Ndebele vs Shona: A nation divided

With the incessant power cuts, to stave off the boredom that comes with being televisionless, I have increasingly found myself seeking refuge on the social networking sites. This week I happened upon a group I didn’t know existed: Ndebele vs Shona: Battle of The Stereotypes.

Facebook presented this as a ‘suggested page’ on my timeline. The suggestion note read ‘so and so (a writing associate who I hold in high esteem) has liked Ndebele Vs Shona.’ Naturally my curiosity was aroused.

Entering this page, I almost threw up at the filth flying through the air. This is a group whose aim, I discovered, is for the two tribal groups to hurl abuse at each other, in the same manner that the ancestors flung poison tipped arrows at each other in the 1890s.

I was both repulsed and saddened to discover that, in the 21st century, we still see each other as enemies, purely on the languages we speak. Since the first time I entered this group, it has become a ‘closed group,’ meaning that the goings on are probably the same but are concealed from the general public.

That itself scares me more because it leaves the imagination wondering as to what new hate speeches are being composed and delivered behind that closed door.

A hundred years ago, acres of land, herds of cattle were lost because of the lack of unity. From Cape to Cairo, Africans were colonised and placed beneath the hard heel of the foreigner, not because of the superiority of European weapons but mainly because of a lack of unity among sons and daughters of Africa. All the chiefs needed to do was to send runners from one village to the next, calling for a united defence of the continent, advising those that were further inland to be vigilant and wary of the newcomers.

But instead, when a look-out in Limpopo heard the screams of a Nguni woman being raped, he said, ‘Ugh man, that’s just the Zulus being slaughtered. Serves them right.’ Moving beyond all that, we can look at the genocide that claimed 800,000 lives in Rwanda during the Hutu-Tutsi tribal war.

The match that lit the fire was abuse. ‘Cockroaches’ one tribe called the other, reducing the importance of life, by that one word. Even during Africa’s painful past, there were words like ‘baboon’ and ‘bobojan,’ which, I am sure, lessened the guilt as one group oppressed another.

When men with red berets arrived in Matebeleland and leapt from Puma trucks and buried 20,000 bodies in mass graves – we will never know this for certain – but what might have made it easy for them to bayonet-shoot-rape is that they regarded these lives as inferior.

‘It’s only a dzviti, kill them!’ Apart from the ignorance and stupidity (of the man who created this Facebook group and those that joined it) the activities taking place on this group might really be a symptom of the unhealed wounds that fester beneath the surface both in Matebeleland and Mashonaland.

Great grandfathers, bitter at the loss of cattle to Mzilikazi and Lobengula may have whispered words of hate into the ears of their progeny who in turn passed on this inherited anger. More recently, fathers who returned home from working in Bulawayo to find deep tyre marks of Puma trucks, violated wives inconsolable in their grief and tearful orphans seated among burning huts, were angry too and passed on the hatred to their children who might have been too young to remember. And so the hatred lives on like the ageless sun and moon. But when will this end? Will it come to a gory conclusion when we see fresh killings? When blood sprays from swinging machetes? When we see another Rwanda?

Agents of the state have infiltrated social networking sites and in some chat groups they outnumber civilians. They are distinguishable by their parroted words – ‘you are a puppet of the West, Zimbabwe will never be a colony again’ – and their shady Facebook accounts which hold only one photograph and show no friends at all, suggesting that their accounts are mere vessels for their daily job of policing the thoughts and dialogues of the citizenry. If these men and women, with their limitless resources, were true patriots, they would not turn a blind eye as the possibility of another Rwanda, another Gukurahundi slowly but surely grows right under our eyes.

The government for years pretended that nothing happened in the 80s, human rights groups unearthed several cases of rape, torture and murder but all this was swept beneath the carpets of important offices. The closest we have come to a presidential apology is flippant reference to the murderous eighties as ‘a moment of madness.’ Really? That’s all it was? A moment of madness.

Perhaps that is the reason the wounds have not healed. It is hard to treat a festering boil, if one dismisses it as ‘only a mosquito bite.’ It is impossible to save a gangrenous limb if he that bares it dismisses it as just a bruise. In the absence of public gesture by government, in the absence of a ceremony of truth, justice and forgiveness, without due compensation from those that sent trucks of death to Lupane and Tsholotsho, it is left to the ordinary citizens to take the lead.

We cannot build a nation when we still think of each other as rival tribes. What good citizens of Zimbabwe can do is to shun groups like this one that divide this beautiful country of ours into camps, based on totems, tribes and tongues. If you have a friend who is a member of this shameful group – Ndebele Vs Shona – draft a letter, telling them the error of their ways, seal it with a tear and mail it right away.

What the sharp assegais of 1893 and the lethal Gukurahundi bayonets of the 1980s taught us – if not the evil of man – is that whether born from the sacred womb of Nehanda or the royal loins of Mzilikazi, we all bleed the same colour. Sonke sopha elibomvu. Tese tinojuja ropa dzvuku. My heart is sad and my pen is capped. – Jerà

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis
  1. Khumalo

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