A Ndebele speaks his mind


Twelve years of Zimbabwe’s independence have witnessed the progressive marginalisation and domination of the Ndebele people by the majority dominant Shona groups.

From 1980 to 1987 this process of domination and marginalisation had the grand and convenient excuse, namely that the Ndebele people had allegedly denied themselves an effective and comprehensive participation in the national affairs because they perversely chose to support, ZAPU, a party that lost the election and which subsequently organised the unseating of the ruling party by fair or foul means.

The attitude of ZANU-PF and their actual declarations were to the effect that it pays to join ZANU-PF. They did not say it pays to be Shona as that would have been unacceptable, in bad taste and tribalism. But looking at the reality that unfolded from 1980 to date, it became increasingly and vividly clear and evident that it does not pay to be ZANU-PF when you are Ndebele. It pays to be Shona and be ZANU-PF. Being Shona is the necessary and sufficient condition for being a privileged and well provided ZANU-PF.

Admittedly, the Ndebeles had a few mavericks in their midst the Nkalas and Ndlovus – who were held up by the ZANU-PF/Shona propaganda machine as examples of how it pays to be ZANU-PF when you are Ndebele. The Unity Agreement of 1987 put paid to that myth. The maverick Nkalas and Ndlovus were multiplied by two million and we had two million Nkalas and Ndlovus who were formally ZANU-PF.

We waited with baited breath to see whether the magic formula of being ZANU-PF first would translate into being privileged and be provided for across the board. I should add a note of caution by way of clarification that the thesis being advanced is on the basis of a distinct and disparate natural grouping being privileged and well provided for in insignificant numbers in leadership positions in the public and civil service.

Admittedly, on an individual level you would find many examples that contradict the thesis. But what is contradicted at individual level becomes an overwhelming axiomatic reality at the group level.

The results of that political development have abundantly and demonstrably proved that the Nkalas and Ndlovus were a hoax to buy political stability and pacificity by ZANU-PF as the chief representative of the majority and dominant Shona groups. Beyond those opportunistic and expediency ends, it had nothing, nothing whatsoever, to offer the minority and dominated Ndebele.

They continued to subsist and exist in the marginalised state they were prior to the Unity Agreement. They continued to witness and experience the occupation and domination of civil and public service institutions in their wards, villages, districts and provinces by people who are spill-overs from their areas. They continued to observe the stranglehold that a Shona dominated media kept on the truth of this marginalisation and domination from ever seeing the light of publicity.

Five years of supposed unity have been a bitter and painful lesson in the real politics of African independence. They have confirmed a hundred times over the dictum by Kwame Nkurumah that “see ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added unto you”.

Through numbers the dominant Shona are proud proprietors of that political kingdom and through systematic and collective discrimination they are the effective gate keepers of that kingdom. By joining ZANU-PF in 1987 the Ndebele were in a desperate and coerced attempt trying to be part of the proprietors of that kingdom but they had overlooked the fact that they did not have some of credentials and qualifications.

All too often when we talk of discrimination and marginalisation we tend to think that it is done by a government. In this case we should be pardoned for thinking that it is the present ZANU-PF government before and after the Unity “Watershed” of 1987 that had been primarily and principally responsible for it. The Zimbabwean situation is more complex than that, particularly in as far as it refers to Ndebele and Shona relations.

Admittedly, the government has played no mean part by virtue of its decisions in the form of appointments to the civil and public service. These appointments have in the overwhelming majority of cases been influenced by considerations and sentiments of “tribal” affiliation first and party membership and loyalty second.

Merit and suitability in most cases have been relegated to a pathetic and derided footnote, and in cases where challenges to such decisions have been mounted by the disgruntled parties, the depths of lies and chicanery and misrepresentation have been plumbed involving deliberate and calculated distortions and disinformation, forging of qualifications; pirating those of the disadvantaged party and even denials that the application letter was ever received.

The invariable give away of the fact that some shady practice was involved in the appointment is the failure and or neglect to inform the party that was not appointed that his/or her application was unsuccessful. There are most likely more Ndebeles, highly qualified and competent, who are awaiting such letter in the past twelve years as I am speaking.

In the case of Ndebele and Shona relations at every level, Shona leadership has played a significant and uniform role in the discrimination and marginalisation process. At the shopfloor level the moment a Ndebele is proposed for a leadership position as a shop steward or some other position particularly of a prestigious and remunerative kind, fierce opposition and challenges have been formed along Ndebele and Shona lines; the opposition and challenge and determination to dominance have been more active and committed the higher you go up the ladder.

In the period to 1987, the demonstrations against Ndebeles who had been promoted were organised and given publicity. Some were organised in collaboration with ZANU-PF elements at district and provincial levels, others were organised at the initiative of elements in a given organisation.

The war cry was simple but effective. “Mundevere”!! It had the same psychological impact in rallying the Shonas as the white racist quip: “Would you like your daughter to marry a black man or kaffir?” The “Mundevere” retort aroused a hysteria and apprehension that are a product of a historical experience that has and continues to colour and bedevil Shona and Ndebele relations.

Elevations of a Ndebele or Ndebeles over Shonas arouse the psychological fears that are a product of the political relations between the Ndebeles and Shonas prior to colonialism and portrayed by white historians for racist rule and apologist purpose. The modern Shona does not see just modern bread and butter eating Ndebele but the skin and assegai wielding warrior on the warpath of domination, humiliation and extermination. While physically that is nonsense, psychologically it is very, very real and accounts for the total and uniform opposition and resentment by most Shonas at all levels.

Even in academia, the universities which should be the citadels of rationality and objectivity, you would be aghast and flabbergasted at the transformation that the arid academic undergoes resulting in a peasant clad in academic gown and mouthing the most subjective and primitive sentiments imaginable, all caused by the fact that poor Ngwenya is vying for the chairperson of a department or the deanship of a faculty. Shades of Monomotapa and Mzilikazi!

Even Dr Joshua Nkomo, the architect of the grand romantic: “One people, one family,” admits in his book: The Story of My Life that the disintegration of that romantic illusion was characterised by the whisper comment “Mandevere”.

The progress of that view can be said in retrospect to have been the death knell of his ambitions and actions to be the first Prime Minister. Now like the rest in the upper echelons of leadership he is tolerated as second in command and resented and blocked to be first in command.

By Mthandazo Ndema Ngwenya
UZ Lecturer.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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