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Mthwakazi Nationalist Particularism: A pitfall to the resolution of regional question of Matabeleland

23 Jul 2020 at 07:47hrs | Views
In recent times the political framing of the question of regional development of Matabeleland has increasingly sought to locate Matebeleland citizenship and nationhood within the broader narrative of the Zimbabwean state. This framing can be viewed as part of the evolving statehood of Zimbabwe and the attendant questions rising mostly from post-independence statecraft which has created perceptions and realities of a deliberate policy of exclusion, marginalisation and under-development in the past 40 years. Activists and politicians from the region have increasingly become agitated and persistently question the state society relations panning out in Matebeleland. This is understandable considering that such realities exist within a context of a very sad and unfortunate episode of state sponsored violence which has remained an elephant in the room since independence – Gukurahundi.

One emerging and persistent voice in the quest for resolutions to the seemingly intractable regional woes is the Mthwakazi nationalist movement manifesting itself in various political and civic formations and persuasions. This submission problematizes the Mthwakazi movement as a form of nationalist particularism which presents various pitfalls to the regional development agenda of Matebeleland.

Before I delve into the substantive content of my submission, it is prudent that I frame my arguments within clear conceptual lenses. To this end, I attempt to explain the key conceptual and contextual framing of Mthwakazi nationalist particularism within the Matabeleland debate.

Mthwakazi Nationalist Particularism

Particularism is a political thinking which suggests that each political group has a right to promote its own interests and especially without regard to the interests of the larger groups, as opposed to universalism. The problem with this school of thought is its tendency to explain complex social phenomena in terms of a single causative factor. To contextualise this concept on the Mthwakazi nationalism we look at the key ingredients of particularism which are:

The exclusivism of pursuing the interests of a certain group of people without regard for the interests of the larger group.

Mthwakazists seem to pursue its own political interests anchored on the rebirth of the Mthwakazi state regardless of the interests of the rest of the non-Mthwakazi people of Matebeleland who happen to be the majority. This has been pursued through the brazen attempt to incorporate everyone in Matebeleland into the Mthwakazi identity and the downplaying of the diversity of Matebeleland. It has also been pursued by means of prescribing that everyone in Matebeleland should subscribe to secession as the ultimate solution to the problems facing the region. The pursuit of own separate interests of various socio-cultural groups of Matebeleland is branded as a promotion of disunity and a Shona sponsored effort to undermine these Mthwakazi nationalism.

The crude reductionism of complex social phenomena into a single causative factor.

The Mthwakazi nationalist conviction is predicated squarely on the pre-colonial Mthwakazi statehood in term of territory, nation and monarchy (government). It questions the inclusion of ‘Mthwakazi' in the post-colonial Zimbabwe and protests that it is under rule by conquest. In their narration, the problem of Matebeleland is Shona triumphalist hegemony, Shona incompetence, Shona corruption and Shona tribalism framed within Shona Colonialism of Mthwakazi. It proposes secession and the creation of a Mthwakazi state consisting of all people in Matebeleland and Midlands as a solution. Its reasoning therefore is that separation of Mthwakazi from Zimbabwe is a silver bullet to solving the problems of Matebeleland.

This framing of the Matebeleland problem and its solution disregards the complexities of the problems of the region and deliberately applies selective amnesia to the rule by conquest of Kalangas, Tongas, Sothos, Nambyas, Vendas and other nations during the advent of the same Mthwakazi state. It also fails for example to account for the incompetence and corruption of Matebeleland leaders and institutions themselves, with the Bulawayo City Council as a classic example.

Pitfalls of Mthwakazi nationalist particularism

The tendency to frame the regional development question of Matebeleland as that which can be resolved through turning to Mthwakazi nationalism whose endgame is cessation and the creation of separate state presents various pitfalls to the regional agenda. In this article, I will view the particularism of Mthwakazi nationalism within the ambit of; problematisation and politicisation, pluralism of interests and the precarity of legitimacy and the shifting contours of identity politics in Matebeleland.

Problematisation and politicisation

It was Bertrand Russell who presented the challenge of every thinker as "that of stating the problem in a way that allows for a solution." This means that framing the problem is the first step towards developing a solution. Deductively, a problem that is poorly framed may result in a wrong solution being proffered. What is beyond doubt is that the challenges facing Matebeleland have to be problematized correctly and then politicised in a way that allows for a viable and lasting solution. Problematisation in this case as Michael Crotty (1998) puts it, is a critical thinking and pedagogical dialogue which considers existential elements as problems that invite those involved to transform them. Politicisation on the other hand is concerned with giving the problem a political character. In other words, viewing the problem from the perspective of power relations in society and appropriating political lexicon to create public consciousness of the phenomenon.

The problematisation of the challenges facing Matebeleland by the Mthwakazi nationalists frames it as a colonial issue of Shona hegemony over Ndebeles. In their conception, this explains the under-development in Matebeleland as a result of neglect by the state and looting of the region's resources to develop other regions. It places the state as bearing the primary responsibility for development. The political solution therefore is secession as seen in the pre-independence political lexicon appropriated by the Mthwakazists as they seek to cultivate public political consciousness of the problem.

