We should not play ethnic politics

Someone whose totem is the Shumba doesn’t have to feel superior to one whose totem is the African Fish Eagle or Hungwe

Someone whose totem is the Shumba doesn’t have to feel superior to one whose totem is the African Fish Eagle or Hungwe

Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
When some people firmly believe that the President of the Republic should not come from certain parts of a country, they are prejudiced bigots. Prejudiced people think ill of people belonging to other groups and sub-groups. They have negative predispositions against individuals that come

from a different social group. They always evaluate that other or those other groups negatively and theirs as supreme.

Prejudices are not inherent in people from birth. They are not innate. One is not born thinking that Karanga or Ndau people are mabharanzi (whatever that means) because of their dialects, language or accents.

Neither is one born thinking low of people that find rodents (mbeva) a delicacy in their culture they have no culinary value. All these oversimplified notions or stereotypes are learned from fellow simpletons within one’s own groups or families.

There are times when they are generated as a counter-measure against extreme ethnocentricism itself which can be perceived as tribalism. An example is some Karangas consider themselves very learned and everyone else is intellectually inferior. The other person counters by saying how can a person who says “masvokis” for socks consider themselves sophisticated. There starts inter-ethnic antagonism which normally begins as banter but develops into very deeply seated bigotry.

If ethnocentricism is defined as a basic belief in the superiority of one’s cultural practice and ethnic group then it is a cousin of tribalism and it is bad for Zimbabwe. But if it means a strong sense of pride in one’s ethnic belonging and solidarity within that ethnic grouping without the exclusion or negation of all others then it is not such a bad thing. Once the element of viewing ethnicity which is different with negative spectacles then it is no longer different from racism and it is wrong.

But if it is just pride in one’s being then there is nothing wrong. This columnist is of a Mthombeni totem which is some kind of a Nguni elephant.

He doesn’t have to feel superior to the African Fish Eagle or Hungwe. He just has to be very proud of his own totem and hold it dear. The same applies to the Lions, be it a Sipambi or a Murambwi or a Mhazi none is superior to the other but each one is extremely content to be what it is.

If that’s how ethnocentricism works then it can be argued that it is a virtuous trait. How can it not be when one finds the Tshumas (Sheep) being as proud as the Sibanda (Lion) without the latter literally viewing the former as its prey? This kind of pride is just absolute. It is not comparative. None of the tribal totems is superior to another. So neither is any of the tribes superior to the next as well. Just imagine if that were the case, where would the Gumbo Madyirapazhe be? Wouldn’t the zondo be among the biggest jokes of the lot? But no, they are not. On the contrary they have one of the most poetic praise songs out there.

If one says that their father is a great father, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are disrespecting all other fathers out there. Same for one who is so proud of their country. When they laud their country, it does to mean that they are denigrating any other country. When they wear their national colours incessantly, they are not declaring war on any other nation. They are just being proud of who they are.

Why would someone whose totem is Soko (Baboon/Ncube) be offended when someone whose totem is Dziva (Fish/Siziba) is praise singing their clan? If that is a pathetic notion then why would someone else be offended when, say, a Karanga speaks in their mother tongue? If someone speaks very strong unadulterated Ndau, they are not disrespecting their Karanga compatriot. They are just a proud Ndau speaker.

The same applies to someone speaking very strong Karanga and call a fellow Karanga WeZhiraimwe or simply WeZhira. Why should it offend a third party? Who is the bigot here, the speaker or the one who has taken offence? Who is harbouring a tribal sentiment? A lot would agree that it is the one who is taking offence whose has identity insecurities.

Ethnic identities can be integrated without prejudice and a strong cohesive society and nation can still be built without making a people appear homogenous. A nation is made of communities and not some formless bunch of people lumped together. Even the so-called developed countries have these sub-groups within their nations.

They don’t use them to divide the people or whip up hate. The strength of many is always in diversity but that should always come with equal opportunities. For example, anyone with the right qualifications, policies and vision should be allowed to be the leader of our great nation regardless of their ethnic origin. Even from the so-called “minor tribes” a President should be able to emerge. That is meritocracy and not some misplaced desire to promote tribalism in the name of being a majority. Everyone saw what that kind of politics did to Kenya in 2007.

So for the avoidance of any doubt, there is nothing wrong with ethnocentricism as long as it does not connote superiority. But there is a lot wrong with tribalism or regionalism. As most are aware, tribalism is really a term that is used so loosely in Zimbabwe circles. Most of what are called tribes are too varied and indistinct to have the features of a tribe. They are just regions and dialects but certainly not a tribe. However, that’s a just an orbiter dictum. The simple point is that there should never be a negative attitude towards an out-group. That is prejudice.

South Africans are not better people than Zimbabweans and vice versa. Everyone’s language is a “kwerekwere” to those who do not speak it. But none is inferior to the other.

People should not narrowly accept those that speak like them and eat their diet while at the same time rejecting those that have a different ethnic heritage and therefore speak differently and have different customary practices. Not a single cultural practice can be said to be the norm. Those that choose to eat rodents that’s their heritage. So are those that choose to eat animal blood mixed with Chibuku. It’s their right as well.

There is nothing out of place about that besides prejudice. Those who watch cookery television programmes are always surprised by what Westerners call African diet of eating Mopani worms and the many other insects like crickets (gurwe) “gross” because they think they are creepy crawlies and yet salivate at the thought of eating prawns, snails, squids, oyster and octopus which those Africans from landlocked countries would find quite revolting. They forget that those that live near big water bodies like seas find their foods from the sea and those that live on the land find their own creepiest crawlies from the land. No nutrition is weird but just exotic to the outsider.

Two people should be able to sit at the same table with one eating a locust whilst the other is shelling a crab. One shouldn’t be disgusted by the other’s culinary choice. The same applies to different ethnic groups within Zimbabwe. Your mbeva should not disgust those that eat umshiya and vice versa. If one does that they are intolerant and therefore a bigot.

Ian Smith and his racist gang subjugated blacks on the grounds that they were inferior and could not rule Zimbabwe (not in a thousand years). If there is anyone in Zimbabwe who believes another Zimbabwean should not become president of the country primarily on the grounds of the region they come from or the dialect that rolls off their tongue, that person is worse than Ian Smith for black on black discrimination is worse than white on black. These few misguided elements who harbour this misconception are people of small minds bogged down by pettiness on serious matters. Should some people continue on this pathway, Zimbabwe will never be able to take advantage of its social capital.

Some of the inter-ethnic mistrust is initiated by national politicians politicising ethnic differences in a prejudiced way. One will find that at a lower level people are working well together, intermarrying and there is no problem with inter-ethnic contact. Just wait for the narrow-minded politician to start politicising the ethnicity and the country is torched. Suddenly peacefully co-existing groups become antagonistic and prejudicial ethnic stereotypes start flying.

If people are judged on their merit and not superficial qualities, if the top job is also taken on the same basis, then Zimbabwe can achieve its state of actualisation.

Whether someone says “masvokisi” or “masokisi”, “linjani”, “makadini” does not inform what sort of a national leader they are or will be. The country should embrace merit and equal opportunities for all its citizens regardless of the region they come from.

No single ethnic group should be exalted above all others.

Those that flirt with pretentious spirits of entitlement because of an accident of birth should not be allowed to use that ethnic background as currency to either stop the political progress of those deserving or as political currency to float their own intolerant boat.

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