Ethnicity and succession politics

A disturbing narrative seems to be gaining currency among some characters in Zanu-PF who are positioning themselves for a post-President Mugabe era.

Once a shameful thing to openly talk about, ethnicity is being openly used as a political tool. Some within the ruling party are fixated with the matter.

These asinine political gymnastics have seen desperate characters resort to evoking tribal and ethnic sentiments to “de-legitimise” perceived adversaries.

It is sad that stoking tribal flames is becoming a fashionable political tool.

The phenomenon is spreading across the political divide, but is worrying pronounced in Zanu-PF as the governing party.

Primordial sentiments of whether one is Ndebele, Zezuru, Venda, Karanga, Ndau or Manyika find space in national political discourse in a manner reminiscent of bygone years of senseless wars.

In the labyrinth of this poisonous discourse emerges Temba Mliswa, the National Assembly representative for Norton.

The headline-seeking legislator talks about a Zezuru hegemony impeding other tribes from taking over the presidency.

Mliswa goes as far as claiming that the “grass is ready to burn” as people are becoming exasperated with the Zezuru clan’s monopolised power.

His actual words; “We cannot have a situation where we are monopolised by one tribe. They are not superior and not even educated … Somebody has to just start the fire by throwing a match stick into the bush. That is what I have done today. The grass is ready to burn. Let us see how far the fire will go.”

Of course, Mliswa is a renegade who has no gravitas to speak on Zanu-PF’s internal matters.

But his intolerance seems to be mirrored within some in the ruling party who have made it their pastime to constantly refer to the ethnicity as being at the centre of their silly succession schemes.

Zimbabweans are to blame for letting such stupidity reign supreme in our nation. This stupidity has the potential of torching the landscape in devastating fashion.

While some politicians seem to want to evoke tribal sentiment for their own selfish parochial ends, no normal person wakes up everyday consciously thinking of his or her being a Ndau, Karanga, Zezuru or Manyika, or planning to undermine other ethnic groups.

Let’s unpack ethnicity and tribalism; the two seemingly interchangeable words that are poisoning our national political discourse.

Although different, ethnicity and tribalism appear almost inseparable, especially when referenced to Africa by Western journalists and other writers. It is this negative conceptualisation that is rising in our national discourse.

It is fallacious to look at ethnicity and tribalism through an ethnocentric lens for this impulsively leads one into believing that one’s group is superior to the other.

The Hutus’ case against the Tutsis in Rwanda comes to mind.

In the true historical context of Africa, an ethnic group is a group of people whose members are identified through common traits.

These may include common heritage, common culture, shared language, or dialect and also common ancestry and religion. Thus an ethnic group is much broader and comprises several tribal groups.

Tribalism refers to a strong loyalty to one’s tribe, party or group. Group may refer to religious, political or even social groups.

Loyalty to a group isn’t entirely bad, but the cock-eyed manner in which it is peddled by some of our politicians has the potential of poisoning national cohesion and unity.

The simple logic here is that extreme tribalism and ethnocentrism give rise to war and tribal conflicts.

The point is that the nation urgently need to formulate a new existential epistemology paradigm that is different from the one being imposed by parochial politicians.

The idea of constructing objective reality stems from a better understanding of who we are as Zimbabweans.

And that endeavour starts first by de-Westernising the negative labels of tribe and ethnicity.

Never in the trajectory of Zimbabwe should the narrow and connotative idea of a tribe and ethnic group be allowed to take root to the extent of being peddled as being part of the national question.

Political scientist Masipula Sithole articulated it well when he said ethnicity exists more in leaders than in the masses.

This view is shared by national hero Dr Nathan Shayamurira.

In his “Crisis in Rhodesia” (1966), Dr Shamuyarira eloquently writes about the dangers of unguarded ethnic outbursts.

“The danger of an outburst of tribal feeling is always there, as in other African countries, and cannot be minimised … although one can state quite firmly that the temperature of tribal feelings is much lower here, it is no more than a distant danger that has to be guarded against.”

Zimbabweans have a lot to learn from countries like Ghana, which since its independence in 1965, has shunned ethnicity when it comes to national discourse.

Although the Akan are the major ethnic group there, leaders are chosen from the entire country. Immediate past President John Mahama does not belong to the Ashanti or Akan.

Ghanaians exhibit their tribal, ethnic and national pride, and this could be taken as an ingredient for its peaceful existence. There is no need to spill blood to protect our ethnic or tribal pride. There is absolutely no need to de-legitimise another tribe’s potential for leadership based on parochial “sensibilities”.

Politicians must desist from sowing seeds of extreme ethnicity and ethnocentricity. Zanu-PF should rise above such a narrow praxis. As President Mugabe has highlighted, Zanu-PF has a clearly-defined constitutional code of electing leaders, and leaders come from the people.

Every member must, in the process of endeavouring to build a solid nation-state, rally behind the one chosen by the people.

Inflaming tribal sentiment is a treacherous proposition that should never find space in Zimbabwe’s political discourse.

This piece of Ghanaian idiomatic wisdom is telling: “If your foot slips, you can recover your balance: If your tongue slips, you cannot recover your tongue.” — Zimpapers Syndication Services

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