THEORISTS specialising in social identity cite three main categories — primordialism, constructivism and instrumentalism ethnic cleavages upon which human nature adopts distinctiveness.
Without going into the merits and demerits of the aforesaid philosophies, primordialists believe that ethnic ties are assigned at birth, fixed and passed down genealogically across generations whilst constructivists say ethnicities are a result of social construct and can be altered over time.
The instrumentalist school of thought views ethnic identities as polarised and manipulated by a specific ruling ethnic group for political and socio-economic expediency. As President Emmerson Mnangagwa made cabinet appointments this week, sharp criticisms emerged with questions arising over the growing dominance of Karanga people from Masvingo and Midlands in key government positions. Critics accused Mnangagwa of choosing his Karanga clansman and longtime ally Frederick Shava as Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister. This attests to the fact that both primordial and instrumental viewpoints can be weaponised to consolidate political and economic power. Effectively, Mnangagwa has proved to be an instrumentalist who surrounds himself with fellow Karanga clansmen in cabinet, security sector and high ranking bureaucratic offices.
Crucial government and parastatal appointments are based on ethnic identity linkages rather than meritocracy, judging by the pathetic performance of such entities. This kleptocratic government under the guise of a so-called new dispensation has prolonged ethnic fault-lines dating back to nationalist struggle days. The late political science pundit Professor Masipula Sithole tackled this emotive issue in his book, Zimbabwe Struggles within the struggle (1957-1980). Nationalist historian, the late Professor Terrence Ranger in Peasant Consciousness and Guerilla War in Zimbabwe, also wrote extensively about internal conflicts driven by ethnic and regional social stratifications during the liberation struggle.
Mugabe, a shrewd politician of repute, mastered the art of weaponising ethnicity as an instrument of building a strong powerbase through appointing his Zezuru clansmen in cabinet. In the twilight of his 37-year shambolic rule, Zanu PF’s docile followers chanted songs like “Zezuru unconquerable” whose lyrics were pregnant with thinly veiled assertions that the Zezurus were to rule Zimbabwe for life.
Mnangagwa, a Mugabe disciple for 50 years, seemed to have learnt a lot from his master. He has proved that it is time for the Karangas “to eat”. But all this is being done to the detriment of the unity of purpose to solve dire economic and political problems troubling the motherland for two decades.
A deep-rooted instrumentalist, Mnangagwa is creating a hegemony in preparation for another term in office from 2023 — a development that has sparked internecine intraparty warfare with Vice President Constantino Chiwenga whose close allies seem to be losing ground in important government appointments.
Zimbabwe is bigger than any ethnic group and intentional unity is urgent to address attendant economic and political problems.