THE current political trends obtaining in Matabeleland as well as calls for different systems of governance and policies, including devolution of power, should be understood as offshoots of a much more nuanced political environment cultivated over the past 32 years, mainly because of over-centralisation of power in Harare.
Report by Brilliant Mhlanga
But how and why do the people of Matabeleland continue to find themselves in this political context?
Matabeleland now suffers from a marked generational crisis. In order for us to understand these emerging generational differences there is a need for a delineation of the existing generational groups. These groups are many, but only two key and quite active generations emerge here: the generation of “in-betweeners” and the young generation.
The former is a generation that witnessed Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, but was quite young to participate or was simply not as politically conscious so they chose to abscond, most of them are now in their mid-40s to around 55.
Then the younger generation is composed of those who may have also witnessed the liberation struggle, but were very young and are in their early 40s or below.
The in-betweeners is a group of non-achievers. Most of them now believe it is better to compromise with MDC-T, Zanu PF or Harare just for them to eat. But they use different political positions that never get explained to the extent of turning them into useless clichés. Their aim is always to sound quite complicated and complex with a view to confuse the people. They are a generation that sees the messianic opportunities out of situations, possibly because they are used to being beneficiaries of other people’s toil.
They cannot build structures and run them because they are divisive too and they like power. Their approach is always incremental and in some cases quite residual too; they like benefiting and continuing with inherited structures.
But the tragedy of generational crisis manifests itself in very different ways.
One thing for sure is that the generation of in-betweeners, which merely has no history of fighting any cause, in reality a generation of harvesters, is also characterised by people who are generally not achievers at personal level. It is composed of people who are used to vegetating.
Even the civil society movements they ever associated with were state-aligned. But they did not improve their circumstances from thereon. And their grievances are formally located in their quest to exchange roles of quarry and hunter with their oppressors. This is neither a generation of transformers nor that of change agents like the current young generation, which genuinely wants real change.
The generation of in-betweeners is a generation of scavengers — those hunter-gatherers who are prepared at a moment’s notice to inherit a dead carcass.
So theirs is banal revolution. Even their revolutionary discourse is merely an echo, and laced with clichés. Nothing more. They have since ceased to live with principles and so they merely exist. Even when the national project took a knock, they never questioned it. In fact, most of them did not even notice the turn of events, as they were busy enjoying their unquestioning role of being passengers in a national bus going nowhere.
Their failure was also caused by their pre-occupation with the newly attained middle-class status whose actual meaning most of them had not yet discovered, let alone grasped. This is a generation that is so steeped in the politics of labelling and mislabelling, continuously accusing each other of being agents of the oppressive system. This political development shows the extent of political warping and their entrenched psychology of oppression, which now is on autopilot.
When you engage most of them on challenges of the national project, the bad birth-mark Zimbabwe was born with, their response is usually that, “… the people of Matabeleland lack a leader like Joshua Nkomo or a mosaic leader who would take them forward”, and yet fail to understand that they are the same people who should have taken the region forward a long time ago.
And so by missing that opportunity it meant that they, in their blindness, helped the generation that had witnessed and fought the liberation struggle to turn into neo-colonial mode and to further entrench itself in power and interpellate the violence of the ejected coloniser, thereby creating an inevitable generational collision with the generation that would follow them — the young generation of real change-makers.
Having said that, my analysis of the generation of change-makers is quite different. The generation of change-makers is very well-informed, read, daring, but sometimes irrational, as is the nature with most young people. However, this is a generation that is prepared to learn and to take risks, which is a hallmark of all revolutions and moments of rupture.
A silent conflict has been raging between the generation of change-makers and that of in-betweeners as they contest for space and relevance in the politics of Matabeleland. But because their focus, causes and ideological outlooks are different, it is not easy for these two generations to complement each other. The generation of in-betweeners think it is time for them to eat before they fall by the wayside — thus celebrating the “castrated logic” of an MDC-T, Zanu PF or Harare-engineered “messianic” effect.
But as a group of scavengers, they can find a meal in every carcass. So most of them tend to publicly present very radical discourses on Matabeleland when in reality they do not even mean it. Actually, in the event of a genuine revolutionary crusade or real moment of rupture, they would not even be prepared to join because their limited scope tells them that they have more to lose. In fact, their thinking has been that in the event of a rupture they would assume political leadership positions and roles while consigning those they consider to be much younger to the vagaries of the battlefront.
But the young generation of change-agents is quite revolutionary and very much prepared to see the struggle materialising into tangible emancipatory projects. And so this struggle will continue until the generation of real change agents is able to claim its space and mantle from the generation of scavengers who are prepared to compromise for food to be quickly placed in their empty stomachs.
So these emergent generational challenges can be likened to some kind of “puppetry politics” — all of it played for the good of Harare and with the aim of maintaining Zimbabwe in her current configurations; as a state and with the people of Matabeleland continuing to subsist as subjects and second class citizens.
- Dr Mhlanga is a human rights activist and an academic from the University of Westminster, London.