Prejudice: The overreadiness to overread

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Last year, eminent Ndebele historian Pathisa Nyathi said something profound.

He said arresting those who dared talk about the Gukurahundi massacres would not solve any problem but rather continue raising emotions.

He said the old wounds were still festering, people were boiling within. He added:

“You can arrest people but you can’t wish it away. They need to be very simple, humble, and honest and accept responsibility for the good of Zimbabwe, for us to have meaningful unity, for us to have genuine reconciliation.”

MDC secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga was this week quoted in the Southern Edition of NewsDay as telling people at a campaign rally that the refusal by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to recognise Welshman Ncube as one of the inclusive government principals was informed by tribal malice based on his Ndebele origins.

She said: “(The late Gibson) Sibanda was the president of the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions), but when they saw things going (their way) they kicked out Gibson and chased away people from the party.”

I stand to be corrected, but is it not a fact that at the formation of the MDC in 1999, Sibanda agreed to step down in favour of Tsvangirai for the same reason that Ncube approached Mutambara in 2005 to lead his breakaway faction of the MDC after being reportedly turned down by Tendai Biti as the conventional wisdom at that time was that a party with a Shona at the helm stood a better chance of national appeal?

To say Tsvangirai pushed Sibanda aside is historically incorrect. It’s possible some people were uncomfortable with that set-up, but they did not publicly say so then. Let’s stay true to the background to this.

“Mugabe removed Joshua (Nkomo), Tsvangirai removed Sibanda . . . ,” she continued.
If she is referring to Mugabe’s axeing of Nkomo from the Cabinet in 1983, then it’s correct that Mugabe removed Nkomo.

But if it’s in reference to Mugabe’s eventual ascendancy to the Presidency in 1980 through Zanu PF after he and others broke away from the Nkomo-led Zapu to form Zanu, then that’s highly misleading. How could Nkomo be removed from a party to which he never belonged?

What informs this overreadiness to overread into events?

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said even in Cabinet, Ncube was attacked “left, right and centre, sitting in front of people and those that come from here (Matabeleland) have not defended him. Out of all those who come from here, it’s only I who at times comes to his defence.”

Is this the correct interpretation of the Cabinet goings-on or she completely misreads the situation? I ask so because, by her own admission, even ministers from her own party, by “not defending” Ncube, do not see things the way she sees them.

Is she implying that David Coltart and Moses Mzila-Ndlovu read the situation fundamentally differently from her? It’s strange indeed. Does she miss this irony?

“They should tell the truth that they hate Ndebeles. We started seeing their hatred of the Ndebele by their unanimous stance that they do not want Ncube to be DPM (Deputy Prime Minister).”

Has she has fallen into the trap of Tafataona Mahoso who thinks everything is determined by race? In her case, it’s tribal determinism to the exclusion of other factors; to her everything hinges on tribe, but life is not as simple as that.

She must avoid becoming a fanatic, defined by British statesman Winston Churchill as “one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”. People at the top must take responsibility for what happens after what they say.

Yes, there are a lot of things to be angry about in our nation. But people need to control anger before it controls them because the pain and backlash we inflict on others during anger are harder forgotten. Anger usually does not change or improve the situation.

That said, people should avoid prejudice. Pre-judging means you have already made up your mind ahead of time, mostly without knowing all the facts.

You already has an opinion — a firm opinion — about someone or something or some event. We are all liable do it at one time or another.

Pre-judging can make a person blind to the facts — and what’s “true” may be in reality false. The thing with prejudice is to be aware and conscious of it. We all have biases, but let’s avoid such virulence.

Going back to the Gukurahundi issue, Nyathi said it was wrong for all Shonas to be accused of being responsible for the massacres as many had no clue as to what was happening.

“What is happening now is the same as during Gukurahundi where all Ndebeles were being accused of being dissidents,” he said. “It’s wrong to paint all Shonas with one brush and one wrong can’t correct another wrong.”

Mbuso Khuzwayo, secretary for Ibhetshu likaZulu, said while Shonas might have indirectly benefited from the atrocities of Gukurahundi, it was wrong to blame all of them for the genocide.

He said there were many Shonas that were as much victims as the Ndebeles.

It’s not all about Shonas as a tribe, but about an oppressive, corrupt system with tentacles all over the country – from Manicaland to Matabeleland.

The oppressive system was kept intact after independence in 1980 as the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act remained (now reincarnated as the Public Order and Security Act) and the State of Emergency was repackaged as the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Regulations. Samora Machel, not known as an intellectual, said the liberation wars in the region were not being waged against whites as a race, but the system.

“People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with. One does not banish this spectre by invoking it. If I would not vote against someone on the grounds of ‘race’ or ‘gender’ alone, then by the exact same token I would not cast a vote in his or her favour for the identical reason.

Yet see how this obvious question makes fairly intelligent people say the most alarmingly stupid things,” wrote journalist and historian Christopher Hitchens.

Perhaps, as our nation gets older, it will be enough for any citizen to say simply and with pride: “I am a Zimbabwean.”

ctutani@newsday.co.zw