As the secessionist wave sweeps through the world – especially in Spain’s Catalonia, Iraq’s Kurdistan, the United Kingdom’s Scotland, Nigeria’s Biafra, the English-speaking people of Cameroon, and many regions of Europe – one can not help but be saddened by the sheer oppression of minority groups by the ruling class, such that they feel the need to break free and stand on their own, as their only option if ever they are to enjoy any semblance of freedom, peace, and prosperity.
Here, in Zimbabwe, it is not any different, as the Ndebele-speaking population has over the past decades been subjected to the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated on human kind – and they also feel the natural need to break free by the establishment of Mthwakazi as a separate republic.
As much as I am a strong proponent of national unity and countries staying together as one, and their peoples living together in peace and harmony – in spite of their ethnic, religious, and racial differences – it is, nonetheless, understandable when a group believes that they have had enough of the clearly prejudiced oppression and need to be on their own and determine their own future.
The case of Mthwakazi is no different to any other secessionist waves sweeping through the world and, as such, should be taken very seriously.
The people of Biafra – a southeastern state of Nigeria – for instance, who are predominantly of the Igbo tribe, have been oppressed by the Northern-dominated federal government ever since the country’s decolonisation from British rule (1960 to 1963).
The Igbo were systematically oppressed and denied most opportunities that the Northerners enjoyed in the country.
The military coup, counter-coup and persecution of the Igbo living in Northern Nigeria, and the control over oil production in the Niger Delta, all played a vital strategic role in the secession of Biafra – and the subsequent war (6 July 1967 to 15 February 1979) as the federal government sought to force the region back.
This bloody war resulted in 45,000 to 100,000 military personnel deaths, 2,000,000 to 4,000,000 civilians displaced, and 500,000 to 3,000,000 refugees.
Although, Biafra was brutally brought back under the fold of the federal government, today the Igbo still are being short-changed, and demand their freedom.
As seen by these gruesome statistics, the costs of secession – both in human lives and finances – are astronomical and, quite frankly, unnecessary, as this could be avoided if only those in power heeded the cries of the oppressed people seriously.
No one wants to resort to the path of secession, but circumstances are forced on the oppressed to do so, as their only hope for any decent livelihood is to be enjoyed.
No government should deny any section of the population its inalienable right to freedom, dignity, and prosperity.
The same goes for the Ndebele-speaking people of Zimbabwe, as they have endured untold suffering for far too long, and some of them are now, understandably, calling for the establishment of Mthwakazi.
This has largely, and ignorantly, been referred to as a tribalist project, but this is a short-sighted way of analysing the issue.
The Ndebele and the majority Shona have been living largely peacefully and in harmony for the greater part of colonial Rhodesia – as that is when we were all placed under one country by Cecil John Rhodes and his British South African Company (BSAC).
However, despite this peace and harmony under Rhodesia, the Shona still wielded enormous influence over the country at grassroots level, although this went by mostly unnoticed, as the Ndebele and Shona largely stayed in different regions.
A good example is that of my paternal grandfather who was a Zulu – having emigrated from South Africa at the end of the 1800s.
His surname, although being Mpofana, was bastardised to a Shona Mbofana – and subsequently, due to Shona influence and dominance, my father and I, and my son, all speak Shona and have Shona names.
However, the Ndebele plight is more serious that this!
Most of their problems began with the tribalist tendencies of the founders of ZANU, when it broke away from ZAPU in 1963.
The main motive for this breakaway had nothing to do with strategical differences in how to secure independence for the country, but had everything to do with tribal dominance.
Even the majority of the southern African region’s liberation movements alluded to this fact, as they labelled ZANU a divisive and tribalist group of opportunists.
The ZANU founders were not only tribalist, but also knew that if they played the tribe card, they would get more supporters, as the Shona were – and still are – the largest group.
They played this race card so callously that it nearly paralysed the liberation struggle, as the oppressed Black population spent most of their time fighting amongst each other – instead of one common foe.
This strategy of divisionist politics became the hallmark of ZANU as witnessed after formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 – when it was portrayed as a White people’s party, and all its Black supporters and members as puppets.
This, again, led to the brutal 2000 to 2008 land invasions, and the killing of hundreds of MDC supporters.
Nevertheless, soon after Zimbabwe’s independent from Britain in 1980, the ZANU government unleashed one of the most tragic genocides ever recorded in this part of the world, when nearly 50,000 mostly Ndebele-speaking people were murdered during Gukurahundi.
