Southern Zim: Taking the debate forward

Southern Zim: Taking the debate forward

Happy New Year, dear reader, and a hopeful 2015. My instalment last week drew a vigorous response from individuals largely drawn from one or two political parties, both of them founded on narrow politics, both of them seeking dignity and decency in names from a hallowed past. Of course, I am using vigorous as a euphemism for raw, untamed anger. There was anger, lots of it. Even attempts at intimidation in some cases. Of course I expected expletives, so no surprises at all. And as we say in Shona, panotushuka ronda, urwa harwuperi.

Or in English, where a wound ripens and cracks, expect lots of puss. The matter at hand touches deep emotions, affects careers and prospects and suturing such a wound is bound to be a messy, splattering affair.

Anger is part of the much-needed catharsis, a way of sobering and steadying the national mind for dispassionate engagement, indeed for looking into a common future. The key is not to get intimidated, not to shirk from tackling real issues.

Or to join in the yelling competition to the point of losing the argument and focus.

Without fear or favour
A few more writers threatened to desert the column. Only the previous week they yodelled, yodelled because my pen’s scald fell on some tender skin so far away from their own. They do not mind for as long as the column bites away from them.

The column gets saluted when it tackles a deviance afar, not a foible closer to the bone. Well, today I answer them. I don’t think I run this column to please any quarter, to ingratiate myself with any person or interest, from whichever corner of the country.

Freeing myself from such arresting impulses is how I have been able to tackle any issue, all issues, all the time seeking to bring in a different, hopefully fresh, perspective to national debate. That cannot happen when I write under strictures, whether by way of fears, doubts or debts.

Above all, I try to write from a national perspective in the sense of regarding Zimbabwe as one indissoluble polity with a given history, a united nation which is free and sovereign, yes, a polity which must forever remain free, democratic and African.

I write from a Zanu-PF pedestal. Not simply out of gratuitous loyalty to that Party. But because it remains the Party of national liberation and national unity, a status it can never lose or compete for, but one it could so easily spoil by what it does or does not do, both in the present and into the future.

But because presently it is the only Party whose policies do coincide with the national interest as I see and interpret it, something I hold sacred.

Easier than morality play
At the risk of revealing who I am, let it be known and recorded that the conflict which affected the southern part of Zimbabwe happened when I was at the University of Zimbabwe, then the only university in the country. The impact of that conflict reverberated right through to the portals of that coveted campus, then the only one. There was tension, much of it simplistically drawn along tribal lines: you were Ndebele and therefore Zapu and therefore a dissident; you were Shona and therefore ZANU and therefore a Fifth Brigader.

You were a rebel, you were a killer. An easy world, more cleanly delineated than in a morality play, yet so fatal, so foreboding for the futures of this Nation. I remember one turbulent evening when word spread on campus that Zapu supporters had held a secret meeting with Joshua Nkomo in the lower common room of Manfred Hodson Hall.

For the “Shonas” it was an embarrassing lapse in vigilance. The “enemy” had infiltrated. Someone had to pay. For the Ndebeles, it was a triumph. The Shonas had been beaten and someone had been suitably humiliated. It was terrible, with a senior student official of Zapu, now a prominent publisher, having to flee the campus to avert lynching, indeed to keep his dear life.

Such were those terrible days of conflict. Maybe we have done this nation a disservice by not speaking about them, so the young generation is able to fathom the high price paid by all in times of violent disunity.

Into the Blue Room
I joined the work-a-day world in 1986, just a year before cessation of hostilities associated with that conflict. I was interviewed by two bosses for my maiden job in Government, both of them Ndebele-speaking. Not quite the same as being redeemed by letter “r” in place of letter “l”, as Hlosukwakha, one of my readers alleged, obviously insinuating I was hired on tribal grounds.

And I am interviewed and passed for work in a political office, constitutionally the highest in the land at the time. By the time I get employed, unity talks are just hitting their peak, and my two bosses are in the thick of things.

Then one day — I think it might have been a Thursday — I am asked to prepare a set for a signing ceremony in the functions room at State House. Then at about eleven on that great day, I saw many vehicles pulling in, and very important people alighting, all to be received and led to a VIP lounge, itself a room rich in history. The nationalists had met the British premier of the day in the October preceding November 11, 1965, the day Ian Smith declared UDI. The 1991 Commonwealth Summit had also seen the British Monarch living in that same room.

