Defend Truth


Marginalisation and institutionalised tribalism in Zimbabwe – the emergence of the Mthwakazi Republic Party (Part Two)


Thandekile Moyo is a writer and human rights defender from Zimbabwe. For the past four years, she has been using print, digital and social media (Twitter: @mamoxn) to expose human rights abuses, bad governance and corruption. Moyo holds an Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University in Zimbabwe.

A party of young people from Matabeleland, the Mthwakazi Republic Party, believes there is no reason for Matabeleland to remain under the subjugation of Zimbabwe and they have been calling for secession.

The Mthwakazi Republic Party’s argument is that Matabeleland is in fact its own country, called Mthwakazi. They say it is only because of colonisation that the country of Mthwakazi is part of Zimbabwe and the only thing that can bring justice for those suffering in Mthwakazi at the hands of Shona supremacy is secession.

For years, schools in Matabeleland have registered a zero percent pass rate and Matabeleland residents have blamed this on institutional tribalism. They believe government policies against Matabeleland have killed education in the region.

For example, the government deliberately targeted headmasters and teachers during the Gukurahundi massacres. Many were gunned down in front of their pupils, destabilising the delivery of education for four years during the genocide. 

Another factor affecting education in the region is that while the rest of Zimbabwe was flourishing and enjoying peace and freedom post-independence, including the building of schools in Mashonaland, no schools were built in Matabeleland while the genocide was taking place and no infrastructural compensation programme was done after the genocide.

State-run tertiary institutions have historically been known to marginalise non-Shona speakers by rejecting their applications. This happens even at tertiary institutions in Matabeleland, most of which, until the 2000s, were headed by Shona-speaking principals.

For the past 20 years, the enrolment of non-Shona speakers has been improving, but very few are employed after graduation. The officials in charge of employing them allegedly employ Shona speakers at the expense of qualified teachers from Matabeleland, many of whom are unemployed, and at the expense of the education of Matabeleland children, as many of the teachers they deploy are not competent in local languages.

Uproar at Nkankezi Primary School

Last week, five Shona-speaking teachers who had been deployed to Nkankezi Primary School, a rural school in Matabeleland, were removed from the school. This was after parents protested, explaining that there were many things wrong with this deployment.

First of all, the new Zimbabwean schools’ curriculum says children must be taught in their indigenous languages. This means that for the first four years in primary school learners are taught in local languages. This is because the majority of Zimbabwean children encounter English for the first time at school. This then demands that the person who introduces them to the English language must be conversant in their mother tongue.

Second, language is compulsory in primary school and the majority of schools choose between Shona and isiNdebele. It is therefore impossible for a non-isiNdebele speaker to teach Ndebele children both English and the isiNdebele language. 

With so many such deployments of teachers not conversant in local languages taking place in Matebeleland, what hope is there for education of the children of victims of the genocide?

The people of Matabeleland believe that the genocide ended, but left in its place institutional tribalism which has led to the marginalisation of non-Shona speakers in Zimbabwe. Almost all government departments in Matabeleland are led and run by Shona speakers, many of whom refuse to learn local languages and refuse to speak English, forcing Matabeleland tribes to learn to speak Shona if they want services.

They are forced to speak Shona when applying for driver’s licences and documentation such as birth certificates, as well as at roadblocks, making many in Matabeleland feel they are still victims of Shona supremacy. When they mention it to Shona speakers, they deny that this is happening and say “Hey, everyone in Zimbabwe is marginalised by the ruling party, Zanu-PF.”

As I explained in Part One of this article, victims of the Gukurahundi genocide are unable to separate Shona supremacy from the genocide, just as many victims of colonisation cannot separate white supremacy from colonisation. Because genocide is about extermination and subjugation, survivors remember who subjugated them and why. The people of Matabeleland know that it was the government of Zimbabwe that killed them, and they believe that they were killed for being non-Shona. 

And because of this, victims hate Shona people in general.

The Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) has been at the forefront of fighting institutional tribalism in Zimbabwe. It has intervened when recruitment processes have disadvantaged Matabeleland residents. For instance, when KFC opened a branch in Bulawayo and allegedly employed only Shona speakers, the MRP protested and said they would not allow KFC to operate if it did not employ locals.

The MRP, which says it, like Zanu-PF, is a revolutionary party, has vowed to protect Matabeleland from institutionalised marginalisation and tribalism. 

The MRP is considered by many to be an extremist party that is sowing division among Zimbabweans. I think it is a mistake to dismiss it as such. This is because what the MRP says out loud are the things that generations of people from Matebeleland have been whispering among themselves since the genocide happened: Kaliqunywe” – code name for secession. DM/MC


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