I am a first-hand witness to that grave and humiliating episode in this country’s history – as some of these atrocities occurred in front of my very eyes, at the age of 11 years, which exposed to me the extent of ZANU’s evil nature, thereby, igniting in me an unextinguishable fire to fight against all forms of injustice and oppression.
The Gukurahundi genocide was not just an unfortunate event that happened between 1983 and 1987, but it is still ongoing, albeit subtly.
Last week I visited two venues where free national identity cards and birth certificates were being issued in the Kwekwe district.
What saddened me was the fact that most of the people queuing for these documents, especially birth certificates, were Ndebeles, mainly grown ups.
After a brief discussion with some of them, it was clear that they never had birth certificates as their parents, especially fathers, disappeared during the Gukurahundi genocide.
What that meant was that these people grew up not being recognized as Zimbabwean citizens, and as such, they were unable to attend school, and are today are unemployable.
From my discussions with them, this also meant that even their own children were disenfranchised, as they do not have national registration documents, since their parents do not have them.
If this is not urgently rectified, this trend will continue from one Ndebele generation to another unabated.
Additionally, I travel a lot to Bulawayo – the capital of the Ndebele region – and it is most disheartening to discover that the majority of the government jobs in the region are in the hands of the Shona.
Even the most basic of employment, such as cleaning the streets is mostly carried out by Shonas – leading to one gentleman sarcastically asking if it meant that Ndebele people were too uneducated to even sweep the streets.
The appalling school pass rates in the region are also attributable to this unfairness in employment – as most teachers are Shona speakers who fail to communicate effectively with their Ndebele pupils – in spite of the fact that there are numerous Ndebeles with very good qualifications who can be given these jobs.
Could this be a deliberate well-calculated scheme by the ZANU government to further destroy the Ndebele, as they render them virtually uneducated, unemployable, and poverty-stricken?
This is a very plausible explanation, as that region – which under Rhodesia had been the heartland of industry and cattle ranching – has been reduced to nothing but barren land of grave sorrow and suffering.
Therefore, as much as all of us want a united Zimbabwe, would it not be totally understandable if the Ndebele people believe that it is high time they stood on their own and established their own Mthwakazi?
How long are the Ndebele supposed to just bear it all, and pretend that all is well for them in Zimbabwe?
Those who accuse the Mthwakazi advocates of being tribalist should top being so narrow-minded, as that also exposes their own tribalistic nature.
We, as a nation, have over the past 37 years been subjected to incessant reminders about how the White colonizers abused and ill-treated Black people.
This ZANU government has never tired in letting us know how cruel and evil the White people are – a feeling that borders on brazen hatred.
The murderous manner in which the 2000s land reform programme was conducted, and the accompanying vitriolic rhetoric, exposed just how much ZANU loathed White people.
However, they always justified this hatred on the manner in which Black people were treated by the Whites.
If such hatred can be justified by ZANU, why can the Ndebele not be justified in hating ZANU – and the Shona by extension, as they stood silent and apathetic in the midst of the genocide – and wanting to be free?
Who truly is the tribalistic ones in this equation?
If the ZANU government is sincere about keeping the country united as one, then it has to show that seriousness by first addressing the major grievances of the Ndebele.
The government should not target the symptoms, but it should deal with the root cause of this problem – which is the oppression and prejudice against the Ndebele people.
As long as they keep burying their heads in the sand, ignoring the Ndebele’s genuine cries, then ZANU has only itself to blame when the Mthwakazi eventually secede from the rest of Zimbabwe.
All the Ndebele demand is what every other Zimbabwean needs – respect, dignity, equality, recognition, freedom, and prosperity.
When the ZANU government can not even acknowledge and apologise for its genocide against the Ndebele – having the audacity in trivializing it as mere ‘disturbances’ and ‘moment of madness’ – how do we expect the Ndebele to respond?
Africans, even today centuries of years later, are still clamouring for an apology and reparations from Europe and the United States for slavery.
The so-called Korean ‘comfort women’ are still demanding an apology and restitution from the Japanese government for the World War II sexual abuse.
Are these people being merely racist?
So why do we then brand the genuine and justifiable demands and actions of the Ndebele as tribalistic?
Let us not be so petty and unsympathetic to the obvious ill-treatment of the Ndebele people.
Even the current plight of the Rohingya muslims in Myanmar by the army – which has enraged the world – is incomparable to what the Ndebele have been subjected to in Zimbabwe.
Only, and only, if the ZANU government – and its supporters – make a serious decision to view the Ndebele as an integral part of this country, can the situation change, but as it is – Nthwakazi will always be on the table.
° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is available should anyone or organisation want to invite him to speak at any event or gathering. Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: tendaiandtinta.mbofana@gmail.
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