Deal with, don’t ignore tribalism in Zimbabwe

You can observe the same old trick of marginalisation in all aspects of Zimbabwean life today. Ethnic groups are fighting. Tribes are fighting. These fights are not just random fights, there are voices instigating them. We may not want to accept it, but hate is deep-rooted amongst some people in Zimbabwe using tribe as a means to a political end. This is made even more dangerous by politicians who have mastered how to weaponise the hatred through use of propaganda. The process denies and obliterates people’s understanding of their own history; apparent tribal injustices and associated inequalities are excused through falsehoods.

Our communities need to understand that what we are staring at are conscious and toxic tribally discriminatory policies in Zimbabwe; power in the hands of and benefitting one tribe is no coincidence; tribalism is no accident, it is a systemic issue, a planned political intervention whose purpose is to control Matabeles and Matabeleland while extending privilege to the ethnic Shona constituency.  

Dangerous as the philosophy clearly is, the majority ethnic Shona people have chosen to pay a blind eye because they are beneficiaries. Tribalism is apparent in Zimbabwean society today and perhaps more powerful and dangerous than any political party. People are choosing and following leaders, not on merit but because they are from the same tribe.

It is unquestionable that tribalism has had dire economic and political outcomes in Matabeleland. It is even more painful to witness some so-called educated Matabeles playing the devil’s advocate being on the forefront of minimising the problem of tribalism, it’s direct impact on Matabeles and choosing to turn complaints about it into an academic deficit problem, a by-product of a lack of education or some misperception and even having the nerve to accuse locals who complain of tribalism ‘tribalists’.

We are not fools, we know what discrimination is, and one does not need a university education to realise that they are being marginalised. It is not imaginary but our lived reality; Matabeles do not wield any meaningful political and/ or economic power because of who they are, nothing to do with merit; in fact, Zimbabwe under ZANU PF has never been a meritocracy but a fully-fledged tribally biased institution.

Defenders of ZANU PF’s tribalism are disingenuous in their allegations of lack of evidence and use thereof to justify their dismissal of allegations of tribalism against the Zimbabwean state. In what amounts to the Stockholm syndrome, these apologists place the burden of responsibility on the victims of tribalism, they are quick to demand evidence from the Matabele victims yet they do not produce evidence in their defence of the state. Gukurahundi for one had tribalism written all over it and it has since morphed into its various forms that marginalise Matabeles from corridors of political and economic power.

For real progress, dealing with tribalism, tribal discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is what these people should be encouraging their government to do; government must be reminded that dealing with tribalism, tribal discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is not optional but a long established human rights law obligation.

In its public duty to adhere to the prohibition of discriminatory behaviours within its borders, the government of Zimbabwe has “three levels of obligation: to respect, protect and fulfil every right:

  • To respect a right means refraining from interfering with the enjoyment of the right.
  • To protect the right means enacting laws that create mechanisms to prevent violation of the right by state authorities or by non-state actors. This protection is to be granted equally to all.
  • To fulfil the right means taking active steps to put in place institutions and procedures, including the allocation of resources to enable people to enjoy the right.”

We are not tribal fanatics for expecting and demanding that we be treated fairly and respected for who we are not how close we are from what the government wants us to be; we expect the government to respect the right for Matabeles not to be discriminated against by refraining from engaging in tribalism, tribal discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Checks and balances should be enabled by enacting laws and mechanisms to prevent the violation of the right to fair treatment by state and/ or non-state authorities. This protection is to be granted equally to all.

It is the duty of the government of Zimbabwe to fulfil the right for Matabeles to live free from tribalism, tribal discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance by taking proactive steps to set up institutions and procedures, including the allocation of resources, to enable all citizens to enjoy this right.

The function, that is, the very serious function of tribalism in Zimbabwe is distraction. It takes Matabeles away from developing themselves. It keeps us explaining, over and over again, our reason for being. We have to prove we are educated and deserve the same recognition as our ethnic Shona cousins; we have to prove we are not South Africans and deserve equal access to opportunities in Zimbabwe just like ethnic Shona population groups. In a truly free country, no one community should feel threatened by the steps of progress made by another and none should feel the need to constrict themselves to make another comfortable. People should be free to be themselves and comfortable to learn from others. Government should exist to respect, protect and fulfil people’s right to be themselves.

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