We can talk about mismanaged land reform, the impact of sanctions, interference of the military in politics, impunity and violence, poor governance, antipathy towards democracy, disdain for human rights, kleptocracy, patrimonialism, and corruption, the long presidential incumbency of President Robert Mugabe, weaknesses of Sadc mediation, and go on and on about “outstanding issues” in the implementation of the GPA.
The poor and the marginalised can cry about economic problems.
The list of complaints is endless. Are all the problems in Zimbabwe not symptoms of a crisis of leadership? The leadership issue needs serious attention.
While some of the Harare leaders continue to parrot nationalism and sovereignty, what type of nationalism and sovereignty are they guarding when the national currency degenerated into oblivion under their stewardship?
The leadership crisis in Zimbabwe is traceable to the 1960s. It is rooted in the crisis of Zimbabwean nationalism. It failed before Zimbabwe was born in 1980. Since 1963, no credible leader emerged with the capacity to unite different ethnic and racial groups.
Joshua Nkomo tried and failed. What became celebrated as nationalism was in reality disguised tribalism. The term nationalist was appropriated by regionalists and tribalists.
What we nurtured and developed throughout the time of the liberation struggle were “lip-service nationalists who take on a national character when there is a crowd before them”, to use the words of Professor Jonathan Moyo.
Under the leadership of such people, it was not even clear who the future national citizens were to be besides vague and crude use of such empty signifiers as abantwana behlabathi/vana vevhu/children of the soil.
Worse still, the fake nationalists who parroted the slogan of children of the soil in public forums were actively flouting the same ideals in private.
It was this reality that forced Professor Masipula Sithole to write about “struggles-within-the-struggle” and a revolution that ate its own children.
At the centre of all this were liquidations and counter-liquidations cloaked as revolutionary justice. Herbert Chitepo, Nikita Mangena, Josiah Magama Tongogara, Thomas Nhari, numerous cadres of Zipa and many others fell victim to this fake nationalism that covered up dirty tribalism and regionalism.
Having said this, can’t we re-evaluate some events and reach the truth?
How true is it that the split within Zapu in 1963 was not motivated by tribalism? Was Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole not a victim of tribalism?
Did he not suffer the same fate as Nkomo — the sin of being Ndebele and Shangani respectively? As for Chitepo, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Edgar Tekere, were their sins not linked to their hailing from the east? Was Sithole not correct to say: “If the death of Herbert Chitepo is to be associated with any ‘ism’, it cannot be colonialism or capitalism but tribalism”?
The real crisis is that the struggle to build a Zimbabwean nation was not led by nationalists but tribalists, who disguised their tribal intentions as national interests. Is the present bickering within the inclusive government not reflective of lack of concern for national interests?
Partisan interests are sometimes disguises for tribal interests.
Was the Gukurahundi crisis not a vindication of a country led by tribally-motivated leaders?
When Zanu PF assumed power of the state, some of its leaders who were now expected to behave like national leaders failed to do so and plunged the country into a dirty and unnecessary tribal war that cost the lives of innocent citizens.
Some of those leaders are still in government and their tribal utterances continue. How can we expect such a calibre of leadership to lead a modern but diverse nation? Is it not expecting too much from a failed leadership?
Those who were surprised by Zimbabwe’s plunge into crisis at the beginning of 2000 deserve a lesson in history. I was not surprised at all.
I knew that Zimbabwe lacked good leadership. I knew that it was a matter of time before their failures became a global spectacle.
Their trajectory was clear: running from tribalism to racism then to the political dustbin.
The slow death of a mediocre leadership incurs a huge cost for the nation and the economy. Another clear case of leadership failure is lack of clear rules of succession.
A feeble leadership lives in perpetual fear of the people and because of that it’s very predatory and dangerous to human life.
A feeble leadership has denied Zimbabweans the power to choose any other leadership.
Succumbing to the divisive ploys of a directionless leadership portends disaster for the nation.
The reality in multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies like Zimbabwe is that we need not necessarily look the same, speak similar languages, come from one region and worship similar deities in order to form one nation and co-exist peacefully.
I blame the leadership that assumed power in 1980 for failure to build a nation.
I blame them for abusing our rich history for short-term regime security. I blame them for lacking national vision.
They might have had a partisan and tribal vision, but failed dismally to build a nation. The national polarisation has reached embarrassing levels where Zimbabweans have bifurcated into sell-outs, puppets, traitors, patriots, veterans, born-frees and other binaries.
The reality is that MDC, Zapu, Mavambo and Zanu PF political identities cannot be allowed to eclipse national identity by any serious leadership.
Dr Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni is a concerned African scholar writing from Johannesburg. Feedback:firstname.lastname@example.org