Only scapegoating and not reality will attribute the deepening divisive politics in Zimbabwe to identity politics. Contrary to views espoused by the hugely conservative political organisations in Zimbabwe, identity politics has a positive role to play in our politics; significantly, it is not always a threat to security or a cause of disunity. Rather, it can be a source for progressiveness that demands universal liberty and justice.
Those who fear identity politics the most are the majority for whom current systems and institutions are created not the victims of the pervasive bias. In Matabeleland we embrace identity politics as a genuine vehicle for our empowerment. We want to take ownership of our problems, define them in line with our cultural understanding, break them down into manageable components, identify solutions and prioritise our strategies.
It is important to state that this is not an attempt at creating an insular Mthwakazi state, we recognise our responsibility to the broader Zimbabwean society and we do recognise the threat faced by other marginalised demographic groups as a direct result of current systemic and institutional deficiencies, and in principle we look forward working in coalition with such groups to advance the interests of all marginalised demographic groups.
We are under no illusion that the embodiment of our political problems is our identity and that there is a need to pay greater attention to our politics as a social group; we realise that the perpetrators and those who have not experienced our pain cannot be trusted with liberating us from it; we are the only people who can be trusted and who care enough about ourselves to work consistently for our liberation.
Structural iniquity is not a natural by-product of identity politics. It is the self-obsessed misuse of identity politics that has had devastating outcomes taking decades, if not centuries to undo. Identity politics in Zimbabwe has become hollow as opportunistic politicians shift their focus to trivia and shallow narratives that conflate social background, including tribe and lived experience with sound political analysis. We must understand that a political construction that moves us closer to equality does not originate from belonging in a certain tribe but from pursuing a certain kind of politics.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the four decades of uninterrupted ethnic Shona reign in Zimbabwe and its repugnant socioeconomic and political outcomes, it is that the age of exclusive, tribally inclined identity politics must be brought to an end. Tribalism has been disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. We cannot continue on a political path designed, defined and effectuated through Shona culture, norms and values with casual disregard of non-Shona demographic groups’ needs.
In the current political dispensation, it is inconceivable that a non-ethnic Shona person can hold an executive role in Zimbabwean institutions. The ethnic Shona identity is conveniently evoked by politicians to assert unquestionable authority irrespective of skills, experience or what the law may say. This has been evident in Nelson Chamisa’s ascendancy to the MDC-T throne and the MDC Alliance leadership. It is also significant that the only person (Ms Thokozani Khuphe) to legally challenge his party leadership has been routinely subjected to threats of violence and verbally abused based on both her tribe and gender.
This unfortunately, is not a one-off incident. We have an uncomfortably high number of ethnic Shona politicians and their supporters in both the ruling and MDC opposition formations indulging in a politics of narcissism and who are purposely indifferent to the task of reforming Zimbabwean politics so that it touches on people from every walk of life. Their interest is not in unifying the nation but ascending to power by any means necessary hence, the lack of interest in instituting political systemic and institutional reforms that may be perceived as putting Shona privilege at risk.
The Shona supremacy swirling around Nelson Chamisa is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very centre of his power. The MDC Alliance, as the only competent opposition, is a joke with no policy departure from the fundamental systemic errors that perpetually compromise the safety of those who disagree with the consensus.
The major weakness of the Alliance is that it is largely a loose coalition of educated Shona people and minority élites with little to no connection with the ordinary man and woman. Their solutions are often downloaded ‘education’ from the West and the East, and not from the communities they pretend to serve.
When we argue that our problems stem from our identity we do not dismiss our connection from the rest of society; we indeed acknowledge our responsibility to the broader society. Without a doubt the struggle of minority Matabeles identifies with some demographic groups in Mashonaland hence, a focus on Mthwakazi issues will be a stepping stone towards addressing problems of iniquity in Zimbabwe.