Mugabe Stokes Up Tribal Hatred

Dumiso Dabengwa, seen here with Zimbabwe presidential candidate Simba Makoni in the March 2008 elections. This was at White City Stadium

Ya ya yai! (as Leon Schuster would put it). Would you believe I have effectively been locked out of the internet since night Monday night? I use as my service provider a government-owned company and they have suspended my account. I am in the process of trying to sort that out. In the meantime, I have found other means to post but it's very slow and cumbersome, so I hope you bear with me. I say this to explain why I did not put up a post or your comments yesterday. My last post was really on Monday night, though it was technically Tuesday because it was after midnight. I really prefer to be able to post daily and any time something important happens. My alternative, as I have already said, is cumbersome and slow, but hopefully, we will be back with the faster "3G" service from the government ISP soon. Straight to the business of the day then:

Robert Mugabe of "Zimbabwe is mine" fame has adopted a risky strategy for dealing with the revival of ZAPU, the largely Ndebele political party once led by Dr Joshua Nkomo, the father of Zimbabwean and Rhodesian nationalist politics. The strategy, however, could backfire spectacularly, in the first instance because urban dwellers all over Zimbabwe, as well the Ndebele people themselves, have always taken the view that anything condemned by Mugabe has to be good, and anything praised by him is immediately tainted.

The strategy concentrates on Dumiso Dabengwa, the leader of this revived ZAPU. And it is simply to paint Dabengwa as an ethnic impostor, a fake Ndebele. For the last one month now, Mugabe and his ventriloquist dummy (spokesman), George Charamba, have repeatedly and publicly called Dabengwa "Tavengwa", saying that he is not a Ndebele at all, but a Shona, whose true surname, Tavengwa, was "Ndebelised" to Dabengwa.

The thinking is that the Ndebele people will react with revulsion at the prospect of being led by a Shona, especially one who is trying to pass himself off as one of them. It is a cynical ploy that demonstrates amply Mugabe's divisive style of politics that has kept him in power for almost three decades now. He believes that by lying to the people of Matabeleland that Dabengwa is an impostor, that will effectively kill the revived ZAPU in Matabeleland.

The reverse may actually be true: that the people of that region will refuse to accept this propaganda and instead turn out en masse to vote for the party. It is also a strategy that reveals just how deeply worried Mugabe is by the revival of a party he swallowed in 1987 in the much-touted "Unity Accord" between himself and Joshua Nkomo. People may not fully grasp this, especially in light of the fact that Mugabe has not won in the Matabeleland region since the formation of the MDC in 1999. Why would he bother with ZAPU, some ask, when he knows fully well that the region is lost to him anyway?

Mugabe is a strategist. Ask those who have worked with him and they will tell you this. His office, the innocently named President's Office (CIO) does detailed reports and analysis of voting patterns over time and Mugabe has all of this information to hand. Although he does not win elections in Matabeleland, he does get some votes from there. If the few people who vote for him in presidential elections now desert and go to ZAPU, Mugabe's share of the national vote would be noticeably affected. In these times when the difference between Mugabe and the opposition is so narrow, that percentage from Matabeleland could be crucial in deciding the winner of any election.

Mugabe's strategy reveals his archaic thinking: that all Ndebele people hate Shona people with a passion and would never knowingly vote for a Shona person if they have a choice in the matter. By labelling Dabengwa an impostor, not a pure Ndebele, he hopes to capitalise on this imagined hatred. But as I said in my opening paragraph above, this strategy may backfire. Most people who do not vote for Mugabe do not vote for him because they have a visceral hatred of the moustachioed dictator of Zimbabwe. The people of Matabeleland have been at the forefront of opposition to Mugabe since the founding of the modern Zimbabwean state in 1980. Gukurahundi only strengthened their resolve.

Ndebele people are also by far the shrewdest and cleverest voters in Zimbabwe. They interrogate their candidates closely. More importantly, though, they are the only group of people in Zimbabwe who vote based on their own strategic "national" interests. They have routinely asked each other who amongst the candidates offering themselves in that region was the most likely to look after the interests of the Ndebele people on the national stage.Once they decide on that candidate, they tend to stick with him or her and give them a majority of their vote. This was how Simba Makoni was able to garner 45% of the vote in Matabeleland. He campaigned in that area by telling the Ndebele people of his efforts regarding the Zambezi Water Project, an issue on which the people of the area feel very let down by Mugabe. The persistent droughts in the region have meant that, even when the going was relatively good for Zimbabwe, in the 80s and 90s, they experinced famine and, in the cities, water cuts were commonplace, simply because dams in the area did not fill up enough to meet demand. The region survived on grain harvests from the rest of Zimbabwe, which were trucked into Matabeleland to cancel the effect of the drought. (Right now, Matabeleland is suffering even more than the rest of the country, because the new challenges facing the country are simply misery being piled on top of more misery.)

