During the 1970s in the then Rhodesia, a Salisbury (now Harare) Municipality white supervisor was working on-site along the banks of the Manyame River with a crew of black labourers.
As was the practice then, during lunch break, the blacks cooked their sadza on a fire and were having it in the open as the white boss sat in the comfort of his council vehicle, eating prepared clean food from home. Out of the blue, he then said to them: “Why are you eating s*** (human waste)?”
All hell broke loose as the labourers spontaneously ganged up on him, battering him to death. This was not their intention, but the tragic death was as a result of gross provocation on the part of the white supervisor.
These overworked and underpaid blacks had cycled 14km to the work site all the way from Salisbury while the supervisor had driven there, a classic case of people living in different worlds.
Vice-President John Nkomo’s highly provocative accusations against the people of Matabeleland this week rewinded my mind to that era of racial marginalisation. Nkomo said Matabeleland was full of people who lacked the initiative to develop the region, hence the belief that the region was marginalised should be “consigned to . . . history”.
“Who do you want to do the job for you and who is marginalising you?” Nkomo said. “It is just inertia and dragging your feet. This is your country and the resources are yours. If you are called upon to do work, you should not drag your feet.”
How can a whole tribe be made up of sluggards or idlers? Yes, there is always a lunatic or extremist tribal fringe, but that doesn’t lessen the legitimacy of most of the grievances.
Yes, people should protect their identity, but not through falsification of history, but a whole community or tribe can’t be accused of being driven by lies or, as Nkomo would have it, laziness.
Sadly, the unintended consequence of such sweeping statements is that they give ammunition to those who are keen to dismiss marginalisation as a figment of tribalism whereas it is a reality.
Gukurahundi massacres in the early 1980s worsened marginalisation. During Gukurahundi, practically all Ndebele-speaking people became suspects.
They were purged from government en masse, with some taking refuge outside the country. Statistics speak for themselves: over 80% of refugees in South Africa are Zimbabweans and the majority of them are from Matabeleland.
There was massive displacement on a bigger scale than the number of people taking refuge at various MDC offices countrywide.
And the stakes will rise if, for instance, there is discovery of precious natural resources in the region, as happened at Chiadzwa in Manicaland, where locals have been forcibly displaced by vultures from within the country and outside and hundreds of people have been killed because of “blood diamonds”, a low-scale Gukurahundi.
During those dark days, as the State machinery was unleashed on what proved to be a handful of armed dissidents, “trusted and loyal” outsiders, mainly soldiers, police and civil servants, were brought in and they have largely remained in place at the helm as some of them settled permanently in Matabeleleland.
Thus, a system was imposed from outside largely to the exclusion of the “distrusted” locals. Such a system of political exclusion resulted in corporatism.
Corporatism is “a system of interest intermediation in which vertically organised and functionally defined interest groups are granted official representation in the State policymaking apparatus.
Corporatism can be contrasted with pluralism, a system in which interest groups openly compete with one another to gain access to the State”.
In Zimbabwe, where everything hinges on one’s political allegiance under Zanu PF’s de facto one-party rule of cronyism, corporatism has been embedded and Matabeleland has suffered the most because the region has consistently voted against the regime, but those individuals who have remained in Zanu PF have become rich for all to see.
In doing this, corporatist systems limit who would have the most influential voices in the economic policymaking process.
The region has, thus, mostly been made voiceless. Threats were made in the past to the effect that development would not be brought to the region if the people kept on voting against Zanu PF, and they were carried out.
Moreover, people outside Matabeleland and Midlands largely kept silent as the Gukurahundi massacres raged during the early 1980s, with some, mostly willing victims of State media censorship and propaganda, even making fun of it as a figment of someone’s tribal imagination, that was until 2000 when the oppressive system came down hard on the whole nation, taking revenge upon the people for nearly toppling it by voting for the MDC.
Now the overwhelming majority is, to all intents and purposes, marginalised as their rights have been taken away and the few politically well-connected have grabbed lucrative deals through “tenderpreneurship” and other dubious deals under indigenisation and empowerment.
The past and present of a nation has multiple overlapping narratives, some conflicting; others concordant. Some see tribalism, some see marginalisation while others see both. But the fact of the matter is that marginalisation is there, and spreading .
So respectfully, Nkomo, as a member of the National Healing Organ, you are expected to place the debate in the correct context; as State Vice-President, you should give wise counsel.
And, as a Ndebele, and, above all, as a Zimbabwean, you should show understanding of the sensitivities of the people, whether perceived or real, as the scars from Gukurahundi, which worsened marginalisation, and other political killings are still deep.