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The Matabeleland problem of ethnic Shona elite revanchists

Gaining and asserting ethnic Shona social, economic and political dominance in Matabeleland remains central to ZANU PF’s existence. It is true that regaining historically lost assets – physical territory, social, economic and political authority in what is Matabeleland today is ZANU revanchists’ project; from its inception in 1963, the party set itself the task of reclaiming territory and whatever wealth they believe their ancestors lost during the late 19th Century raids by King Mzilikazi.

How far can ZANU PF revisionism go?

The sky is the limit. We are dealing with a dangerous group of individuals whose frame of mind is the belief that there has been a humiliation, and hold the conviction that this humiliation has to be redressed. This is how the late Mugabe and his colleagues in ZANU view politics in Zimbabwe; he and his sympathisers felt ethnic Shona people had been humiliated by the Ndebele in the late 19th Century, and his project was primarily to impose Shona legacy everywhere in the territory called Zimbabwe. Perhaps Gukurahundi serves as illustration of how much and how far the Shona elite hiding under the ZANU banner is prepared to push and cross the red lines of human morality to achieve its goal.

Public complicit

Because of their deep held desire to avenge historical loss of land and property in the 19th Century when King Mzilikazi fought and defeated the ethnic Shona occupants of the land at the time, and the alleged brutality inflicted on the population, ethnic Shona people refused to condemn the Mugabe-led government for the Gukurahundi atrocities against Ndebele people in 1983 to 1984. The reality remains that Mugabe’s behaviour fell far below that which the public has a right to expect from a head of government of any civilised country.

The illusion of Independence

Displacing and dispossessing Mthwakazi of her land, freedoms and liberty is the goal; independence without freedom and liberties is Matabeleland’s experience in an ethnic Shona elite shaped political system of Zimbabwe. We cannot pretend to be surprised that life under the rule of the revanchist ethnic Shona regime has turned into a living nightmare for Ndebele people, after all that was the object of ZANU’s creation. Local leaders are deposed if they speak up for the people (Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni comes to mind), and imposed to replace legitimate local leaders are individuals who speak for the mainstream Zimbabwean politics.  

Image courtesy of VOA. Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni is the victim of ZANU PF’s revanchist politics

Self-inflicted vulnerability

Change to politics will only happen when we actively make changes in how politics is done locally. Let us set standards of operation, set boundaries and make those who want to work with us, and for us be accountable. It is time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and accept that we are the drivers of our politics, and it is high time we drove. We however, accept that the Mthwakazi movement cannot make objective political progress until we identify the causes of Matabele suffering, some of them self-inflicted. For a start, let us face and address the reality that we are failing to deal with the revanchist ethnic Shona elite systems and institutions, which is causing some within the Matabeleland movement to lose focus and to end up attacking every ethnic Shona person. We also pose the question: why are we not voting for our own people outside of the mainstream political parties?

In a world where mainstream politicians serve their party ideologies and not the communities they are supposed to represent, a shift away from party politics makes perfect sense. Talented local people who serve and are accountable to the people, not political parties, should be our choice for leadership positions.

As self-inflicted damage goes, we have been excellent at it with a blistering attack on the credibility of local institutions and politics; over the years we have readily offered ourselves as a votes banker for opposition leaders within a mainstream politics that treats us as second class citizens; we are consistently spreading a vintage welcome carpet without making demands of what footwear those walking on it should wear. What we witness in Matabeleland today is that whenever ethnic Shona leaders roll in, our people, including the local leadership, roll over. One just has to look at how many times Ndebele leaders have given way for entitled ethnic Shona leaders.

We have somehow allowed the limited perception of others to define us, and are now held hostage to self-doubt. It is essential to our political revival that our view of ourselves must never be clouded by the ill-informed view that others have of us. We have all the tools we need to lead ourselves; we have proven leaders in our communities, and those are the people we should be turning to to lead our mission.

The Matabeleland movement may still be in its infancy, but its assuredness in speaking the truth about injustices of Harare in Matabeleland, and taking ownership of the fate of our nation offers permission for the public to talk more openly about challenges they have bottled up for many years.


How ZANU PF leaders treat Ndebeles puts on display the worst of human behaviour. In retrospect, now that we know ZANU PF’s resentment of Ndebeles and its revanchist ideology and the likelihood that its views are shared by a significant number within the general ethnic Shona population as marked by their resolute support for systemic suppression of Ndebeles, we have a good grasp of our total underestimation of the mainstream politics’ depraved disregard for rules, norms, and the absence of any sense of basic decency and responsibility to Matabeleland and its people. We must focus on extricating ourselves from the politics of hate, politics built on a desire to subjugate and build systems and institutions that stress the equality of humans and prioritise accountability in government bodies.   


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