The late Cde John Nkomo

The late Cde John Nkomo

The day Nkomo sloughed off a bad name
In between arrivals were officials who included my immediate boss, frenetically dashing between points and venues, always armed with sheaves of papers they would not want to show or drop. Soon, the media would also come, partly at my behest.

Everything pointed to some important occurrence. Then my biggest boss moved out of his office, to the receiving point in front of State House. He stood still, half wistful. In pulled a motorcade, adding to the importance of the whole event. A trim man emerged from a Mercedes Benz.

As he stepped out, he buttoned his navy blue suit and adjusted his glasses. Immediately I knew whose characteristic that was and the whole media surged forward for a close-up. Mugabe, then Prime Minister, was received, warmly but not without a clear tinge of nervousness.

The two men retired into a secluded office and a little while later, I saw the late Vice President, Cde Simon Muzenda leading a whole team of persons I knew as Government ministers, leading them out of the Blue Room, as we called the guest lounge.

That team included one Emmerson Mnangagwa, now Vice President of the country. Then in trooped another team, led by none other than Joshua Nkomo, now late, a man we celebrate today and forever as Father of our Nation. On the day, he dragged a more modest, nay suspicious identity, one heavily coloured by the ongoing conflict affecting the Southern part of the country.

Cde Joseph Wilfred Msika (1923-2009)

Cde Joseph Wilfred Msika (1923-2009)

You had to be suitably standoffish with him for official propaganda framed him as the “father of dissidents”. If I remember well, Nkala had coined it. I didn’t quite know everyone in his team but I certainly recognised Joseph Msika, a man who would rise the national ladder almost soon after. I also recognised a smart, suave and bespectacled gentleman who would later turn out to be John Nkomo, yet another figure to go up soon after.

I was struck by a bonhomie spirit of that day, one contradicted by the brooding animosities I knew to colour the outward world.

The men behind the scenes
The whole drama drifted into the functions room. I will spare the reader details of what followed. Suffice it to say the text of the Unity Accord was read, to be followed by signatures of two men: Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, with Canaan Banana — my boss — behind.

Next to Canaan Banana stood my immediate boss, Clifford Sileya, now with CZI. I stood together with the press, on the northern side of the room. The venue was State House; the day was 22nd December, the year 1987, exactly two years after I had joined Government as an Information Liaison Officer to the then State President.

On the officials side was Dr Utete, then Secretary to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. There was Cde Willard Chiwewe, then a key Deputy Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, but on the day a key minute-taker to the unity negotiations.

He showed clear signs of elation, but one shooting above the strain of a drawn out process which seemed hopeless. Many meetings had been held in Munhumutapa Building and Parliament in an indefatigable search for an end to hostilities and for peace and unity.

Cde Chiwewe is alive, now a key advisor to the Zimbabwe Government. Then came the famous embrace, which gave us the picture by which the Unity Accord is now recognised, if not typified. In the background of that embrace is the late Reverend Banana, grinning.

There is a happy Clifford Sileya, then as Secretary to the President, and as my immediate boss. He had played a crucial role in reaching the Zapu side, acting on instructions from Reverend Banana. Today he will tell you how poisoned the environment of those days was, making his efforts and errands seem thankless and even dangerous.



The hard work that followed
Speeches followed, with the first one coming from the late Joshua Nkomo. I still remember what for me passed for the bite of the whole event: Unity is not the signing of documents; unity is what follows, he said. It was put in that cryptic fashion, but to summarise the voluminous work that lay ahead.

Immediately, I saw a formidable symbol behind that huge frame, such that declaring him Father of the Nation was merely a modest completion of a natural right. Amazing how conflicts belittle men of real worth. And huge work indeed lay ahead, get it from me.

The next two years saw two leaders traversing the country, making joint rallies at which the whole agreement was sold to all the corners of the country. Both leaders regretted the conflict. Both leaders vowed this sad chapter had to be closed, never to be re-opened again in this land.

And at those meetings, they spoke to the ordinary villagers, in the case of the Southern Region, spoke to the actual communities which had borne the brunt of the conflict. The two leaders knew their real interlocutors. Not the elites I hear carping nowadays, mumbling about a conflict they know little about, beyond hearsay and poisoned narratives. I attended practically every rally. Thankfully I was still single, thus risked alienating no tender heart.

The conflict that was not one-sided
I got to know Joshua Nkomo better, including that he could speak Shona! I got to know Robert Mugabe better, including that he could speak Ndebele. At all these rallies, I took minutes. And for the first time, the scale of this conflict whose echoes had reached me from the comfort of campus life, became apparent.

