioning piece in that machinery. Matabeleland will do well to use more brains and less emotions with regards to its role in the current protests. Let us be clear about our values then it would be easier to make decisions about our future.

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