Politics of Ethnicity in Zimbabwe: Jumping from the Pan into the Fire

Book Excerpt from: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream, Volume III (Ideas & Solutions)

Arthur Guseni Mutambara

By Professor Arthur G.O. Mutambara

Mnangagwa’s new Cabinet shocked many because of the crass ethnicity and primitive clansmanship, which degenerated into the shameful appointment of direct relatives.

Well, I am surprised; folks were surprised!

Why and how did you expect anything different?

As I explain in my book: “Emmerson Mnangagwa is a primitive and shameless tribalist without the contrived subtlety, nuances and sophistication which were the hallmark of Mugabe’s tribal machinations.”

What has been the role of ethnicity in Zimbabwean politics? What is going on?

An excerpt of the book is instructive.

Here we go:

As I join the GNU, I was pretty naive about the extent of ethnicity in our politics. A few stories and remarks from Robert Mugabe shake me out of that naiveté. One such narration goes as follows:

“When I crossed into Mozambique with Edgar Tekere on 4 April 1975, one of my immediate personal objectives was to go to Ghana and see where my son Nhamodzenyika was buried.

Hence, at the first opportunity in 1976, I headed to Ghana through London.

While in London, I was put under siege by my Zezuru friends, who included Tichaona Jokonya, Alois Mangwende and Enos Chikowore:

‘What are you doing in a political party of the Karangas and Manyikas? Leave that party and go and work with Abel Muzorewa in the ANC (later to be transformed into UANC).’

This was the Zezuru position after all the ZANU infighting in Zambia, which led to Herbert Chitepo’s death on 18 March 1975.

Most Zezerus had left ZANU with Nathan Shamuyarira in 1971 to form FROLIZI with another Zezuru leader – ZAPU’s former Vice President – James Chikerema.

The top leadership of ZANU’s Dare ReChimurenga (ZANU’s War Council) from 1972 to 1975 now mainly consisted of Karangas and Manyikas.

‘No, no, let us not do that,’ I remonstrated with them. I literally begged them.

‘You only make it worse. As Zezurus, let us stay in and organise from within. In fact, those of you who left, must all come back to ZANU!’”

That is Bona’s son in his own words!

While I am enjoying this riveting historical account, I am shocked and flabbergasted by the crass and shameless acceptance of ethnicity (pejoratively referred to as tribalism) as a principle, value and framework of analysis and organisation.

Before proceeding, it is imperative to interrogate the term tribalism.

It is discredited as a productive concept in political science because it presupposes: primitiveness and savagery; ancient hatreds and irrational violence; and post-colonial return to pre-colonial savagery.

On the other hand, ethnicity is a better term. It is more productive. Ethnic groups are not from antiquity; ethnic groups are a product of post-18th-century modernity.

Nevertheless, all this ethnicity versus tribalism discourse is an exercise in the pursuit of political correctness.

I am not interested in all that gibberish.

Using ethnicity (or tribalism) as a primary tool of political organisation is hugely problematic.

In the above London account, Mugabe is directly and unashamedly asserting his identification with, and commitment to, Zezuru ethnicity to me!

When I look back, historically, it all adds up. When Shamuyarira and Chikerema formed the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (FROLIZI) in 1971, they say that the leader of the new party is Robert Mugabe – then in detention in Rhodesia with other nationalists – who will replace both Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole.

FROLIZI is derisively dubbed the ‘Zezuru Front’. Furthermore, as Robert Mugabe consolidated his leadership of ZANU after the Mgagao Declaration of October 1975, the Geneva Conference of 1976, and the ZANU Chimoio Conference of March 1977 which confirms him as ZANU leader, there is a flood of Zezuru politicians who re-join ZANU, while others join for the first time.

Thus, the construction of the Zezuru hegem

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