Lives had been lost on both sides Southern Zim:
Taking the debate forward in the conflict. Not this one sided, self-serving elitist narrative that locates deaths only on one side of the bloody divide. They were ugly scenes very close to Harare, in the Zvimba area, involving Shona families.

They were ugly scenes in the Mberengwa area, again involving families perceived to be Shonas. One victim, a lady bayoneted by insurgents is still alive, and monthly comes to Harare, wheelchair bound, for routine reviews.

She belongs to the Musoni clan, the clan of my late mother. She is related to a key Government official. One day her story shall be told from that wheelchair. They were ugly scenes involving families and individuals in different parts of Matabeleland, families perceived to be supporters of dissidents, then conflatable to being Ndebele, and so got persecuted for that reason.

Yes, there were white families and individuals who perished in that conflict, including tourists and farmers, most memorably those who perished closer to the Gwaai River, only to be found months later, as bare ashen bones buried in the riverbed of the mighty Gwaai. It was a bad international story for the country.

There was Government equipment burnt to ashes, drawing back infrastructural work that would have changed places, lives. That was the scope and nature of the conflict.

The little men who jump shorter
When I talk about Gukurahundi I do so from a lived experience, not from a synthetic report founded on hearsay or some narrative by some Rhodesian-turned Catholic. I don’t do so from calculated political advantage located some time in the future. I have no such ambitions. I do so from a deep fear. A deep fear arising from knowing the divisive potential of any politics kneaded around this and any such occurrences. Any nation is bound to handle with utmost care any conflict which follows a natural faultline, more so when the faultline has failed to hold together in the past. It is very easy to cause a second failure, to burn a country, generating even greater suffering. I do so knowing how reckless politicians, especially those embittered by the loss of what they view as posts natural to them, can very easily rake fresh these ominous faultlines. They hope to gain from the ensuing conflict, indeed hope to use these natural faultlines to mobilise people for what in reality amounts to a narrow personal quest for power and office.

Often they never make it, usually getting eaten by those conflicts. By they will have burnt a nation. Above all, I do so from deep anger at what I see as an attempt to wreck an accord designed to foster peace in the land, designed by leaders of far greater vision than the little men who prance about getting shorter with each jump at ambition, presently seeking high office they clearly don’t deserve, judging by their little outlooks and warped visions. It is not sheer coincidence that the reissuing of the whole debate on Gukurahundi coincides with new appointments done recently. It is also quite telling that the debate happens on the Internet, in papers and by way of opinion pieces, themselves platforms and instruments which have absolutely nothing to do with the interlocutors of Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe when they sought to present the Unity Accord as a proposal and mechanism for national peace, national healing and national reconciliation.

Whose truth, whose reconciliation?
I referred to a natural faultline. One respondent to my challenge gives his name as Bekezela Maduna Fuzwayo. He denies that the Unity Accord healed the conflict. The “people of Matabeleland” are still pained and bitter, he says. He adds: “these people are still seeking answers to this very sad part of their history . . .” His third reference to the same starts thus: “If WE the people of Matabeleland who are victims do not claim “ownership” to OUR history . . .” He goes further: “You say you have invited people to come out and debate the issue with you in public in a national forum and no one has come forward. In the first place where are you and who are you Nathaniel to call for such a dialogue? Who after all gave you the mandate to make such a call?” He rounds up by making a militant demand: “We are demanding a formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring healing to the country not a lone distorted voice in the wilderness using Kangaroo platforms to score unworthy points.”

You cannot miss the clear attempt to own and privatise that conflict. You cannot miss the attempt to put the same conflict beyond national public discourse, yes, to keep it freshly and inexhaustibly exploitable each time the urge or ambition for some goal arises. The victim starts in the third person impersonal, until all pretenses are cast aside and the conscriptive second person plural “we” kicks in. And the matter gets framed as one between Ndebeles or “people of (not from!) Matabeleland”, and the rest. Who are these “people of Matabeleland”? Villagers from Bhalagwe in Maphisa? Villagers from Dinyane in Tsholotsho? And these villagers demand “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”? That bourgeois gathering which allowed greater amity between African elites and white Afrikaners while bringing no respite to the actual victims of apartheid? Who doesn’t know TRC created a Tutu, while burying for good Steve Biko? Who? Or are we talking about a demand from the half-caste, ambitious middle-class politicians and political activists seeking another enabling conflict or conflict-resolution process as would give them a second chance to their failed politics, failed ambitions?

