PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe would have stunned many among those who don’t know him when he said Kalanga people are “uneducated” and notorious for committing crime in South Africa, but those clued-up on his history would perhaps have been dismayed but not surprised.
Mugabe made the remarks on Wednesday at a press conference in Harare after the Sadc summit on industrialisation strategy where he urged Zimbabweans based in South Africa to return home and stop risking their lives in a country gripped by xenophobia.
“The majority of the people there (South Africa) say they would not want to come back even when transport is provided,” he said. “Some are committing crimes like the Kalangas who are notorious for petty crimes because they are not educated.”
While Mugabe was commenting in general, indirectly touching on other ethnic groups, his targeting of the Kalangas was not just in bad taste but also tragic.
Instead of appearing like a slip of the tongue, his irresponsible tirades were widely seen as crude ethnic prejudice and tribalism; a reckless profiling and stereotyping of an indigenous cultural group clearly reflecting his tribal mindset and intolerance.
After all his wife Grace and spokesman George Charamba, believed to be the ghost columnist Nathaniel Manheru in the state-controlled daily Herald, have previously made remarks bordering on ethnic bigotry and hate. What was most disturbing though about Mugabe’s outburst was that it came from a leader, currently not just Zimbabwe’s president but also Sadc and AU chair, who always claims to be pan-African at heart, exposed and enlightened.
Mugabe often brandishes his liberation struggle heroics, while posturing as a nationalist and pan-Africanist who embodies African solidarity. Currently he is posing as a fighter for black economic emancipation even though he has impoverished the nation through misrule.
While he contributed immensely Zimbabwe’s liberation and improving social and human development indicators during the early years of independence, his record also shows that he is deeply ethnocentric and values the politics of identity and exclusion.
Evidence to this abounds. His power architecture and pattern of deployments say it all. Under the guise of trying to preserve national unity following independence, Mugabe sought to co-opt other parties through brutal coercion and this provided the motivation behind his anachronistic one-party state project, excessive centralisation of power, authoritarian rule, systematic violation of human rights and fundamental liberties, and corruption.
His despotic rule eventually divided and polarised society, creating an unstable system whose equilibrium is only maintained through ethnic pacts, elite cohesion, patronage and structure-induced stability.
This inevitably generated a hostile reaction from alienated groups, manifested in heightening tensions and protests now threatening national stability as centrifugal forces rise with the scale of exclusion.
Zimbabwe’s search for unity underscores the intensity of disunity. As long as we avoid confronting ethnicity and marginalisation issues, fail to develop ways of managing diversity within an inclusive framework in which resources and opportunities are shared equitably a sustainable pluralistic state will continue to elude us.