THE irresponsible ethnic characterization of the political battles ahead of the next general election should be rejected by all right-thinking Zimbabweans. The idea that Robert Mugabe’s NPF will get a sympathy vote from the Mashonaland provinces simply because they share the same ethnic DNA with Mugabe and General Ambrose Mutinhiri is an insult to the decent people of Mashonaland.
Mugabe never did anything meaningful for these Mashonaland provinces that was any different from the rest of the country for anyone to rationally use such a reckless and divisive ethnic narration. We are all Zimbabweans bound by our love for our country, our flag and unity of purpose that should not be destroyed by opportunistic ethnic politicking.
Robert Mugabe was at the helm of ZANU PF for 41 years and he ruled Zimbabwe for an uninterrupted 37 years. So why would the people of Mashonaland be upset when a Zimbabwean from another ethnic group takes over the presidency of the country?
The idea that the people from Mashonaland would object to someone else outside their ethnic group running the country is as ridiculous as it is a dangerous myth peddled by misplaced ethnic superiority beliefs over other ethnic groups.
The average Zimbabwean doesn’t care who is in charge of the country as long as that person knows what they are doing and is running the country in the best interests of every Zimbabwean. For Mugabe and his surrogates to try and mobilize his NPF troops around ethnicity just shows how useless and self-centred this pathetic old-man has always been.
The people of Mashonaland bore the brunt of Mugabe’s violence in 2008 when he pushed back violently against a legitimate election result which saw him losing to Morgan Tsvangirai. They had voted for Morgan Tsvangirai of Karanga extraction which shows that it is a candidate’s policies not ethnicity which matters to the average voter.
The people of Mashonaland should and will vote for a party presidential candidate with the best policies and from a political party most likely to deliver those policies. The assumption that they will vote for a party candidate of their ethnic extraction on the basis of that alone, reflects badly not only on the proponents of such backward thinking, but on the dangers of electing such tribalistic charlatans.
But this is not anything new to students of Zimbabwean politics and those who understand Robert Mugabe the narcissist. Tribalism has always been an important and central element of his political considerations and how he governed both ZANUPF and the country. After the death of Simon Muzenda, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rise to replace Muzenda as Vice President of both ZANU PF and the country was blocked and those who engineered that blockage did it primarily for ethnic reasons; he was not Zezuru.
Mugabe endorsed this decision without any sense of shame using his life-long excuse when wanting to victimize opponents, which is accuse them of wanting to remove him from his position. A meeting took place at an academic and public intellectual’s home where a suggestion was put forward to replace Muzenda with Sydney Sekeramayi, a ZANU PF politician from Mashonaland East. Others more discerning, particularly the academic who was hosting this meeting cautioned against this suggestion on the basis that it would become too obvious that there was an ethnic agenda at play.
They eventually settled for Joice Mujuru on the basis that it was better to use a gender card to block Emmerson Mnangagwa who had mustered support in more than the required number of provinces to be elected and replace Simon Muzenda. That is how Joice Mujuru became the accidental Vice President of both ZANU PF and the country. It has been commonly known in nationalist circles that Robert Mugabe surrounded himself with people who put the ethnic identity card ahead of anything and everything else.
One of Robert Mugabe’s close loyalists and friend over the years was an 80s prominent businessman who ran a bus company; he was an unapologetic ethnic supremacist. This businessman was introduced to Harare based lawyer, Selby Hwacha of Dube, Manikai and Hwacha legal firm by businessman Enoch Kamushinda. They became buddies especially after finding out that they shared the same totem, Shumba.
Knowing the tribal fault lines in the business man’s thinking, Kamushinda jokingly asked him if he was aware that Selby Hwacha was not a Shumba from Mashonaland but from Mberengwa. On one Sunday afternoon, Hwacha joined the businessman and Kamushinda at a football match oblivious to what had been discussed earlier. He went on to greet the businessman first as they always did exchanging their Shumba totem pleasantries.
“KoShumba sei musina kundiudza kuti muri Muvhitori,” bellowed the businessman (Shumba why didn’t you tell me that you are a Karanga). A bemused Hwacha was taken aback by such a question. On the other end, Kamushinda was in stitches as this ethnic interrogation progressed.
Edison Zvobgo once told me that most prospective government ministers would go to this businessman’s office or home to find out if they were being considered for cabinet positions by Mugabe. Some in their circle say that the businessman would at times chastise Mugabe for relying on Emmerson Mnangagwa too much, all because of their different ethnic extractions.
I interviewed Zimbabwe’s former Foreign Minister, Nathan Shamuyarira, in 2008 for a documentary film, A Violent Response. We got talking about the ZANU PF presidential succession and he flatly rejected the idea that Mugabe would allow a Karanga to become a ZANU PF and state president. He told me about how Mugabe used to give assurances to some who belonged to the Committee of 22, that he would not pass on the leadership of the party and country to a Karanga.
The Committee of 22 was a grouping of politicians and businessmen from the Zezuru ethnic group which was nicknamed the “Zezuru Broederbond”. Broederbond means brotherhood in Afrikaans. Such are the characters and mind-sets that kept Mugabe company until they also got fed up with his narcissism.
