This article is born out of what is called the “Matabeleland Question and its quest for unavailable answers”.
This discourse of identities as social constructs, relative behaviours, and rehearsed colonial manufactures has been subject to romantic mysticism hence its perennial resolve manifesting in different forms every political cycle. Its re-emergence every time is like a calculated discord fracturing society by othering each other.
Indeed, Zimbabwe immediately needs a morphine to quell the identities’ disaster.
The Bulawayo Mayoral dispute reincarnated what I have previously penned about (in fact numerously) and what Saul Gwakuba has once meticulously captured as the “Isms that divide than unite us”. Clearly, his epistemic motivation as that of mine is to re-align the true meaning of tribalism, as well as relieving it from generously misconstrued delineations of essentialist disunities to social cohesion and integration.
With a violent contest in a democracy on a mayoral character being ethnic, and not political, one could see how dynamics of ethnicity are not used to amalgamate groups with similar political interest, but a pathological dislike of the other. Arguably, this is born of the historical narratives that are still in contest, conflicted and in dire need of resolve.
It ceased to be about not liking Zanu-PF as was the case exhibited by the election results in Bulawayo. It abruptly became about what it means to be Bulawayan, a definition that was limited to one specific group, violently and exclusively relegating the other to a non-citizen in a Metropoli — a space presumed to be a cocktail of cultures, an intersectionality of personalities and a liberal space that unsubscribes to labels (any for that matter).
State belonging and Bulawayo
The question of institutions of rule has surfaced again in the face of a breakdown of political institutions and an eruption of internal conflict.
The question of State belonging is a significant problem but unknown to a magnitude in Zimbabwe. It is not possible to predicate how many people deem themselves as unfairly existing within the polity, deductively, the continuous questioning of the non-existence of a legitimate native institution of rule has manifested the impetus to answer this uncommon national predicament.
It is certain that a significant proportion of Zimbabweans is suddenly militant on the question of City leadership, council composition and who is legitimate to address post-independence Bulawayo conflicts however, within this struggle conflicting what they have been demanding for the past 37 years.
In hardly less than a year, a series of events have erupted especially in the southern part of Zimbabwe, chief amongst these events being the legality of the coronation of the alleged “Ndebele King” in 2017, the composition and legitimacy of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission early this year and as of the past week, the ethnic belonging of the Mayoral.
The (un)making of ethic spaces
By breaking from widely held assumptions, I will argue that the question of what I call “millennial belonging” generates political identities that are distinct not only from civil law based identities but also from cultural identities. Faced with a growing tendency to root causes of conflict in cultural difference, now worryingly called tribalism, I will differentiate between ethnic and political identities.
The mayoral discontent in the City has been championed by a group of individuals identifying themselves as Mthwakazi.
These are citizens with a free and democratic choice to coalesce around an idea, only this time, it is not limited to the common secessionist group MRP. This time it manifested in an assembly of MRP joined by factions in the MDC-A, prominent figures in the Civic Society Organisations (CSO), common ethnic essentialists and some visibly with no idea of why they are using ethnic identity to contest matters of public administration. It is indeed a collection rather than a coalition because studying how discordant the reason is, one cannot doubt that the friendship will not last long, enmity is brewing sooner.
In my view, I suppose the recreation and restoration of the Mthwakazi can be argued to be an informative spiral of self-determination informing politics and cultural heritage.
In its wake of cultural consciousness, a political movement has emerged to champion an ethnic cause of redressing alleged past injustices, perceived marginalisation and an advancement of isolating the Thebele person from the rest of Zimbabwe, nevertheless dismally losing the recent elections. Tracing its progressive emergence, one notable movement-cum-political party is found gaining traction in essentialist spaces, firstly calling on the outgone Robert Mugabe to address Gukurahundi and screaming for secession and now deciding the birth history of the City Mayor.
The groups are firstly in contest among themselves before they compete with others with varying interests hence my argument above. What I find worrisome in the demand of a specific ethnicity in mayorship is how the demanding group is mischievously united, convenient to political factions within the Alliance and convenient as a blueprint for some CSO leaders well known for their Nichodemous behaviour when they are begging for funding using “ethnic marginalisation.”
Mthwakazi movements have been divided on secession, electoral participation, monarchical allegiance and legitimacy of speaking on behalf of the AmaNdebele.
From this position, drawings can be made that within the Mthwakazi movement there is a race for monopoly of the Mthwakazi narrative that has been aggressively attached to the “being” of Mayorship.
To this effect, the Mthwakazi problems are confronted with a mammoth wall barring conflict resolution, because anyone attempting to address marginalisation, negligence and ethnic conflict has to first deal with intra-ethnic contests among groups competing for regional recognition.
There is a struggle within the struggle of AbaThwakazi and at this juncture it is difficult for anyone to deal with problems in Mthwakazi which have transformed into a Mthwakazi Problem.
Far from the madding peace
It therefore triggers questions of how peace and reconciliation between the alleged rival ethnic groups will be achieved if those who lengthy demanded such a space cannot accommodate the law and the people who represent it.
It begs questions such as how do people reconcile when they cannot accept individuals from a group they intend to reconcile with? What then is the point of being presided upon by your own kith and kin to discuss reconciliation yet there is no raptured history? If we do not move beyond the first step of respecting individuals installed by the law and democracy how then do we reconcile?
Understanding that cultural patriotism is essential, it equally does not entail disrespecting the law and affecting the safe space for some if not many whose experiences they see fit to let go and embrace those who are subjects of the lottery of birth.
As it is, disruptions have been a fungi which has prolonged the suffering of some victims whose reprieve was the democratic and progress in an ethnic-free political process. It is suffice to recognise that MDC-A had already blundered by interviewing Mayoral candidates of Bulawayo in Harare and they were going to impose.
They were suicidal in all these intra-party actions. Now that this suicide has been quenched by the less-thought actions and attention has shifted from an MDC-A failure, to a Ndebele xenophobia, people have just fought the MDC-A off its suicide.
Self-determination becomes useless when it’s starved of rationality and disregard of a social contract.
The disruptive actions by the ‘concerned citizens’ are a coerced affiliation of everyone in Matabeleland who is forced by this group to speak on their behalf. In a democracy, as ‘concerned citizens’ want everyone to believe, freedom of choice, association and belonging is a fundamental right and should be respected all the time; above all, no one should be hated for being born different — we do not chose whom to be born to and where.
Okwamanje asambeni sibone.