By Miriam Tose Majome
THE question is often asked “Where did Zimbabwe go wrong?” but it is not necessarily a helpful question. Any attempt to pin down what has gone wrong to one single factor like corruption or bad governance is overly simplistic.
The reasons for Zimbabwe’s economic and political problems are a cocktail of leadership and human failings, shameful greed and plain administrative bungling. Just as liable are historical and international factors beyond local control such as economic sanctions and the long-term effects of colonialism and imperialism. No productive discussion is generated by such questions save to gauge entrenched political positions.
There is instead a useful question which must be asked but is rarely ever asked. It may help to confront the truth and address the root causes of the Zimbabwean problem. The question is ‘Is Zimbabwe a single nation or is it just a country comprised of different nations?’ Is there anything that unites or can unite the different races, tribes, groupings and ethnicities who by chance, coincidence, history and design happened to find themselves sharing the same geographical territory in between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers?
There was no country until a mere 127 years ago when a group of European countries met in 1894 at a conference in Berlin to parcel out the African continent amongst themselves. So as the history of nations goes, Zimbabwe is a new and young country which is still trying to find its feet in the global political arena. Zimbabwe is a product of its turbulent political history from the time of its violent seizure and expropriation by a private British corporation in 1890 fronted by a certain adventurer and white supremacist capitalist called Cecil John Rhodes. The rest as they say is history.
Roll forward a century later to the present day Zimbabwe past all the pre-colonial and post-colonial conflicts, we are still divided along racial, political, social, economic, and cultural lines. Throw in religion among those pigeons and there is a real poisonous cocktail. This is how it has always been at most times in the country’s history including before colonialism.
What do Zimbabweans have in common that defines them as one nation? What do the Caucasian people of various European descent, the black people of various African extractions and the Asians from diverse backgrounds and cultures who now all identify as Zimbabweans have in common historically, culturally, economically, socially, ideologically?
The answer is absolutely nothing. There have been valiant attempts by colonial and post-independent governments to establish the structures and symbols of nationhood like flags, anthems, constitutions and even national teams. However, symbols of nationhood do not and cannot automatically translate into nationhood. Nationhood is a sentiment shared by the majority of people in a certain territory.
They believe that they are one people who share a common destiny and future. A nation is not just groups of people bundled together by political or historical circumstances. That is a country.
Sections 17 expressly declares the equality of all citizens in spite of race, class and status and rightly upholds the noble principles of non-discrimination. The notion that every human being is equal to every other human being is a wonderful beautiful romantic ideal. It just sounds right but it is far from true. Far away from the poetic political speeches, the reality of inequality speaks. Indeed some aspects of human beings are equal and ought to be regarded equally but equality as a general concept is a myth.
It is not always in everyone’s best interests or principles of fairness to accord every human being equal treatment and equal resources and opportunities. People are never equal. That is why western democracy is one of the most beautiful but biggest mythical ideas of our time and is not applicable to all situations.
People consciously develop geographical territories into nations from ideas and shared ideals. It is a little like turning a house into a home. Zimbabwe and other African countries were mere geographic territories that were designed and patched together for colonial expedience.
Since then the task has been to develop the country into a nation but this has not yet been achieved because nation building is not an event. The Zimbabwean nation will not be built until the majority of people ask and know what the Zimbabwean idea is. This cannot be achieved without the cooperation from the minorities because they are the ones with the greater economic means. We have not begun to ask the right questions whether we are really a
nation or just different people who live together in the same geographical space under a government.
The divisions and conflicts in this country are much more than about race. Before 1890 the territory now known as Zimbabwe was inhabited by various ethnic groups who shared very little except negroid pigmentation and common geneological ancestry.
Some groups were permanent rivals who fought for political and economic dominance over the available natural resources. Various tribes spoke different languages which shared some dialectical aspects. The different languages and cultures were later erroneously classified under the umbrella term called Shona. Shona was hardly a unitary language but an assortment of dialects.
Only in the past century due to migration and urbanisation have the different languages and cultures evolved and converged into a relatively identifiable common language. The different peoples from various ethnic extractions had to live and work closer together in mining, urban, farming or resettlement communities. A gradual blending of the different languages, dialects and cultures occurred.
The more populous groups like the Manyika, Zezuru and Karanga had greater influence on the evolved language. However, they themselves respectively are not homogenous groups but were forced to identify with each other because of circumstance and convenience. The same is true for the various groups of Caucasians of European descent who came to settle in this territory, they are just as divided among themselves.
It can never be said that the many different dialects like the various and different Karanga dialects, chiBuja spoken in the north east, chiKorekore further north, chiUngwe to the east, chiManyika to the south east, chiNdau further south, chiTshangani, the various and completely different Zezuru groupings, the Jindwi, Garwes and many more which are too numerous to mention can all be classified as the same Shona language.
If you put just two or three of them each speaking their own unadulterated dialect they can barely understand each other if at all. Shona is certainly not one language or cultural group. Then add the Ndebele and the many various groups who inhabit the western parts of the country like Kalangas, Tongas, Nambiyas, Vendas, Xhosas and many more who contribute to the 16 official languages. Then add the other different races with their own histories and cultures and we cannot ever say Zimbabwe is one united nation with common interests and shared ideologies.
The point of all this lest it gets lost is that Zimbabwe is made up of people with too many diverse interests, racially, socially, linguistically, historically and culturally and even religiously.
It is an overly simplistic and impossible proposition to pretend that we all share the same national aspirations, values and goals. It is not impossible to achieve genuine national unity, but it cannot be achieved until we have thought leaders who dare to ask the right questions and care to solve them.
- Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer with Veritas. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on email@example.com