HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsRacism, tribalism: Elephant in the room

Racism, tribalism: Elephant in the room


In any other country revelations by Education, Sport and Culture minister David Coltart a fortnight ago that racial slurs against whites are commonplace during Cabinet meetings would have ignited serious debate, especially coming from such a high-ranking government official.

Report by Kholwani Nyathi

But then this is Zimbabwe! We are good at hiding our heads in the sand like ostriches, pretending all is well.

This is perhaps the reason why Zimbabweans have tolerated a dictatorship that has impoverished them instead of uplifting their living standards in the past 32 years.

In private, they complain about President Robert Mugabe’s ruinous leadership, but when they are called into the streets to demonstrate their anger they chicken out.

Coltart, the only white Zimbabwean in the current Cabinet, wrote on his Facebook page that sometimes his ministerial colleagues seemed to forget he was in the same room when they “made shocking” remarks about whites.

The irony that must not escape us is that this “gross level of intolerance” by the minister’s colleagues is encouraged by Mugabe.

The only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence has no problems showing his prejudices to other minorities such as homosexuals whom he once labeled “worse than pigs and dogs”.

Yet you find some people rallying behind someone who thinks fellow citizens who are different from him are less human.

Mugabe, who delivered a reconciliation speech that moved the world during his inauguration as independent Zimbabwe’s first leader, has been on a crusade against whites ever since he came close to losing power in 2000.

He has used white Zimbabwean farmers and lately private business owners as scapegoats for his leadership failure.

Coltart correctly observed that if he made similar insults about blacks he would “rightly be branded as a sympathiser of the Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan”.

Although some may argue that there is nothing like black racism, what Mugabe and Zanu PF are doing is known as reverse racism.

The term refers to racial prejudice or discrimination directed against the traditionally dominant racial group.

The vice is as perverse in today’s Zimbabwe as tribalism, but we appear not ready to acknowledge them as a threat to our nationhood.

Our politics since the time of the liberation struggle have been based on tribalism and the genesis was the split of Zapu in the 1960s resulting in the birth of Zanu.

These differences worsened to conflict in independent Zimbabwe, and cost thousands of lives during an episode now referred to as Gukurahandi.

A settlement used to end the conflict is still used by Zanu PF in its ethnic balancing scheme without shame.

According to the Unity Accord, a second Vice-President for the party must come from Matabeleland and yet Zimbabweans have no courage to question why this is so in a country that liberated itself three decades ago.

This sign of leadership failure is not confined to Zanu PF, the original Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) also failed to rise above these narrow politics that have slowed Zimbabwe’s march to the Promised Land leading to its split in 2005.
Why is it some always see a tribal card whenever a person from the southern region or Bulawayo to be specific is elevated to lead a political party?

But anyone from Masvingo, Zvimba or Harare in a similar position is considered to be driving a national agenda.

To understand this one needs to look at Dumiso Dabengwa and Welshman Ncube’s struggles or even the late Joshua Nkomo whom many only started idolising after his death.

The scourge of tribalism permeates into all facets of our lives including sports and the photo finish in the Premier Soccer League race between Highlanders and eventual champions Dynamos clearly demonstrated what a divided country we are.

However, because of our legendary fear to confront real issues we will pretend that nothing is happening.

The least Coltart’s revelations can do is to help us begin a conversation about the real problems that confront us and put the era of plastic smiles behind us.

Racism and tribalism are the proverbial elephant in the room for Zimbabwe and must accept reality if we are to heal our troubled country.

  • knyathi@newsday.co.zw

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