The past few days have witnessed the closest we have been to a tribal meltdown in a while, as ethnicity has been the main topic in both the opposition and the ruling party.
BY NQABA MATSHAZI
For decades now, ethnicity has been an issue, which, as a country we are afraid to deal with because somehow we believe it is divisive, yet pretending it is not an issue could be more dangerous and divisive in the not so distant future.
Matters came to a head when MDC-T deputy president, Thokozani Khupe strongly opposed the formation of MDC Alliance, arguing some of the coalition parties do not bring anything to the table and before anyone interrogated what she was saying, she was accused of being a tribalist.
I have written before that I believe Khupe is on the wrong side of history on the coalition issue, but calling her a tribalist because she did not agree with what the majority want is quite primitive and borders on intolerance.
The same happened when Tendai Biti fell out with his colleagues in the People’s Democratic Party, he accused his secretary general, Gorden Moyo and everyone supporting him, of tribalism and again an opportunity for an inquisition into what led to the fallout between the two was lost because of a crude propensity for name-calling.
I also have had the misfortune of being labelled a tribalist because I did not agree with popular opinion or I have criticised a political leader, who just happens not to belong to the same tribe as I.
On the few times that I have not been labelled a tribalist, I have been called a Central Intelligence Organisation operative simply for daring to criticise MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Excuse me, but it seems we are creating a sub-class of people, who because they do not belong to the majority tribe, should not criticise or have independent thought, simply because they belong to a different ethnicity.
When Biti himself broke away from Tsvangirai it was because they supposedly differed on principle, the MDC-T leader was a dictator and had led the party to a comprehensive electoral defeat.
Contrast this with when Moyo differed with Biti; suddenly principle is thrown out of the window and the first thing that we hear is that Moyo is a tribalist.
Quite simplistic thinking if you ask me.
The same thing happened when MDC leader, Welshman Ncube parted ways with Tsvangirai, suddenly the Senate vote, which the MDC-T leader overturned undemocratically, was seen as irrelevant and the subject for discussion was Ncube’s ethnicity and tribalism.
This is how primitive we are as a society, where we prefer ethnic differences to define us, rather than the substance or ideas that we bring to the table.
In such cases, labelling someone a tribalist could be meant to be deflect from substantial issues, which would have been raised and is quite a lazy way to avoid political debate.
MDC-T legislator, Eddie Cross has also waded into the debate on tribalism in the country in the most unhelpful and divisive way, by claiming that the Ndebele in PDP and MDC-T are demanding special treatment on the basis of their tribe.
Cross has a propensity to put his foot in the mouth on issues that he has no knowledge about and could be a liability to MDC-T, considering that his parliamentary seat is in Bulawayo.
The same thing is happening across the aisle in the ruling party, where this time the tribalism is more pronounced within the Shona subgroup.
Some people of Karanga origin say it is their time to rule because a Zezuru has been in power for a long time.
I cannot speak much on the differences within the Shona subgroupings, but my thinking on this subject is that it is tragic that power should be seen to be transferred on ethnic grounds rather than leadership qualities.
This is the tragedy of politics in this country, as elections are now seen as a tribal census, to see who has more votes because they belong to what tribe rather than a contest of ideas.
A person’s tribe should be the last thing to look at during elections, but rather what they bring to the table.
On the other hand, the Ndebele also cry foul that it seems the highest they can go is the deputy position in any organisation or political party, with the top post reserved for the Shona.
What this points to is that Zimbabwe has a tribal problem, which it is uncomfortable to deal with but which continues to haunt the country.
We pretend that there is unity in the country, but this is all a façade, a fragile one for that matter, which is quickly exposed when there is a crisis.
Clan based thinking is the reason why the country will continue to be rooted at the bottom of all development indices, as instead, we should be expending our energies on ensuring that the best woman or man gets the job, not because of where they come from.
What we need as Zimbabweans is that when we see a leader, we have respect for them because we believe they are the best for the job and not bother about their surname or where they come from.
Disagreeing with someone of a different tribe does not necessarily make one a tribalist, but rather makes them an independent thinker, who will not just follow sheepishly.
It is quite sad that almost 40 years after independence, leaders can easily resort to using tribe as a differentiator, as this was a tactic for the colonisers, whose strategy was clearly to divide and rule.
That we chose to hold on to this strategy to divide ourselves, speaks volumes of how we continue to hold onto the colonial mentality, no matter how destructive it is.
A time should come where we deal with uncomfortable issues honestly, in the hope of creating a better future, where ethnicity will just be a hereditary issue, rather than what defines how far a person can go in life.