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Identity is an important factor in building Matabeleland

To recreate communities and heal Matabeleland society, all citizens must be given a sense of belonging. Three things will form the bedrock of Matabeleland (Mthwakazi) society — multi-nationality, freedom of expression and rule of law. It must be appreciated by all who call Matabeleland home that if any one of these things is lost, you do not have Matabeleland.

It can be argued that identity crisis is one of the biggest challenges we face in our attempts to build Matabeleland. A sense of entitlement is evident where some population groups feel more deserving of the ownership of the physical, social, political and economical space of the territory than others hence the disputes around ‘Matabeleland’ or ‘Mthwakazi’ when it comes to what name to call the country. Perhaps an even bigger problem is the lack of self-acceptance; seeking South African validation is the major weakness, there seems to be prestige in having some form of South African connection than being just Matabele.

Our historical connection with South African population groups is not in dispute, it is well documented and remains evident to this day but let us accept Matabeles are not South Africans; there are Matabeles of South African extraction but they are now a nation in their own right not a subsection of population groups in South Africa. To build Matabeleland it is important that we acknowledge the separate identity of Matabeleland safely detached from the South African identity.

The majority of our population groups are content with the Matabeleland identity, but some Nguni individuals and communities are still consumed by their South African origins and identity, but they also want to belong to the Matabeleland nation. Over the years, this identity dualism has become a thorn in the Matabeleland political flesh; it divides more than it unites the different nations that share the geographic and political territory of Matabeleland, worse still, it compromises efforts of building a stable nation.

Yes, Ngunis came from South Africa and they are rightly entitled to the preservation of their Nguni identity, but that does not alter the fact they are also Matabeles. It would help if they fully accepted that they are Matabeles first and fully participate in shaping the socio-political and economic space they occupy in their identity while also endorsing the socio-cultural multiplicity of Matabeleland just like other occupants of the physical and political territory.

Politics is always ready and eager to work for those who are ready to engage in it. If Ngunis desire to build socio-political capital in Matabeleland then they must be ready to put all their energy in it, and envisioning themselves as part South African and part Matabeles is not a good start; that can only leave them part Matabeles no matter how much they invest in Matabeleland. They will find themselves being perpetually labelled foreigners in their own land while not being necessarily esteemed by their South African compatriots.

In brief, what we are saying is that the growth of the political, social and economic enterprise of Matabeleland will only be achieved when all nations focus on Matabeleland, and not when some nations have their eyes glued to South Africa reminiscing.

What is guaranteed is that if we do not value ourselves we will never value anything. When it comes to who we are, I will once again frustrate many by stating the obvious – we are Matabeles not South Africans; for a very long time Matabeleland residents have sheltered behind this dual identity and the linguistically and/ culturally corresponding South African population groups.

A true sense of belonging will only happen when all nations present their authentic, imperfect selves to the Matabeleland world, their sense of belonging can never be greater than their level of self-acceptance. 

This is the right time to elevate our Matabele identity over and above the South African identity without renouncing our linguistic and cultural attributes; we are Matabeles, and if everyone in Matabeleland would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.

When everyone is at their best, we stand a better chance of building a great nation. We all have the opportunity to be part of the continuation of something special. Instead of continually purring over our cousins down south who probably all but lost respect and interest in our forefathers the day Mzilikazi led them northwards over a century ago, let us focus on building a great federal republic state of Matabeleland.

If we start promoting all that is Matabeleland, our arts, our economy, our languages and our culture to the world, we will be just fine. Local investment is the backbone of any economy; when we become successful, others will look at us in admiration and respect; instead of us looking south for approval and validation, let us look within for opportunities.

Matabeleland’s future belongs to those individuals and groups who conceive of it as belonging to everyone and who joyfully lend the best of themselves to it. One cannot change society unless they see themselves as belonging to it and responsible for changing it. To change our country, we must not just belong but unreservedly participate in shaping it so that it fully serves our interests, that is to say it gives the public adequate autonomy to shape their politics and economy, it has the right level of checks and balance to safeguard our present, it provides appropriate tools to identify and address current needs and it has sufficient flexibility to prepare for the future.


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