On the drinking water situation, however, there was nothing at all being done and this has been the big bone of contention for the people there. Other issues that have caused bitterness include the fact that infrastructural development in the area is virtually non-existent. Road networks, dams, telecommunications and all manner of development have been lagging in the provinces of Matabeleland. The people of the region believe, with some justification, that this is a deliberate tactic to keep them beholden and dependent on Mugabe's "generosity".

Mugabe's focus on Dabengwa's ancestry, therefore, twisted and untrue though it is, reveals that he is more worried by the split than he lets on in public. Eyeing new elections as he is doing now, he is worried what impact Dabengwa's new party will have in the snap election that he will announce perhaps within the next six months. Certainly, in the absence of Makoni from that poll (if he decides not to run), Dabengwa's party is likely to endorse Morgan Tsvangirai for president. Let me say again that the Ndebele people are the most united people in Zimbabwe. When that region goes for a candidate, they do so overwhelmingly. So, if Dabengwa was to campaign for a candidate other than Mugabe (which he will most certainly do), then that candidate is assured a majority of the vote. Simba Makoni was the last beneficiary of this unity of the Ndebele people. One wonders which way it will swing next.

Intimidation has not worked in Matabeleland because the region has seen massive violence in the past. They have been immunised and violence does not work with them. Mugabe knows this. In fact, it can be said that the region has experienced genocide. Having gone through that massive trauma, nothing much else scares them now. So, despite Mugabe's attempts at intimidation in the region, he has fallen flat on his face every single time. The lesson has been learnt, hence this smear strategy.

The revived ZAPU would be well advised to take note of this strategy by Mugabe and prepare now for the election ahead. They need to think up their own counter-strategy for this. They should know that this is how Mugabe is going to campaign in their area when a new election is called. He and his campaign machinery will hammer home the lie that Dabengwa is not a Ndebele and therefore is not worthy of the support of all true Ndebeles. Mugabe's greatest fear in all this is that his vote will be split by the breakaway of ZAPU from ZANU. He will try every trick in the book to ensure that this will not happen. Intimidation and propaganda like this "Tavengwa" lie will be the only tools available to him during this upcoming election. And he will use them extensively.

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  1. I completely agree that the people of Matebeleland have consistently displayed greater political maturity and unity than other parts of the country. It is distasteful that Mugabe has repaid them by unleashing Fifth Brigade on them and turning a blind eye on their development, no wander there is groundswell inclination towards a federal state or even more radically, secession. The same political maturity saw them dump Welshman, Gibson, Paul Temba-Nyathi and Fletcher for the mainstream MDC. I read this, maybe incorrectly, as a rejection, by Ndebeles, of tribalism in politics in much as they rejected federal and secessionist parties that have tried, understandably so, to rally the Ndebele's, or rather people of Matebeleland, behind their grand vision of separatism. For the same reason, I do not see ZAPU being able to gain ground in MDC-T strongholds. On another note, the majority of Manicaland (Nyanga, Mutasa, Mutare, Chipinge, Buhera) has shown courage and stamina in the face of intimidation by ZANU PF than any other grouping in ZImbabwe. I am of the view that politicians would do well to know the makeup of their constituencies so as to inform them on how to appeal to the electorate. Simba Makoni has easy appeal amongst the corporate world but he needs to work on building his reputation to the general public perhaps using the corporate world. I am disappointed he allowed his relationship with Dabengwa to come to an abrupt end, or am I mistaken?

  2. On the face of it Matebeleland is united but in reality that was ONLY under Nkomo. Dabengwa eventually emerged as the defacto leader thereafter, but he's resided over a fragmenting region something which led to an emergence of new leadership. Ironically it was Mugabe who managed to delay his dethronement by squashing Jabulani Sibanda and Jonathan Moyo who were now emerging as the new leadership of Matebeleland. Even in the absence of these two, Dabengwa still failed to steer the region Simba's way. The region is going to unite, but it will not be under Dabengwa....probably under Jabulani.

    However am I the only one missing something here? Exactly what are Dabengwa's aspirations by going back to a regional platform? Why buy a car, if the journey is to go to the moon? Fine he left Zanu, but already splitting Mavambo before its inception, going back to a regional (if not a tribal) platform, and now trying to unite and then fall under the MDC? All this within one year and we think its just Morgan who is confused? This does not look good at all!

  3. @Mutota, there is method to this madness.

    First, it is completely untrue that Dabengwa will find no support in the region.

    I was there on the day he came out for Simba Makoni at White City. Speaker after speaker from the floor said the same thing and I remember one comment especially: "DD, we have always like you, but the jacket you were wearing was stinking. Now that you have taken it off, we can embrace you again."

    What the new ZAPU is seeking to achieve is not power, that's the second thing. Rather, DD wants the region to retreat back into itself, regroup and come back out on the national stage united.

