IF ever you did history in a Zimbabwean school or at least watched ZBC-TV, you are sure to have come across the name of Manicaland traditional leader Chief Rekayi Tangwena, who is famed for helping Robert Mugabe and the now late Edgar Tekere cross into Mozambique during the liberation struggle.
Candour with Nqaba Matshazi
Before that, Tangwena had led the resistance against the colonisers, refusing to be evicted from his ancestral land.
However, the Rhodesians soon crafted laws that forced the Tangwena people out and eventually, they were removed violently.
In anger and in frustration, Tangwena soon left for Mozambique to join the liberation war effort.
He had come face-to-face with the unjust Rhodesian system, tried to fight it in a civil manner and was left with no option, but to confront it.
For that, Tangwena is a celebrated hero, with roads named after him, while his face has, in the past, been plastered on commemorative postage stamps.
Another celebrated hero is Chief Svosve, who, frustrated by the government’s lack of speed in land reform, decided to invade a nearby farm together with his people in 1998.
The Svosve people were said to have been settled on rocky and barren land in Wedza and so they took matters into their own hands, a move that legend says sowed the seed of the land reform process.
This is no small achievement considering that land reform is Zanu PF’s flagship policy, for which Mugabe was feted far and wide.
These two chiefs are celebrated because they identified an injustice and confronted it.
They refused to be conformists, refused to be co-opted and their driving force was the urge to end a system they viewed as patently unfair and prejudicial.
I was reminded of these two stories by what is happening to Matabeleland North traditional leader Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni, who has found himself in the crosshairs of the Zanu PF government because he has decided not to conform and, instead, confront a system that he sees not only as unjust and unfair, but heavily tilted against the people that he leads.
Ndiweni has a few “crimes” to his name, one of them being that he called for sanctions to be renewed against those causing suffering to Zimbabweans.
The sanctions issue is the biggest red herring in this country and I will not spend any time discussing it, because the anti-sanctions brigade seems to live under some false notion that once they are lifted, Zimbabwe will thrive; the biggest lie they tell themselves. The sanctions debate lacks nuance and common sense and I will not be dragged into it.
The other crime that Ndiweni faces is that he refuses to recognise President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the leader of Zimbabwe.
I wonder if Tangwena recognised then Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith and the lot before him.
Circumstances may differ, but the question of legitimacy still lingers on, while the propensity to use armed forces and violence to deal with civilians is a hallmark of both administrations.
In addition, Ndiweni is refusing to have a new farmer resettled on Ntabazinduna mountain, because he says it is sacred, while the local community is said to be quite happy with the white farmer who runs a lodge atop the mountain and does not want a newcomer.
Besides sacredness, the local community and their chief are best placed to say what is good for them and they do not need some bureaucrat from the capital telling them what they can and cannot do.
When it mattered most, our history shows, there are chiefs, like Svosve and Tangwena, who put themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of their people.
This is the same thing that Ndiweni is doing. He put himself in harm’s way, poured fuel on a car and threatened to burn it as marauding Zanu PF thugs bayed for his blood and threatened to grab his vehicle, only because he dared oppose the government of the day.
The government, directly and through proxies, has resorted to vilifying Ndiweni and long and shallow think pieces have been written about him in the State media, but all this has done is to elevate Ndiweni to a people’s hero.
The most recent criticism that Ndiweni has faced is that he dared attend an MDC congress, something untold of among chiefs, who are comfortable in toeing the Zanu PF and government line and are mortified at having their own independent thoughts.
But the major problem with this criticism is that people who are parroting it are blind to the fact that Ndiweni has also attended Zanu PF conferences and also met with former Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is now in the opposition ranks.
None of Ndiweni’s critics care that he has reiterated that he does not belong to any party, but follows politics because most of his subjects belong to one party or the other.
The archetypical chief, for Ndiweni’s critics, is one who toes the Zanu PF line unquestioningly, who sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil of the ruling party.
Ironically, this system of chiefs that toe the government line was put in place by the colonial government when they set up the Chiefs’ Council many years ago and made sure it endorsed its decisions.
The Chiefs’ Council, Smith writes in his book A Bitter Harvest, even endorsed one of the most cruel racist systems in the world, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
Smith was so grateful to the chiefs that he even gave them seats in the Senate; may anyone tell me how different this is from what is happening today.
Just like Smith’s, this government is only too happy when they have chiefs in their pockets and are willing, once in a while, to buy vehicles and give them an allowance to keep these traditional leaders contended.
They are not accustomed to a chief who cannot be swayed easily by trinkets and stands up for what he or she believes in, and Ndiweni is a shock to the system.
To show how badly captured and co-opted some chiefs are, some have written to the government to have Ndiweni dethroned; his crime being that he dared to bell the cat.
Where chiefs Tangwena and Svosve are revered for standing up to the Goliath that was injustice and unfairness, Ndiweni is crucified just because he has dared to raise his head above the parapet.
Nqaba Matshazi is AMH head of digital. He writes in his personal capacity.