Fearing they would be stigmatised as reactionary and divisive because of promoting ethnic divisions in this day and age instead of seeking a new form on inclusive and nationalist politics, the politicians made feeble protests about the report in a bid to distance themselves from the problem.
The story was basically that Mashonaland West Zanu PF politburo members who are mostly Zezuru have launched a campaign to weed out Karanga politicians who are mainly from Masvingo province. The article was based on a string of sources, including minutes of a Zanu PF Mashonaland West provincial executive meeting held on September 28.
The official minutes of the meeting indicated that there were politburo members in Mashonaland West — President Robert Mugabe’s home region — who are pushing an agenda of political ethnic purges in their areas to restore Zezuru influence and dominance.
The minutes said there were in particular two politburo members who have openly said “they dislike the Karangas and the Ndebeles” and as a result they must be hounded out of the province. The minutes also said recent suspensions of some senior members of the provincial executive were based on tribal considerations.
While we accept that those named in the report were not found to give comment on the allegations and that they have a right to complain, we do not accept the attempt to obfuscate issues and intimidate journalists from doing their work. The main point of the story was that there are complaints, including in official party meetings, of tribalism within Zanu PF, especially ahead of the party’s congress in December.
Just like race issues, it is difficult and sometimes painful to discuss tribal issues due to the emotions and reactions they often trigger.
Debate around these issues is usually seen as divisive and even dangerous to the survival of a stable political order, but the reality is that tribalism and other forms of prejudices including racism and gender discrimination exist within our midst.
Some would prefer to suppress the problems, while other would want to confront them head on. However, it is always better to have careful and measured debate to ensure progressive engagement.
Tribalism south of the Sahara remains the dominant political force, and with it poverty, exploitation by internal and external players and genocide, still hold back the region’s development.
The history of the problem can be traced back to ancient tribal societies and colonial manipulation of those structures and rivalries. Politicians have become the main agents of tribalism in modern African politics.
Tribal grievances in Zanu PF are not new. There have been several cases of tribal political contestations in Mashonaland West province in the recent past. The case of Paul Mangwana who was allegedly chased out of the province because he is Karanga is a telling example.
Of course, tribalism is not an exclusive Zanu PF enterprise and monopoly. It exists in other political parties in Zimbabwe. It is common cause that the main political parties in this country reflect certain ethnic biases and influences which aggravate rather than tone down the problem.
Zanu PF has always been bedevilled by ethnic tensions and tribal conflicts, especially during the liberation struggle. A number of high-profile nationalist leaders and fighters died in tribal conflicts.
Writers like the late Masiphula Sithole in his book, Struggle within the Struggle, and Ibbo Mandaza in his introduction to Tekere’s autobiography, A Lifetime of Struggle, wrote about the history, dynamics and experiences of Zanu PF’s parochial nationalism which was tinged with tribal bigotry and ethnic infighting.
Despite Zanu PF being founded on the basis of nationalism and the need to liberate the country from colonial rule and engage in serious nation building, ethnicity has however remained entrenched within its structures.
After Independence in 1980, it soon became clear that Zanu PF, like many other African nationalist movements, was largely shaped ideologically by the basic anti-colonial sentiments with little substantive philosophical content relevant to the day-to-day life of ordinary Zimbabweans in the post-colonial state.
Zanu PF simply failed to provide the country with a compelling intellectual, social, and political vision to ensure socio-economic prosperity. Once in power and following extended years of leadership and policy failures which led to economic collapse, Zanu PF’s continued anti-colonial discourse became irrelevant.
Its undeveloped ideological vision and shallow nationalism were exposed as its government rapidly degenerated into an authoritarian regime characterised by political repression and manipulation of the institutions to serve the interests of the ruling political elite and their cronies.
A ruthless consolidation of power by tribal cliques within Zanu PF also followed after Independence, while tribalism was institutionalised. Political dissent, sometimes defined by ethnicity due to tribal frameworks of governance, was brutally suppressed.
Much state activity was devoted to the pursuit of variously defined forms of “economic development”, but such development proved elusive and the much-desired economic fruits of Independence generally failed to ripen. That growth which did occur was usually to the benefit of the dominant political class and possessed little popular appeal.
So it is unhelpful for Zanu PF politicians to try to intimidate journalists when they raise these issues. What they should be doing is to tackle the problem, together with racism and other forms of discrimination, to cleanse their party and state institutions of these reactionary prejudices.
Just as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Nelson Mandela fought ethnicity within their movements and countries, with varying degrees of success, Zanu PF leaders must rise to the occasion and fight tribalism in their party, state institutions and anywhere else it is found in Zimbabwe.