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No place for tribalism in pro-Mthwakazi reforms

Reforming pro-Mthwakazi politics is citizen responsibility. We need to be honest about what we need, take appropriate risks to achieve it than avoid the truth in fear of rocking the boat. The pro-Mthwakazi movement’s political tone has faced allegations of tribalism. As responsible citizens we will not bend; we will call for accountability; we will not water things down; we will not edit our souls to permit wrong acts.

Fighting tribalism is right, it does not of itself constitute tribal bigotry, but how the fight is executed may form the problem. Perception is essential in politics, we need to be in control of the narrative and the pro-Mthwakazi agenda and tribalism must never be confused; the latter holds no place in a socially diverse territory like ours.

Excuses for tribalism are desperate attempts at normalising the abnormal and need debunking; we reject outright the notion that tribalism is a natural and necessary self-preservation process for Mthwakazi people; tribalism is not natural to humans, we are not born with a tribe but born into one; tribalism does not bear a genetic basis, it is a result of socialisation and lifelong experiences that shape our self-perception and indeed our view of others; it can be aptly defined as primarily a psychological trait — specifically, it is a psychological defence mechanism generated by feelings of insecurity and anxiety. 

Copyright @ Zaid K. Dahhaj (2018) The ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality is a drain in societal growth

Tribalism is symptom of a bigger problem; it is a psychological illness. It is inherently a sign of a lack of psychological growth, insecurity and poor self-esteem. It is not uncommon for psychologically vulnerable individuals to seek to strengthen their sense of being through group identity and to define themselves in distinction to ( and in conflict with) others.

Greater care must be taken in the use of language within the pro-Mthwakazi movement; how we shape the world’s view of us is essential. We must not be seen to be complicit or advancing theories that support the exclusionary treatment of specific ethnic groups. No community within Mthwakazi should be treated better than others or worse than others because of its identity. Social identity is a right and must be respected but never be used as a factor in the allocation of resources and access to opportunity. Individual characteristics and abilities must always trump over group characteristics and stereotypes in how we judge people.

How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics - WSJ
Copyright: Wall Street Journal. The danger of tribalism is that it stalls progress

In the article we identify five different aspects that reflect tribalism as psychological defence mechanisms. The aspects presented are an adaptation of Taylor’s (2018) work on racism where he identified aspects of racism as psychological defence mechanisms:

First stage, a feeling of internal insecurity or inadequacy in identity may lead an individual to seek an affiliation with a group in order to strengthen their sense of identity and fulfil their sense of belonging. Belonging to something bigger than themselves and sharing a common cause with the other members of their group gives a sense of completeness and significance.

Point to be taken is that there is nothing wrong in and of itself in the sense of pride in identifying with and belonging to a bigger group. However, this group identity may lead to a second stage: enmity towards other groups, something akin to street gangs; a perceived need to strengthen their sense of identity may cause group members to develop hostility towards other groups thus become more defined and cohesive in its otherness while strengthening its conflict with outsiders. The ZANU PF 1979 Grand Plan set out to unite all ethnic Shona people against a conceived enemy in Ndebele people. 

The third stage is characterised by members of a group actively withdrawing empathy from outsiders, limiting their concern and compassion only to fellow members. While ZANU PF was executing genocide in Matabeleland and Midlands in 1983/84, it was displaying acts of kindness towards people of Mashonaland.

Defining the fourth stage is the homogenisation of individuals belonging to other groups. This is the depersonalisation of individuals, people are stripped of their distinctive characteristics and defined in terms of generalised prejudices and assumptions about their group as a whole. In ZANU PF’s Shona supremacist agenda, Matabeleland people were collectively defined as Ndebele dissidents and labelled enemies of the State. 

Finally we have the fifth stage, seen as the most dangerous and destructive extreme of tribalism in which people may project their own psychological flaws and personal failings onto another group as a strategy to rid themselves of responsibility and criticism. Failings are unfairly attributed to other groups who may be attacked or even worse in revenge for their alleged crimes.

History teaches us that it is very easy for victims to turn into tormentors especially where anger and retaliation inform ideology; we do not want our fight against tribalism to turn us into perfect performers of tribalism. We emphasise that to mistreat someone because of their tribe is wrong, and regardless of who does the mistreatment it remains wrong.

We must spare no rod, to hate someone because of their tribe is wrong, no matter who does the hating; we conclude that to be pro-Mthwakazi is not the same as being anti-Shona people. One is a human right issue, a right to territorial integrity, a right to belong to a group of one’s choice and a right to practice one’s culture and religion, the other is bigotry. Tribalism is not natural but a learned behaviour that can be unlearned; we do not need to hate others or compare ourselves to any population group to feel good about ourselves; we can certainly love ourselves while equally respecting other communities who are different from us.


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