Calls for a separate state for MaNdebeleland are a luxury people can hardly afford at the moment, political commentators have said.
They said that while autonomy and the proliferation of parties that seek to represent interests of Matabeleland were healthy for the promotion of democracy, this could only make sense if things were normal in Zimbabwe.
While calls for a separate state have been going on for ages, they have taken a new meaning since the split of the Movement for Democratic Change, the most formidable opposition party in this country ever, in October last year.
The split, which saw the creation of the anti- and pro- senate factions has largely been described as ethnically-based though both factions have a national composition. The split dashed any hopes of the opposition unseating President Robert Mugabe, whose 26-year rule has seen the country plunge from the jewel of Africa to a basket case that cannot even feed itself.
Things have been made worse by the formation of a new party called the Patriotic Union of MaNdebeleland (PUMA) which proposes the division of Matabeleland and Midlands into 10 provinces based on the traditional boundaries set by King Mzilikazi before the collapse of the Ndebele nation more than a century ago.
There is already ZAPU-Federal Party which is calling for a separate state for Matabeleland. Other parties claiming to be national but whose support-base can only come from Matabeleland include Professor Jonathan Moyo’s United People’s Movement and ZAPU formerly led by Agrippa Madlela.
“We are small country. We need to be united, but by being united I do not mean we should have one party like ZANU-PF but we should have unity of purpose,” a political observer in Bulawayo, Jericho Habana, said.
Another observer, Reggie Moyo echoed the same views. He said the proliferation of parties claiming to represent the interests of the people of Matabeleland was healthy for the promotion of democracy but there seemed to be no direction as far as the Matabeleland issue was concerned.
“Everyone purports to represent the Matabeleland issue but apart from Gukurahundi (the massacre of civilians from Matabeleland during the civil strife in the 1980s) what is the Matabeleland issue? If we are talking about the devolution of power it cannot be a Matabeleland issue. It is a national issue. Every province wants autonomy. Every province wants proceeds from its natural resources to be reinvested in that province,” Moyo said.
ZAPU-FP leader Paul Siwela said the people from Matabeleland wanted a separate state because the government of President Robert Mugabe was not adequately serving them.
He said people from Matabeleland felt that President Mugabe was ignoring them and their needs because people from the region were not being given key posts in government such as heads of parastatals, ministers of key portfolios like foreign affairs or intelligence, and key ambassadorial posts like in the United Kingdom or United States.
Dumisani Matshazi of PUMA agreed. “Tribalism has been used to scare the people of Matabeleland from emancipating themselves from ZANU-PF hegemony,” he was quoted as saying. “We will not succumb to fear because I am prepared to die for the Ndebele cause.”
Habana said if things were normal there would be no problem with autonomy or decentralisation like that in the United Kingdom where England, Wales and Scotland were autonomous but still fell under the British government or the United States where each state ran its own affairs but left certain functions to the federal government.
“But this is a luxury we can hardly afford at the moment. We can only think of that when I can go and live in Zvimba and someone from Zvimba can come and settle in Tsholotsho without anybody raising eyebrows, when we can call each other wena Shona or MuNdebelele without anyone getting offended. This is hardly the case now.”
Moyo said the calls were coming from opportunists and confusionists who did not even have a common purpose. “If they have one common purpose, that of representing the people of Matabeleland, why can’t they come together, so that they can be more effective. Why are they so fragmented?” Moyo queried.
Another observer who preferred anonymity said the issue was more complex than most people thought because once that autonomy was granted, people would start asking who was Ndebele and who was not.
“I am a Ndlovu. Right now I am a Ndebele but once there is autonomy someone will start saying I am Kalanga and not Ndebele. The only true Ndebeles are Ngunis,” the observer said.