The manner in which the regional challenges are problematized and politicised is increasingly becoming inadequate because firstly, the demarcation of Mthwakazi to include predominantly Shona areas like Midlands begs the question why such areas should be included in Mthwakazi if the problem is Shona colonialism of Matebeleland. To explain this away, the Mthwakazi nationalist fall back on the pre-colonial boundaries of the Mthwakazi state based on the Jameson line. This births confusion in terms of whether the objective is to address Shona domination or to reclaim the Mthwakazi state. Of course the other problem that arises from this is that the Shona communities included in the Mthwakazi territory were also under subjugation and rule by conquest from the pre-colonial Mthwakazi state.

This confusing problematisation begs us to look to such territories within Matebeleland as BuVenda, Bukalanga, etc who are included in the conception of the envisaged Mthwakazi state. These nations were also initially included in the Mthwakazi state by subjugation and ruled by conquest. These communities agree entirely that there is a regional problem that needs to be addressed but are averse to the suggestion of revival of a Mthwakazi state. Some are actually victims of Ndebele domination pre-colonial, during the colonial period and post colonialism with successive governments aiding and abetting Ndebele hegemonic dominance over such peoples as Bakalanga who up to date are subservient to Nguni chiefs. In other words, while Mthwakazists see Shona hegemonic triumphalism as the problem, Bakalanga and Batonga for example see Ndebele hegemonic domination as part of the problem. On the other hand, the Tjwao (San) see Kalanga domination as part of the problem. This reveals the complexities and multi-layered nature of oppression which cannot be explained in a reductionist manner of a single causative factor as postulated by Mthwakazi particularism.

In terms of solving the problem of under-development through political self-determination of cessation, not all communities of Matebeleland believe that is the solution. This is seen through the pursuit of social and economic self-determination instead. For example, Batonga have for decades been on a relentless drive to pursue their own social development through language and cultural renaissance. Bulilima communities are a success story of pursuing community development, building schools, clinics and other public amenities on their own without relying on the government. These are some alternative forms of regional self-determination which are outside the political prescription of secession as the solution to the regional problems of under-development in Matebeleland.

Pluralism of interests and the precarity of legitimacy

Matebeleland is a richly diverse region with various ethnicities who to certain extents are nations in their own right within the region. What has been clear for quite some time is that Mthwakazi nationalism has defined the regional interests from a parochial enclave of Ndebele interests. At the centre of the Mthwakazi nationalism has been the revival and strengthening of traditional leaders and particularly the Ndebele monarchy. Mthwakazi nationalist leaders have been vocal in promoting this cause.

There is nothing wrong with that.

It only becomes a concern when the same enthusiasm is apparently non-existent when the subject of revival of Kalanga, Sotho and Tonga chiefs who were deposed by the colonialist is brought up. In some instances, this is viewed as divisiveness. This could be explained in the context that Nguni chiefs have to cede part of their jurisdictions to the re-instated chiefs which is not palatable to Mthwakazists. This is an unfortunate tendency by the Mthwakazists which only cement the perceptions by sceptics of Mthwakazi nationalism that it is only interested in re-asserting Ndebele hegemony. This seriously weakens the legitimacy of the interests represented by movement in the face of diverse interests, some of which are competing in the region. The biggest pitfall is the perception that Mthwakazi nationalism is mainly interested in replacing Shona hegemony in Zimbabwe with Ndebele hegemony in Mthwakazi.

Shifting contours of identity politics in Matebeleland

The tendency to generalise the identity of Matebeleland seek to forge a unitary Mthwakazi identity narrative, is as parochial as it is disrespectful to the rich diversity of Matebeleland. The sustained effort to define for the different ethnicities of the region what they are is lifted straight from the handbook of cultural chauvinism. Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do so is to tell their story for them and start with, "secondly". Renowned Nigerian writer and story-teller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expands on that thought by submitting that, "Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person." In other words, if you want to dispossess a people, define their identity for them. Mthwakazi nationalist particularism insists on defining the identity of the people of Matebeleland through its hegemonic frame despite protests from the various peoples of Matebeleland.

The contours of identity in Matebeleland are not fixed; they shift with context hence peoples of Matebeleland cannot be boxed into a single identity of Mthwakazi.  Forging of these identities is a continuous processes hence their fluidity. As such, relying on identity to mobilise political consciousness is not only parochial, it borders on arrogance, chauvinism and the refusal to realise the precarity of identity based politics in Matebeleland.


The Mthwakazi nationalism cannot be dismissed as inconsequential to the socio-economic and political question of Matebeleland. What is self-defeating is the particularism attached to it. Embracing the diversity of Matebeleland is a positive step towards mobilisng regional political consciousness. This, I submit, would begin with realizing the repulsive effect of the name "Mthwakazi" in itself. A compromise of "Matebeleland" would probably thaw relations from some sections of society who fell disenfranchised by the particularism attached to Mthwakazi. Matebeleland regionalism as opposed to Mthwakazi nationalism seems to be the most potent path to follow in pursuit of a resolution to the Matebeleland question.

Source - Ntando Dumani
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