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Diversionary tactics in Matabeleland politics

Diversionary tactics are as old as politics itself but a rapidly growing phenomenon within the Matabeleland/ Mthwakazi political space. In this manipulation strategy Noam Chomsky aptly describes as: “Keep the adult public attention diverted away from the real social issues, and captivated by matters of no real importance”, delicate, deliberate and at times desperate manoeuvres are orchestrated with the sole purpose of detracting the public from real issues on the ground.

A significant number of our groups are more appalled by accusations of political naivety than they are of actual acts of political naivety unfolding before their eyes. Instead of addressing issues of obvious local political interest, the groups are pointing the finger north, east, west and south.    

There are no exceptions on this one. Officials from various groups within the movement frequently generate policy crises to both divert the public’s attention away from internal policy discontent and bolster their political fortunes through a rally around identity effect. If you convince a population group that its very existence is threatened by another group and that its only defence is without exception dependent on uniting against their rival, you are almost assured the skills deficiency of local leaders suddenly becomes a secondary none issue.

We notice now and then within the Matabeleland movement that different groups will trigger crises such as territorial conflict, tribal rivalry or ethnic confrontations, etc. or stir up controversy by denigrating the local hero Joshua Nkomo just so public anxiety, anger, frustration and attention is diverted to those issues and the groups’ weak and often unpopular policies avoid becoming the epicentre of public political discource.

Our movement leaders appreciate the mechanism through which the public reacts to the specific issues at the centre of the diversionary “crisis”. For instance, Matabeleland politicians understand that people tend to react to criticism of Joshua Nkomo and tribal and/ or ethnic issues intensely, the embattled groups attempt to manipulate and exploit this proclivity by launching specifically anti-Nkomo and tribal or ethnic conflict in the process sharpening domestic ethnic and political divisions. By linking or blaming one’s unpopularity and/ or critique of bad policies with the initiation of tribal exploitation, an otherwise objective criticism loses its currency as emotion takes over and the group gains sympathy from the gullible supporters.

It is therefore unsurprising that every time a group finds itself in trouble and particularly unpopular among the public, the matter of our nation’s linguistic division surfaces – the spirit of Ubuntu becomes secondary to the tribal or ethnic identifier, with various groups trying to promote or ban the isiNdebele language. The tensions of convenience between BaKalanga and Nguni come to mind.

Here is the problem with ethnocentrism, it is a ready-made diversion from the considerably harder work of building a functioning Matabeleland nation. Ethnicity is not particularly interesting to ordinary people of Matabeleland. Power is. Who has power and who does not is a matter of great public interest. Systemic injustice that extends privilege to some and deprivation to others interest the ordinary women and men because it is an incredible violation that is apparent to this day. It is necessary to talk about that. Ethnicity is a diversion that serves politicians not the people.

As a nation driven by social purpose, we have big ambitions for Ubuntu to define our political foundation. No tribe or ethnic group or race is better than others; we will do well to do away with emotionally inspired decisions, we need a non-partisan, civilian led movement to assume an oversight role to unpick the diversionary ‘crisis’, call the political groups to account, redirect both the public and political groups back to issues of local political interest.

If political groups in the Matabeleland movement are satisfied with their policies and they are honest about their intentions to represent public interest, they would not seek diversion from those policies in order to satisfactorily represent public interest. One would expect them to encourage public participation in in-depth, honest conversations about their policies, but we are bombarded with the diversionary narrative that labels all ethnic Shona people as dangerous to us or South African political matters that objectively bear little effect on us.

Over the years it has become increasingly apparent that we are a diverse nation with shared interests of autonomy but not a shared strategic location. Holding different views is a political right that should not be denied our people; however, it would be the height of folly were Mthwakazi’s politics to become a dust storm of delusions and diversions with the bellows of a crude dictatorship and the greasy moral standards of a desperate political opportunist. All talk of ethnic co-optation and supremacy is manipulation, and manipulation is a diversionary tactic. It is useful to politicians, but no longer so to us the public who have always been close to the impact of political decisions.


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