When Kalangas are Nguni, when Ndaus are Shona!
And the writer gets despicably narrow: “Tactfully you (Manheru) divert from addressing the Ndebele concern and bring in the Kalanga people and try to circumvent them (sic) to believe that they are not part of the Ndebele people. We know the divide and rule tactics that are being thrown into the people of Matabeleland. All the tribes and languages of the South are one under Mthwakazi banner no matter how much effort is put to try and divide us, our cultural practises and history shall always bind us together. Why don’t you start by trying to remove the Ndau from Shona or the Karanga of Manyika from Shona before you tell the Kalanga that they are not part of Mthwakazi or Ndebele? This is very divisive and uncalled for.”

Several issues are provoked and exposed. Fundamentally, here is a tribal bigot with a zero sense of history of this country. He does not know the history of various groups found in the country, and thus cannot know himself or what he claims from history. Historically, the Kalangas do not come from what he calls “the South”. Their origins are not of Nguni, Sir! Historically too, the Ndaus are, to the last hair, of Nguni origin. Much worse, this is one group to which Lobengula was linked by marriage, Sir, under chief Ngungunyana. But that is the nature of the whole debate on Gukurahundi: it is driven by tribal bigots who have no sense of history at all. Who do not hesitate to twist it to suit their refractory conclusions.

Much worse, they seek to conflate everything and everyone into this imaginary superordinate called “Ndebele” or Mthwakazi, blissfully without realising they are trembling on and injuring, thereby reawakening other identities. As it turns out, the writer got a swift and sharp response from one “m2gombo” whose response deserves to be reproduced: “Mr Fuzwayo, I come from Plumtree and I am a Kalanga. First of all, I have never heard of this place called Matabeleland Region. Please help me and tell me where it is located. Tha BaKalanga are themselves. They have nothing to do with the Ndebele except that the Ndebele stole Kalanga territory, cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, sandals, hoes, axes, hats, women, boys, etc. We want our property back.”

One gentleman called Nhuku
Or the response given to one Ndaba Nhuku, another respondent to my article. Calling me a genocidare, Nhuku will not have any discussion on Gukurahundi. It is a property of the “victim”, who is himself and those like him. My article is viewed as “in insult to the people of Matabeleland who bore the bulk of suffering for supporting Zapu, despite their being Kalanga, Ndebele, Sotho, Venda, Nambya, Tonga, Shona speaking, or anything for that matter”. Disagreeing with Nhuku or suggesting discussion around a conflict situation amounts to insulting “the people of Matabeleland”? And who are these people? So where are Zimbabweans found? And Nhuku works himself into a propaganda frenzy: “The man (Manheru) is crudely opening the wounds and reviving the raw pains still being felt by kids who watched their fathers and mothers bayoneted alive, the pain we feel for our relatives and friends and classmates we lost because his master (Manheru’s master, President Mugabe) had momentarily lost his mental capacities during what he called “a moment of madness”! How so arrogant, base and utterly stupid and insensitive to posture over a national shame and blame the wronged for feeling victimised?

How so arrogant to ask the people of Matabeleland and Midlands not to “own” their pain from the Gukurahundi era? When it comes to Gukurahundi, Manheru has no right to tell Matabeleland when to cry, mourn or shut up!” Apart from being shut up from discussing what Nhuku calls “a national shame”, apparently one which does not require national discussants, I am accused of participating in the conflict by virtue of where he thinks I work! And the victims are never traceable personages, no, only cousins, kids, mothers, classmates, etc, etc! We are given synthetic victims not because real victims do not exist, but because those pretending to push for their cause have no knowledge of, or contact with them! And they do not need that contact, lest they are exposed and contradicted. What they only need is Coltart’s narrative, and of course bitterness against the leadership in Government. That was my point last week, my illustrated point this week, thanks to these respondents.

Back to the pull of office
Nhuku puts it plainly: “Manheru, Gukurahundi can never be shelved! The Gukurahundi victims will never shut up!! Anyone appointed as Zanu-PF leader from Matabeleland will be examined, measured and judged according to his role at that “moment of madness. Pain comes at anytime, and more so when some appointments or promotions take place to revive that pain.” You can’t miss the import of it all. Surely a Dabengwa who gets appointed as a Zanu-PF leader before that pain goes away is eating on that pain, and thus should be “examined, measured and judged” according this moment of madness? Or is it about anyone else except Dabengwa? And if Gukurahundi “affected everyone” to the point of “indeed (becoming) a national issue . . . that affects our national collective conscience and national cohesion”, to the point of being “the genesis of our post-colonial struggle”, why fear a discussion around it? Why make it a selective preserve of chosen discussants who enjoy the prerogative of deciding when and where to make it an issue and when and where not to make it one?

