I’m tribalist, like you!


The incarceration of Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MFL) leaders Charles Thomas, John Gazi and Paul Siwela tickles my fancy on the “touchy” subject of tribalism.

More so the resultant “Libya” between Kumbirai Mafunda’s Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Abameli, a “consortium” of disgruntled members headed by Kucaca Phulu of Bulawayo leaves me disheartened.

Whenever a person of Shona origin acts outside the Ndebele “worldview”, criticism centres on tribalism.

Shonas who have lived in Bulawayo for years but cannot converse in Ndebele are labelled tribalists contemptuous of our language.

The excuse is genuine; we speak an unsavoury combination of Xs and Qs unpalatable to the tongue!

It took me only two months to speak fluent Kiswahili, but a full year for Setswana.

Most Ndebeles consider it “unfair” to be “compelled” to speak Shona in Harare for survival while their own language is neglected.

Thus when Munyaradzi Gwisai’s “Egypt case” attracts world attention because ZLHR has picked up his tag, Ndebeles have reason to cry foul where MLF three are not accorded similar martyr status.

But do we really appreciate that tribalism is not as bad as prophets of cultural doom portray it?

New Zimbabwe.com blogger Ndaba Mabhena observes how “Zanu PF is a party that is founded on splitting Zimbabwe into two tribal groupings, ie Shona and Ndebele, whereby Shonas must provide national leadership . . . enlisting the services of Ndebele apologists to paint a picture of a government of national unity . . . ”

Inherent contradictions in this perspective are that Ndebeles in Zanu PF are devoid of common ethnic sense.

The real question being is excluding an ethnic group from a model of influence and leadership tribalism per se?

Some sources argue that “the word tribalism frequently is the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group”.

In essence, tribalism is not necessarily a negative force, only when such separation is used to “dehumanise” while subverting others’ interests.

More accurately, contempt and disrespect for my language, ethnicity and totem is the sinister side of tribalism.

When I gloat about my being Ndebele, it is this self-esteem and confidence in my language, culture and tradition that reinforces identity — positive tribalism!

Wikipedia argues that “ . . . Tribalism and ethnocentrism help to keep individuals committed to the group, even when personal relations may fray . . . groups with a strong sense of unity and identity can benefit from kin selection behaviour such as common property and shared resources.”

Tribalism is therefore a necessary evil, because deep in our hearts, we are proud of whom we are.

We want our children to be associated with habits, cultures, behaviours, traditions and norms congruent with ours. If you agree with me, that makes you a “positive” tribalist!

John Zerzan and Daniel Quinn argue: “The new tribalists use the term ‘tribalism’ not in its widely thought of derogatory sense, but to refer to what they see as the defining characteristics of tribal life . . . insist that this is, in fact, the natural state of humanity, and proven by two million years of human evolution.”

Stephen Isabirye misconstrues “tribalism as an evil that we have to overcome”. He sees tribalism as “an evil if your tribe is not in power and a benefit if your tribe is in power”.

Isabirye then shifts over to my school of thought that there is “need to admit that Africans are by nature tribalistic and this in itself is not inherently evil”.

In this respect, if all tribes were to be represented in institutions of power, tribalism would cease to be an issue.

One Muzi Dhlamini observes the “need to take advantage of our strong tribal ties to create grassroots democracies that will derive power from tribal belonging”.

Aryan Rand insists that “philosophically, tribalism is the product of irrationalism and collectivism.”

My liberal perspective on positive tribalism would place me on a fatal collision course with the analysis of Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni who is rational but alarmist.

Moreover, I would not expect to get a “drink” from pressure groups like Vukani Mahlabezulu, Imbovane Yamahlabezulu, Zapu 2000 as well as Mthwakazi Action Group on Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in Matabeleland, Mthwakazi People’s Congress, Ibhetshu Lika Zulu and MLF!

Ndlovu-Gatsheni punches gaping holes into my bubble on the basis of Zanu PF’s attitude towards “Ndebele liberation heroes” like Thenjiwe Lesabe and Welshman Mabhena. Mugabe’s obsession with what Ndlovu-Gatsheni terms “triumphalism of Zanu PF over PF-Zapu” fortifies the fallacy of negative tribalism.

He refers to the dominant presence of Shona in Bulawayo colleges, factories and even political parties.

Aeneas Chigwedere, Stan Mudenge, David Martin and Phyllis Johnson are known to have glorified Shona history, while Michael Mawema is credited with having “created” the name Zimbabwe for our country.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni is not short on ammunition on how Gukurahundi was a glaring opportunity for Mugabe’s Zanu PF to exterminate Ndebeles.

He also makes reference to Mugabe’s shameless support of disgraced Arthur Mutambara in open defiance of MDC’s preferred candidate for the post of Deputy Prime Minister.

I do not deny that tribalism’s goodness in the hands of Zanu PF becomes an instrument of mass destruction.

My point is that if you are as overwhelmed as I am about your ethnic superiority, allow me to be a tribalist like you.

Rejoice Ngwenya is a social commentator writing in his own capacity