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History matters, so do people’s lives

This week I tackle a serious subject. The column is not for the faint-hearted. The subject is a serious cultural one, which requires courage and candour.

By Admire Kudita

Yes, as usual, music and dance always form a key component of my discussions, but everything ultimately will be viewed through cultural lenses. After all, culture is the crucible, in which everything brews.

Bulawayo at 125

One of the things you learn about the city is the pride and, of course, sense of entitlement, which is palpable in most of the public gatherings and no less during the celebrations in the car park on Tuesday. Like in any other city, the good and the bad are found here and have an uneasy coexistence.

The good

I caught the final words of Mayor Solomon Mguni’s words. There was a sizeable crowd on the car park, including school children. There would be further speechifying from the Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube emphasising peace, unity and development. The combined group of Indonsakusa and Nobuntu did their set, which included Unity, the hit song from yesteryear by imbube masters Black uMfolosi. Again the song emphasises the need to spread the gospel of unity of the tribes in our nation.

Written over 20 years ago, the song remains as relevant as ever given the socio-political environment in the country. Other artists showcased superb dancing skill with the gusto of those who eat lots of carbohydrates. Near the stage, Nkululeko Nkala, the city’s cultural affairs officer, courtesy of a City of Bulawayo and Nhimbe Trust initiative, was monitoring the proceedings. He had coordinated the artists for the celebrations. The city’s public relations executive Nesisa Mpofu was close by.

Rainbow colours

Bulawayo has the strength that it carries in microcosm, all the people of this country. You visit a place such as Mpopoma and you are likely to see a shop inscribed with the names of old time business people such as Mahomva. Who is Mahomva by the way?

Well he was a businessman from the past, who hailed originally from Rusape, but came to the city like most other migrant workers in search of work in the former industrial hub that Bulawayo was back in the day. There are others such as the Indian families Patel and Naran, all of whom have roots elsewhere, but made Bulawayo their home. The aforementioned families are proud to hail from the place which has been dubbed the city of Kings, presumably because it was conquered by Mzilikazi, the Ndebele king.

Previously, it was the place of the Mambos, the Changamire Dombos, and the Chirisamhuru, going back much earlier than the Ndebele invasion. Why is the reckoning important? It is vital for sobering the voices such as I heard as I sat through the proceedings on Tuesday. Not the official voices, but the voices behind me which roared their disapproval when an artist was calling out the names of all the tribes found in the city. The part when the artist mentioned Shona, I marvelled at the palpable opposition to the inclusion of the tribe.

In search of a tribe

What is Shona? This word is one of the words some locals here disdain. There are historical reasons and I daresay it is hated more than the word European or Indian. I imagine that if history is the reason for the hatred, then it should perhaps be spread evenly among all perceived enemies or at least “people with some kind of track record” of having done the Ndebeles wrong.

I believe the main reason for the animus is the sad Gukurahundi episode in our nation’s history. Yes there was genocide and justice will need to be served for our nation’s good.

But the word Shona, is derogatory. According to some accounts, the name was given to the people who resided in the country by the Ndebele impis. The Ndebele raiding parties would roam the countryside for conquest, victuals and other booty.

According to the lore, the so-called Shonas would “tshona” (disappear) in the caves and hills in fear of the raiding parties. It can be hazarded that either they were a frightful bunch or that the so-called Shonas had had their turn at empire (Munhumutapa) and kingdom (Rozvi under Mambo).

The latter, managed not to fend off invaders such as the Portuguese, who carried more fearful weaponry such as guns and cannon. But kingdoms rise and fall. It is the inevitable cycle of life. Thus when the Ndebeles, fleeing Shaka’s wrath in Zululand, came, they found a people who were mostly engaged in an agrarian and trading economy. The society was not organised for war. They were extremely vulnerable and were assailed by different groups such as the Ngonis and Shanganis.

The Shanganis settled in the Eastern highlands and Mozambique. Some Shanganis settled in Chiredzi. The Ngonis moved on and up to Malawi and even Tanzania. The gist of it all is that history is ever changing.

In search of a nation

One of the things which I remember from my personal encounter with late freedom fighter Dumiso Dabengwa is that he acknowledged that when they came into power as nationalists, they did not forge a nation, but rather a state.

He regretted it as one of the mistakes of his generation. He did not elaborate on how they should have gone about forging that nation, but I imagine that one of the things that ought to have happened was to promulgate non-discrimination laws and to put in place the principles which the 2013 constitution attempted to encapsulate.

There are now 16 recognised official languages namely: Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Khoisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa.

Remove tribal epithets

The very naming of provinces Mashonaland, Manicaland and Matabeleland flies in the face of the idea of forming a nation, whose identity emphasises the common ties of our common identity as Africans. The borders we have were bequeathed to us, but now we must move ahead.

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