Why didn’t ZAPU of the last generation do more to combat ZANU tribalism?


Bashing ZAPU of yesteryear is not the objective of this article, political enlightment is; the situation in Matabeleland today is too dire for us to act from habit—to re-enact again and again the same solutions that brought us to our present extremity; today we are in no better position than we were during the colonial period and the Ian Smith’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) regime because ZAPU chose to look aside instead of confronting ZANU’s evil.

It is imperative that our generation looks back in the past to search for the truth and understand how we are where we are today and take control of where we will be tomorrow, but we need to wrestle control of the present first.

Our generation will not even try and understand why ZAPU did not do more to combat ZANU tribalism. It would appear it did not occur to the party that it could or should. In an ethnic Shona-dominated and ZANU-controlled post-colonial space, ZAPU presented ZANU with the gift of inaction and allowed itself to be dominated.

Right from its formation ZANU was tribal leaning and was marred by internal tribal conflict, its perception of power was the tyrannical dominance of ethnic Shona people over Matabeles. ZAPU leadership was aware of that but chose to look aside and wish the intentions away.

When evil is seen it must be confronted by all means necessary, at the time ZAPU had the resources to confront ZANU even if that would have meant cutting any semblance of partnership between the two movements and waging the liberation war separately, but Nkomo and his colleagues chose temporary peace at the expense of long-term safety and security of Matabeleland and the country.

To say ZAPU’s behaviour was baffling is an understatement, it was naïve and negligence of the worst kind. Even when all the available intelligence made it clear within the liberation movement that ZANU could not be trusted partners and many ZAPU cadres from Matabeleland had raised their reservations of ZANU’s contrived agenda, ZAPU’s leadership’s response was inadequate.

Did the party allow its judgement to be clouded by its leader, Joshua Nkomo’s, desire of a unitary Zimbabwe and denial of tribal conflict within the movement? We wonder: did Nkomo become too big or too powerful and complacent enough to ignore advice from his own intelligence, act as he willed in the process exposing the party to costly vulnerabilities?

We need an understanding of the level of checks and balances that ensured leadership accountability. It would be interesting too to know how decisions were arrived at within the party leading to the leadership ignoring the realities on the ground – documented clashes between the two liberation movements, some leading to loss of fighters’ lives, and the deepening and rapid expansion of ZANU’s tribal agenda within Mashonaland.

All evidence pointed to the fact the two parties were ideologically at loggerheads and could not easily or effectively lead a country together. How did the leadership justify inaction to protect its interests in view of real threats posed by ZANU?  

Clearly, the party played fast and loose with facts; for a long time, ZAPU chose not to take heed of the advice of its own intelligence and concerns from Matabele local civilian leadership and Chief Khayisa Ndiweni in particular, who championed the need for an independent Matabeleland cause; he was rebuffed as Nkomo and ZAPU pursued a delusional unitary Zimbabwe project.

Inaction in the face of injustice caused by the clearly tribal approach to politics and governance by ZANU was the worst sin by ZAPU in the early years of Zimbabwe’s independence. It can be argued not to forcefully confront the overtly evil tribal agenda was equivalent to authorising it, and did embolden Mugabe and his colleagues to go even further into their plans.

Dignified existence demands that we deal with injustice; inaction is no longer a viable option. We are under no illusion that our suffering has been made possible by the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better and the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most. Government systems and institutions must be reconfigured to accommodate all communities; all communities are unique and so are their challenges. Our unique problems need to be addressed at local level to avoid minimisation that comes with nationalisation where national has become a synonymn of Mashonaland. We must be a part of the process that identifies our problems, formulates and implements solutions.   


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