CURRENT acrimonious signs that the explosive Zanu PF succession battle has ethno-regional and tribal undertones or indeed overtones are disturbing. They show the dangers of using ethnicity as a political tool.
While the problem of ethnicity and tribalism existed in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial eras, it is the responsibility of those in power in particular to use their authority and influence to fight the primitive societal disposition and unite the people in their diversity into modern, enlightened and progressive nations.
Mugabe, like most other African leaders, in a bid to ensure national unity following independence found an ulterior motive to try to establish a one-party state, centralise power and entrench an authoritarian regime which engaged in systematic violation of human rights and fundamental liberties. This in turn generated resistance, manifested in heightened tensions and the demand for a second liberation by civil society groups and opposition parties, to repression. Managing ethnic diversity within the framework of the colonial borders — lines of latitude and longitude drawn without regard for history, culture and languages — is a challenge that African states, including Zimbabwe, can’t wish away. Yet it is inconceivable how people who are supposedly educated and considered the most literate society in Africa — Zimbabweans — can stoop so low to reduce important national issues to mere tribal and regional squabbles.
While it is inadequate to simply claim ethnic groups are unwitting tools of manipulation by unscrupulous politicians as this underestimates a fundamental social reality dynamic, ethnicity is clearly an instrument for political influence and entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe.
The current ethnic tensions within Zanu PF were triggered by remarks by Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko at a rally in Chiweshe last Friday where he said the fact that Mugabe is a Zezuru does not mean that when he goes a Karanga must take over in the succession matrix. The needless remarks by Mphoko, along with the chanting of the ethnocentric slogan “Zezurus unconquerable!” at the rally, provoked ethnic tensions as Karanga-speaking people felt targeted.
There is nothing surprising about this though given Mugabe‘s politics of ethnic manipulation and divide-and-rule tactics to gain, retain and maintain power. It is however shocking and tragic, some Zanu PF leaders want to institutionalise tribalism and make it their stock-in-trade in pursuit of power. This is particularly reprehensible in a country like Zimbabwe which, like many other African countries, has had a troubled history of ethnic conflicts, divisions and tensions which persist up to this day. While after independence some African leaders were eager to denounce tribalism, Mugabe not only failed to tackle it, but in fact institutionalised and entrenched the scourge, hence crude slogans like “Zezurus unconquerable!”
We all know the cost of tribalism, from Cape to Cairo; with the Rwandan genocide being an unforgettable lesson to us all.
As long as we avoid confronting the issue of ethnicity and fail to develop mechanisms of managing diversity and ensuring equal opportunity for all within a sustainable framework, unity, peace and stability will continue to elude us. Zimbabwe can no longer afford Mugabe’s failed ethnic model and its toxic identity politics.