    This way, he believes, is the best way for the region to have a meaningful say in national affairs. In other words, he knows that ZAPU has the ability to be the power-broker in any election.

    Their united share of the vote will be the percentage that decides to rules this country. Which means they will hold the balance of power basically.

    With this, they can extract concessions from any major party on behalf of the region as a condition of delivering that balance of power and therefore deciding the winner

  4. I knew Mbeki had created trouble for people...Just because Mbeki required Ncube's services for the negotiations which is why he formally brought in MDC-M into the negotiations picture does not mean everyone has to establish their own fiefdoms in order to gain relevance. Dabengwa is not just anyone and given his stature, with or without some constituency, he will carry a lot of weight in any national context. But this trying to over elaborate things will undo him. True that Zapu has a lot of assets which can translate into a lot of money, and true that Zapu can survive an anslaught from Zanu better than the MDC can, but sometimes the negative effects can outweigh the benefits….and sometimes there are better ways to achieve the same goals.

    Not every tactic is a good one. How do you consolidate by dividing it futher and by taking away from potential allainces? Lets face it, the only alliances Dabengwa can form are with Makoni and orMT and or Ncube the same people already commanding a majority....and you are telling me its wiser to get into a fight and risk further rifts? No matter how you want to spin this, it still doesn't sound right. Why do Zimbabwean leaders choose negative tactics all the time? Why can't people choose positive tactics? And here we were thinking Dabengwa will bring something different....leave that to Mugabe please!

    With emergence of Jabulani Sibanda and Moyo now, Matebeleland is not going to have a margin of split wider than 10% whether DD manages to unite anyone...if at all. Still more people came out to see Tsvangirai even when DD had come out!

  5. Denford, Dabengwa's appeal in Matebeleland is much the same as Simba's appeal as a national leader i.e. they both have admirers but never in sufficient numbers to be in the majority. That appeal is so strong that if you only speak to the admirers,you will see Simba in Sate House any time now. The Internet polls before March 29 elections bear testimony to this observation. It's good to dream but sometimes we need to pragmatically turn that dream into reality the Obama way, Denford.

  6. What Mugabe says can be interpreted as an insult to the Ndebele people. Is he saying we are tribalists? Matabelend has been known to vote for wisely. Musika is a Shona who was a an MP for Pelandaba. Alderman Parira Mpofu was voted into the Bulawayo City Council in the 1980s. Matson Hlalo has won elections in Bulawayo. As we all know that tribalism was introduced in Bulawayo by ZANU after 1980. As a Shona growing up in Barbourfields township in the 1960s and 1970s, we never experienced tribalism, the Dzvairos, Rusikes, Mudzakata, Mabodoko, Pasika, Bazaya, Khumalos, Mawema, Ndlovus etc all lived together and played together, until the 1980s when the ZANUnised Shonas started arriving from other parts of the country. They introduced disharmony by their superiority complex, viewing the people of Matabeleland with suspicion. Why is it that, the Shona people who lived in Matabeleland before 1980 do not compain about tribalism in Matabeleland. Its only those late comers who have complained. Shona businessman were very respected in Bulawayo, mention Patsika, Rusike, Chigumira, Zemura, Mutasa, Makoni etc. Matabeleland is a nation in a nation, with no less than 10 languages, Ndebele, Kalanga, Venda, Birwa, Tonga, Nambiya, Shangaan, Dombe, Luvale, Sotho, Xhosa(amaFengu), Tswana , Shona etc. These tribes had managed to live peacefully together until Zanu planted the seeds of disharmony. I am proud of my province, even though I AM Shona by descent, I am also Ndebele by naturalisation. Tsitsi Dzvairo

  7. It surprises me so much that Mugabe alone is blamed for the chaos and mess in Zimbabwe, also in the way people seem to think when he has gone all will be well. I am afraid life is just not like that, blaming Mugabe alone is like blaming Hitler alone for the evil of the third reich. The corrupt, evil regime is due to the ingrained corruption and evil throughout the government of Zanu PF and their supporters (so called war veterans) Mugabe is just a figurehead of this corrupt and spent regime.
    Africa has proven one thing to me, things can always get worse when a leader is deposed. I still remember with clarity the joy when Obote was deposed in Uganda and the hero Idi Amin came to power. Well we all know what happened!!!
    Zimbabwe is just another African country that imploded post independance I am afraid, Africa is littered with such examples. If we do not learn the lessons of history then we are doomed to repeat them.

  8. I heard that you were fired from Dr. Makoni's party, please comment. Is it true or not?

  9. I have already answered that here in my post entitled: Damned Lies and The Zimbabwe Times Again!

    That story was entirely cooked up in the newsroom of the Zimbabwe Times. I have no idea where they got it.

    I am still very at Mavambo and remain in my post. Dr Makoni was as surprised as I was to learn of this from journalists tens of thousands of miles away from Zimbabwe.

    They know best, I suppose.


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