Friday, December 25, 2015

Dangers of Ethnic Conflict in Zimbabwe
December 25, 2015
Joram Nyathi Spectrum
Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Chronicle

President Robert Mugabe and the late Vice President Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo after the signing of the Unity Accord on December 22, 1987

IF there is one thing our short history as an independent state should teach us, it is that no one can fit into the massive shoes of the late Father Zimbabwe. It is that it is impossible to revive the Zapu which the late former Vice President Joshua Nkomo formed and led.

That short history teaches us about the dangers of ethnic conflict, regardless of who instigates the divisions for whatever purpose, and that a bad (compromise) political deal can be better than no deal at all.

Then as I look around, I am constantly reminded that Zimbabwe’s struggle to repossess and own its natural resources is far from over, leaving one wondering at Zanu-PF’s seeming complacency which has turned much of national focus into its internal strife while forcing dispirited Zimbabweans to look with nostalgia at Rhodesia’s deformities which they now seek to cover in resplendent apparel.

This week the nation commemorated the 28th anniversary of the signing of the historic Unity Accord on December 22, 1987. Cde Nkomo signed that accord with President Mugabe to end the bloodletting then taking place in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands provinces. That accord marked the end of Zapu as a political party, and the emergence of Zanu-PF. The entire former Zapu hierarchy became part of Zanu-PF, with Cde Nkomo becoming one of the two Vice Presidents.

Moment of madness

Dumiso Dabengwa, a freedom fighter who needs no justification from anyone, is one of the members from Zapu who became a senior member of Zanu-PF. He became a member of the politburo and served for a long time in the Cabinet as the Minister of Home Affairs.

Unity Day has been celebrated since then as one of the historical milestones of independent Zimbabwe.

President Mugabe was later to express his remorse over that darkest experience of our independent nation between 1983 and 1987 when he described Gukurahundi as a “moment of madness” which should never be repeated. That accord gave us peace, unequal as it might seem to some, something Cde Nkomo was desperate for, something for which he was prepared to compromise and sacrifice his reputation.

It’s a public secret that many who didn’t go through the pain he experienced personally and through the violence then going on in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces, have self-righteously accused him of selling out, assuming a moral high ground far removed from the exigencies of the time.

It is also no secret the killings had an ethnic character to them, which is why they are viewed in some quarters as a form of ethnic cleansing or genocide. Dabengwa should know all this more than anyone living from the former Zapu. Which is why one finds the timing of disparaging comments about the Unity Accord on Unity Day attributed to him in the Daily News of December 22 most inappropriate and insulting of the memory of Cde Nkomo, especially evocations of “Gukurahundi ethnic massacres of the 1980s which targeted Matabeleland and Midlands provinces”.

In reference to the day’s activities in particular, Dabengwa is quoted as saying in his statement; “When that (Unity Accord) is commemorated … you should remember it is a lasting reminder of how hunger for unchallenged power can needlessly lead to the criminal slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people … The country is facing unprecedented hardships brought on by over 35 years of Zanu-PF’s battering of the economy and integrity of state structures.”

In all this he is forced to acknowledge, albeit grudgingly; “Zimbabwe has a major task ahead to translate the current macro-economic stability into higher GDP growth through acceleration of private investment.”

To some of us any reference to ethnic alliances in politics has a chilling effect, given the experience of Gukurahundi. It is a legacy we wouldn’t want to bequeath to progeny. For Dabengwa to then suggest commemorating Unity Day should be viewed in this negative spirit is very dangerous. He is in fact saying those most affected and hence the biggest beneficiaries of national unity in terms of the immediate peace dividend, should not be part of those commemorations. They should nurse a perpetual grievance against ethnic groups adjudged guilty, even if generationally, the guilty ethnic groups are “innocent”.

He is further suggesting Cde Nkomo was ill-advised to sign the Unity Accord, that he acted unilaterally even as leader of Zapu, or that the rest of the party’s central committee members acted in bad faith throughout, until Dabengwa himself decided to quit Zanu-PF in 2008, 20 years later, in a bid to raise Zapu from the grave! What a protracted learning period for somebody with ambitions to lead the country and was a key strategist for Zipra forces. Cde Dabengwa should be wary not to give hostage to fortune.

90 years of Eden, 35 in hell?

We are used to many of the ideologically-bankrupt political parties making infantile statements implying problems for Africans in Zimbabwe began with majority rule in 1980, that before that we lived in the Garden of Eden, hence the constant reference only to the past 35 years whenever such people discuss economic challenges faced by Zimbabweans.

It is such reckless talk which emboldens the likes of Eddie Cross to treat blacks with contempt, spit at the hand of reconciliation extended specifically to whites at independence and to still refer to communal lands as “Tribal Areas” as he kept doing in his article in the Zimbabwe Independent of December 18. (I should revisit that article in greater detail next week for its dangerous implications for this country.)

We expect people like Dabengwa to have a better appreciation of history instead of trying to sanitise our long night of colonial servitude. We know others do it for money. Cde Dabengwa should be able to frown on the 30 pieces of silver. His sterling sacrifices for this country cannot be extinguished or besmirched by a personal pique with Zanu-PF and his decision to quit.

Zapu is gone forever

Dabengwa made a personal decision to quit Zanu-PF in 2008; he was ill-advised to think he could resurrect Zapu. Zapu committed wholesale suicide in 1987 for a worthy cause, regardless of whether that suicide was voluntary or otherwise. After quitting Zanu-PF, Dabengwa sought to use the name of the former Zapu to appeal to a diminished and diminishing population of diehards who belonged to Nkomo’s Zapu and voted for it on pain of death in the middle of Gukurahundi and a state of emergency in 1985.

Such followers felt betrayed by the Unity Accord. There was a rupture between those diehards and the party leadership. That is why it became difficult thereafter for any former member of Zapu to win an election in Matabeleland, giving undeserved popularity to the MDC when, by hindsight, it made its dolourous appearance on the political scene in 1999.

The people Dabengwa wants to appeal moved on in the period of his dalliance with Zanu-PF and he is trapped in a time-warp.

Alternatively, the youth are largely a detribalised lot and have a tenuous attachment to ethnic politics, if for nothing else, at least for existential reasons. Those who exclude themselves from economic imperatives of the day because of Gukurahundi are being left behind and the youth know better how to take advantage of what Dabengwa acknowledges as the “macro-economic stability” in the country.

That is why Zanu-PF won so overwhelmingly in Matabeleland in the 2013 harmonised elections despite a lot of moralising about Gukurahundi by the opposition. It is sad when respected independence heroes like Dabengwa seek to hold back the march of history by harping on ethnic wrongs of the past which they seek to plant in future generations. There are better ways to honour Cde Nkomo’s memory.

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