The NPF ethnic linked nonsense coupled by the singing of “Zezuru unconquerable” at Grace Mugabe’s rally last year in Bindura are not accidental. These nasty ethnic pronouncements have always been at the centre of who Robert Mugabe was and still is. These are dangerous political machinations that can divide compatriots and the nation and cause retrogressive ethnic fights and killings as what happened in Rwanda. Mugabe would never care any less as long as it fed and nourished his selfish and narcissistic agenda.
This is not to say that other ethnic groupings don’t have their own superiority problems, but I focus on Mugabe simply because he is the political Godfather of NPF and I have noticed lately a disturbing ethnic discourse by its proponents, something that should be condemned, ridiculed and rejected.
The idea that because one is from Mashonaland and therefore will vote for General Ambrose Mutinhiri and Robert Mugabe on the basis of ethnicity alone is as illogical as it is brainless.
It has NO place in a modern society and progressive Zimbabwe.
Citizens should vote for any Zimbabwean political party and presidential candidate of their own choice based on what that party and candidate have to offer in terms of developing the country and whether that party and candidate have the ability and capacity to deliver on their promised policies.
Tribalism is an ethnic construct that politicians use when they have nothing else meaningful to offer. The fight between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Robert Mugabe was not fought for the benefit of their ethnic groups. Their clansmen could have supported them but such support when based on ethnicity alone becomes hollow and vacuous!
The battle between the two men was a fight for political power and, had Mugabe won that war, the Zezurus would not have benefited in anyway better than they do today. Mnangagwa was brought to power with the help of General Constantino Chiwenga who is from the Zezuru ethnic group. This proves that these fights had NO ethnic dimension central to them but that they were primarily about who governs Zimbabwe.
Mugabe and his wife Grace defaulted to tribal slurs as a last resort to galvanize support within ZANU PF, oblivious to the reality that his mismanagement of the country for 37 years did not spare any ethnic group in Zimbabwe, including the Zezurus. That is how divorced Mugabe has always been to the lived realities of the people that he ruled with an iron fist!
His rule destroyed Mashonaland provinces as it destroyed every other part of the country and any political evaluation will be done on that basis and that basis alone! The roads to my village in Murewa are as unfit for purpose as those in every other region of Zimbabwe. The unemployment affecting my Mashonaland region is as bad as every other part of the country.
The thought that a tyrant like Robert Mugabe would be brought back to power or have any political influence via the back door of ethnic considerations shows just how selfish and desperate this man is and how his political grouping of G40 have become irrelevant to the Zimbabwean political discourse. We should say NO to tribalism and ethnic mobilization!
Failure to do so will see those in a province being regimented on the basis of totems followed by gender.
We from Mashonaland have Ndebele mothers, Karanga wives, Manyika cousins, Venda in laws, Kalanga nephews, Tonga uncles and the list goes on. Are we supposed to turn our backs on these relationships too? Such kind of politics has NO place in a modern day and progressive society. Leaders and political parties should be judged on the content of their character and policies not whether they come from a certain village or province. Had that been the standard used in choosing leaders, someone like Cyril Ramaphosa would never have been President of South Africa.
The next general election will be decided by a majority who are between the ages of 18 and 40 years of age. These young people should reject ethnic based politics and not place their future in the hands of an ethnic agenda. Robert Mugabe, General Ambrose Mutinhiri and their G40 outfit, NPF, have a right to participate in politics and elections to determine who will govern Zimbabwe for the next five years. However, such a determination should not be mobilized around ethnicity as it will trigger unintended consequences, unless if that is what the old man is looking for, chaos.
Politicians are sometimes rabid liars and they can get extremely deceitful in search of the elusive electoral vote. Jonathan Moyo never stops calling Emmerson Mnangagwa a “Gukurahundist” on Twitter and yet he is happy to go and form a political party with the chief architect of the Gukurahundi massacres, Robert Mugabe. He accuses the current government of being illegitimate because of how it came into being and yet he was happy to be a minister in Mugabe’s governments which were a product of electoral fraud, violence, intimidation and outright corruption.
Moyo never stops accusing Mnangagwa of being the head of a “Mberengwa mafia” on twitter and yet he is happy to be part of a political party mobilizing around Mashonaland ethnicity. These are the true reflections of how the citizen is deceived with hyperbole. These are the modern-day kings of duplicity!
As Alex Magaisa said in his Big Saturday Read, they will not succeed. However, the fact that they have even tried to mobilize around ethnicity with the intention of dividing communities, confirms why Mugabe and his G40 outfit had to go.
I know that we can never erase ethnic politics with one article in as much as we can’t end racism with one reading. However, it is important to force this discussion onto these political parties so that we make it uncomfortable for them to use tribal slurs and props to woo voters.
We should tell them to go away as long as they engage in ethnic politics. All political leaders should stay away from ethnic mobilization and instead sell policies and behaviour.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award-winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out in March. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @daddyhope