KUDZANI Dojiwe Ndlovu is an educated, deeply frustrated young man who hails from rural Empandeni in the Mangwe district of Matabeleland South.
“Unofanela linga kuni muhiho lile, hayi hola banu bose ndodaka (Kalanga for ‘You must look at yourself instead of blaming everyone around you’”), says the 28 year-old Master of Philosophy degree graduate in reaction to last week’s disparaging remarks President Robert Mugabe made about Ndlovu’s ethnic Kalanga group.
Speaking last Wednesday at the end of a Sadc Extraordinary Summit in Harare, Mugabe said Kalangas were uneducated and are behind petty crimes in South Africa.
He was responding to questions after the summit on the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa that left one Zimbabwean dead and displaced thousands others
“And they are not the only ones, crooks, stealing, beating people. The Kalangas were/are very notorious in South Africa, they are known to be crooks because they are not educated enough to get (decent) jobs,” Mugabe said at a press conference broadcast live on South Africa’s SABC.
Such comments by Mugabe, who has a lengthy record of hurling abuse at Zimbabweans in the diaspora and political opponents at home, have angered Kalangas and many other Zimbabweans, not least of all Ndlovu who chronicled his own struggle to get an education in an effort to attain a decent living standard in a country suffering under Mugabe’s rule characterised by severe economic mismanagement.
“I am a Kalanga from Empandeni in Mangwe, a place where Mugabe neglected to build schools offering Advanced Level for 21 years after Independence. Mugabe has to look himself in the mirror if he really wants answers as to why Kalangas and other Zimbabweans are leaving for South Africa and other countries,” Ndlovu says.
“It is common cause that many Kalangas and Zimbabweans have risked their lives illegally crossing the crocodile-infested Limpopo due to Mugabe’s intolerance to dissent and economic mismanagement. While it is true that South Africa is not ‘heaven’ as Mugabe stated, it is a fact that for many, South Africa remains a better hell than Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.”
Ndlovu said Mugabe should be the last person to throw jibes at Kalangas for over lack of education as years of marginalisation by his government prevented the construction of schools in Matabeleland South. In fact, for 23 years after Independence, there were no government schools in Mangwe and Bulilima districts offering Advanced Level studies.
Even after government eventually built such schools, they have remained so poorly equipped and staffed that they are only attended by those whose parents cannot afford the better-run Embakwe (opened 2001) and Empandeni schools (2003) for boys and girls respectively, which are Roman Catholic Church institutions.
“I did my secondary education at Embakwe Mission in 2006, which was the first school in the district to offer Advanced Level in 2001. Through assistance from the extended family, I then went to the National University of Science and Technology to study Journalism and Media Studies,” said Ndlovu.
Now a Master of Philosophy degree in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria, Ndlovu says there would be many more graduates and the gainfully employed among the Kalanga and other Zimbabweans if Mugabe could address problems which are driving so many people out of the country, mostly into South Africa.
These are sentiments shared by lawyer Gabriel Shumba, a member of the South African-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF).
Chronicling the catalogue of socio-economic ills under Mugabe’s government, Shumba said a combination of political repression and high unemployment levels were the main push factors forcing Zimbabweans across borders and beyond.
“There are myriad reasons why Zimbabweans leave their country of birth and at the heart of all this are the socio-economic ills of the country and political repression. Torture, enforced disappearances and politically motivated arrests have forced some of us into exile. This did not start in 2000, but dates back to the 1980s during the vicious crackdown in Matabeleland (known as Gukurahundi) where over 20 000 civilians were massacred (by the North-korean trained Fifth Brigade). Then came the opposition MDC (formed in 1999) and the rest is history,” Shumba said.
In the parliamentary elections of 2000 the MDC shocked Zanu PF, winning 57 of the 120 elected seats, while Zanu PF won 63 seats — after which Mugabe has increasingly relied on the security sector for his continued reign.
Shumba was the subject of constant harassment by the state which began during his days as a student leader at the University of Zimbabwe in the mid-1990s.
His organisation, ZEF, has spent the better part of the last five years fighting to have Mugabe’s officials brought to trial in South Africa for gross human rights violations. ZEF won its case against the South African government in the North Gauteng High Court in South Africa, compelling the SA government to arrest and investigate Zanu PF and government officials for human rights violations in Zimbabwe — but the matter is under appeal.
Even this court setback has not forced Mugabe’s government to mend its ways and Shumba said although diasporans might want to come back the continuing culture of repression and economic crisis makes that unlikely in the foreseeable future.
“While we are here, hoping for national consensus and a convergence that would heal our country, we instead spend sleepless nights thinking of the likes of Itai Dzamara and others who have been abducted and disappeared. That environment is a push factor as a whole.”
Dzamara, a journalist and pro-democracy activist, has been missing since being allegedly abducted by unknown people in March while at barber shop in Harare’s Glen View 7 suburb.
And while South Africa may not be heaven as demonstrated by the recent wave of horrific xenophobic attacks that have shocked Africa and the world at large, continued repression and economic problems under Mugabe’s leadership suggest it will remain a haven for Zimbabweans seeking better opportunities or to merely eke out a living.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of a stubborn economic crisis, with company closures, massive retrenchments, high unemployment and the liquidity crunch suffocating economic activity in the country.
Ndlovu said: “migrating to South Africa has and will continue to be a culture because Mugabe’s government has nothing to offer for many people in the Kalanga areas and the entire country in general despite making lofty promises in the run up to the July 2013 general elections which Zanu PF controversially won. They feel neglected and South Africa remains the only place where they can get jobs, no matter how menial.”
These menial jobs have however, prevented total collapse in Zimbabwe as the diaspora remits millions which have saved families from starvation and enabled thousands more back home to access education.
For all this, Mugabe ought to be grateful instead of throwing the barbs as he also did back in 2013 when he infamously stated that Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom were nothing more than “bottom cleaners” of old white people.
Before that, the veteran leader had also contemptuously labelled people from Harare’s Mbare high density suburb “totem-less” elements of alien origin.
Their crime? Voting for the opposition MDC in the 2000 parliamentary elections.