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Political indifference: Lessons from Gukurahundi genocide

For those still wondering why the state of politics in Matabeleland politics is incredibly distressing, look no further than the average Matabeleland adult’s attitude towards active participation in local politics, the indifference displayed on a daily basis is beyond all decent contemplation. The indifference is bewildering, there is no sense of personal responsibility, many people in the region view public politics as somebody else’s responsibility; the reality is that meaningful political changes require very serious, engaged citizens, not just professional politicians.

When the ZANU-led government set about murdering Ndebele civilians in Matabeleland in an operation it called Gukurahundi, the reality of the failure of the transition from a white minority government to a black majority government to culminate to political independence became apparent, and it became clear to Matabeleland people that freedom and liberty were an illusion; people became disillusioned and disconnected from the entire political life.

But if people still believe they can address political injustice by divorcing themselves from political activity, they are in for a shock – injustice will be their justice. The advice to the Matabeleland public is, ‘Get involved in decisions about you, your livelihoods and your region.’ Register to vote, vote for all local matters, and choose locals with proven interest in local matters. There is nothing like not getting involved and there is certainly no tangible benefit to such a position; in fact the refusal to take sides on significant political issues is itself a decision, it is a silent acquiescence to evil; our biggest problem is that while those with interest in Matabeleland lack the zeal and conviction to act, those who believe in the ZANU PF script are full of passionate conviction.

A politically ineffectual Matabeleland is essential to ZANU PF and was a calculated creation; after ZANU effectively eliminated PF ZAPU as a genuine political force, co-opted it and changed names to ZANU PF, it created and enabled a political culture of obedience, blind faith to authority, and turned itself into that authority. Former PF ZAPU leaders were strategically assigned to calm the Matabeleland public down, distract public from ZANU PF evil mechanisation and silence dissenting voices. A democratic façade was created through the enablement of a seemingly vibrant political space which however, operates within a narrow scope, and ensures ZANU PF and government interests are never threatened, and even more important ethnic Shona privilege is maintained.

Through indiscriminate use of violence, intimidation and a rigged electoral process ZANU PF has successfully cultivated an apathetic, dissociated and cynical public attitude to politics among Ndebele citizens. In the independent Zimbabwe people neither believe they have a voice nor change in the politics at play is possible. Arguably, there is an element of truth in that Matabeleland cannot of itself alter the trajectory of politics in Zimbabwe, but that is only so when one maintains a national focus which is exactly what ZANU PF and its sympathisers want us to perceive of politics. However, change will be possible if local public politics becomes the centre of our focus. This is an inconvenient stance for ZANU PF and its hordes of sympathisers hence attempts to divert attention away from Mthwakazi focus by labelling anyone stressing the need for localisation of Matabeleland politics as a tribalist. 

Despite the fact that locals are being marginalised in public political activity and the severity of the impact is evident, Matabeleland people continue to demonstrate deep indifference to public politics. The shrug of the shoulder and ‘What did you expect?’ attitude in response to the invasion and violation of our political space including of our economically and politically strategic institutions by outsiders is harming the regions’ opportunities to shape itself and reflect local social and cultural identity.

If no steps are taken immediately to revive local political activity, people would move beyond apathy, beyond scepticism into deep cynicism, and we will be staring at a lost cause. It is increasingly likely that the death of Matabeleland will not be entirely down to ZANU PF, but it will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and malnourishment of the political space by locals.

The apathetic and fragmented Matabeleland society is an invaluable resource for ZANU PF in its pursuit for power without accountability and expansion of Shona privilege; the questionable recruitment process of nursing trainees in Bulawayo’s major hospitals is one good example of Harare exploiting Bulawayo’s indifference. 

We also need to take our lessons from the Gukurahundi atrocities; the path to Gukurahundi genocide was paved with indifference, not every ethnic Shona person had to be a raving tribalist. All they had to do was be apathetic; the good ones needed to be silent for the bad ones to feel empowered and convince themselves that their actions were approved of.

Ultimately the responsibility for Matabeleland political revival lies entirely in Matabeleland people’s hands not mainstream politics; mainstream opposition organisations have shown no enthusiasm in challenging and dismantling the basis of Zimbabwean politics that extends ethnic Shona privilege and oversees Shona creed turned into law with everybody else expected to adjust and fit in or face marginalisation. The Matabeleland movement needs to fight local apathy – our greatest enemy to date. There is need to build local enthusiasm back into public politics and overcome apathy; this can be achieved in two ways: first, present an ideal that will capture public imagination, and second, a definite comprehensible plan for translating that ideal into its practicable form for public consideration.


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