One bigot courts another
My real point was the reaction which Nhuku got for himself. A lengthy one came from one “Les” who accuses him of being a conspiracist who raves himself to “idiocy of the highest order”. Then Les urges Nhuku to “accept the simple truth that Zimbabwe population ratio stands as follows: Shona is 82 percent of Zimbabwe’s population and Ndebeles about 15 percent. On that score alone, common sense would dictate that whether you like it or not, Shona people. Will outnumber Ndebele in all spheres where random selection applies . . . I really hope the writer and those like him, would educate themselves, that Ndebele language is not large as they were brought up to believe. That is why in 1987 Joshua Nkomo was heard admitting “sibalutswane” meaning “we are few”. In other words, it took him a good seven years to realise that Ndebeles are a minority in Zimbabwe.

In the 1980 elections, Nkomo really believed he would win the elections? That was political immaturity so glaring. Other responds recalled the precolonial conflict between the so-called Ndebeles and the so-called Shonas, implying the so-called Ndebeles lost their right to be aggrieved from the conflict of those years!

When the genie escapes from the bottle
This Les guy makes an appalling response, one which he seeks to give scientific and historical plausibility through inaccurate statistics and false citations. For him opportunities must be based on numerical value of constitutive tribes, not on deservedness for appointments or placements. And his argument is buoyed by others who think conflicts from history must be exhumed to even arguments, to distribute guilt. And like their Gukurahundi-owning counterparts cited above, the whole matter gets framed in terms of tribal affiliations, a nomenclature that pales the notion and nation-state called Zimbabwe into insignificance. These are perfect equals, only on opposite poles, both of them injurious to national consciousness, good and even peace. And that is my point: check what genie escapes from the bottle unscrewed by this reckless discourse on Gukurahundi! Check what fertile ground there is to grow it, indeed the predisposition to its receptivity, thanks to faultlines of history, region and ethnicity. What reflexes or responses it provokes! Is this the gorgon we want to unleash on our futures, the ruin we court at a time when the last signatory of the Unity Accord is beginning to wave a foreboding goodbye? And all because of bigots and egotists who do not hesitate to revive and stoke fires of conflict for personal ambitions?

Great lessons from history
Munhumutapa saw the limitations of a narrow Zimbabwe, both geographically and by politics and culture. He created a far-flung polity that covered the whole land right up to the sea. The successor dynasty of the Varozvi, did pretty much the same, locating their spiritual centre down there in Matabeleland. The Kalangas were the guardians of those shrines, but guardians who knew where the capital was. The politics and the spirits jellied to national cohesion. Fast forwarding to the early 1840s, Mzilikazi knew he had left the South and was now of this new land called Zimbabwe: with its diverse ethnic groups, different spiritual practices and spanning swathes of land between the Limpopo and the Zambezi. He conquered, he incorporated, and above all, he embraced the spirituality of the land, with all its pantheon of gods. That way, the land became peaceable, governable. After him, Lobengula ruled by the same philosophy steeped in the actual land, this land. He did not hanker after the South he could never return to; he accepted he had been settled in the North by his forbears, by his history. He pushed frontiers for a wider Zimbabwe. Today, we embrace that as our national history, whatever our ethnic identities. There is no history of narrowness to fall back on, only narrow politicians from no history to shun. Gukurahundi was not the first conflict to afflict this land. And let that be known. I hope it is the last, but cannot be with the small-mindedness I have met above.

The last challenge before total dawn
But out of all conflicts of our restless history, including the colonial one, has always emerged a bigger Zimbabwe that proves a melting post for new, larger identities. Last December, Zanu-PF tackled a tricky situation of leadership and integrity, tackled it with pluck and candour. That dealt and hopefully settled the leadership issue. Today Zanu-PF needs the same pluck and candour to deal with a potentially fatally divisive factor of ethnicity, expressing itself as synthetic bitterness raised and nurtured in the name of victims of Gukurahundi, yet unknown and offering nothing to them. That bitterness is about improving the appeal of Mthwakazi party, about providing Dabengwa and his anaemic Zapu with some credible platform from which to claim Vice Presidency he so recklessly threw away through mindless, breakaway dissent. It would be sad if Robert Mugabe, now the only surviving signatory to the Unity Accord, bows out, leaving this nation at the peril of centrifugal politics of disunity and recidivism. I shudder the thought. Icho!

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