“From which tribe are you?” This is a question I find to be most difficult to answer, as frequently asked by people I meet outside Zimbabwe. I fail to give a definitive answer to this question, due to my relational connections from all parts of Zimbabwe. My Ndebele tribal background is heavily diluted, due to other tribal connections. What impact has that got to do with my survival pursuits, except for purposes of breeding tribalism?
In other words, I have close relatives in Chimanimani, where my wife originates. I also have close relatives from Mutoko, from where my mother originated. I have also got tribal connections with those from Masvingo, as both my grandmother and great-grand mother are direct products from Chief Charumbira and the va Dumwa clan, respectively. Virtually, I have relatives across the entire country of Zimbabwe—including neighbouring countries.
My totem betrays me as one whose ancestors originated from Swaziland. While I can speak fluent Ndebele, having been brought up in Matabeleland, all of my children were brought up in Harare, and Ndebele is foreign to them. They all identify with Shona-speaking, through marital connections. My grandchildren are also particularly devoid of Ndebele language and its culture.
I have often attempted to drill my children into accommodating their Ndebele-speaking relatives, but, apparently, this is an insurmountable task. To make matters worse, my children appear as willing to tolerate those relatives, only when also Shona-speaking. Which tribe do I belong to, then—as to effectively enable my offspring to identify with?
Supposing I should stamp my authority, insisting that it is important to preserve the Ndebele culture, considering that we are a patriarchal society? That presents challenges, as my inquisitive grand-children may simply ask one question: What value does that present to the family? Being Christian, answering that question cannot be easy, without projecting pride, as reason for desiring to be identified as Ndebele, against other tribal connections.
The description of my situation generally characterises most Zimbabweans. There are those who take comfort in the language they speak. Assuming it being of the tribe that is associated with the language they speak.
In other words, most of the Ndebele-speaking people in Matabeleland are not necessarily of Ndebele origin. This is just as most Shona-speaking people in Mashonaland cannot necessarily be of Shona origin.
There are those stuck with the bitterness, associated with Gukurahundi atrocities. Most of the affected ones were not necessarily of Ndebele tribal origin, as most people assume. The language factor was more of consideration than tribal origin.
The Gukurahundi madness assumed that all Ndebele-speaking people in Matabeleland were tribally ascribed to support dissidents, during that time. However, the ability to speak Ndebele does not make one Ndebele.
This is just as being associated with Shona-speaking does not necessarily make one to be of Shona tribal origin. Nothing short of insanity, therefore, could have goaded anyone to assume the objectives of Gukurahundi being to exterminate the Ndebele tribe. The objective may have been to exterminate the Ndebele-speaking group, but certainly not the tribe.
A careful analysis reveals that among perpetrators, were those of Ndebele tribal origin, but being Shona-speaking. Just as among the victims were people of Shona tribal origin, yet being Ndebele-speaking. That is if agreed that the totem is what identifies the person’s tribal background, not the surname. A cursory research across the country, could shockingly reveal people of the same tribal background, being linguistically divided.
For instance, the totems of those that comprise Shona-speaking people are basically constituted in Moyo, Shoko, Dziva, Shumba, Mbizi, Nzou, Mhofu, Gumbo and Nyati. From the Ndebele-speaking regions, all these are described as: Moyo, Ncube, Siziba, Sibanda, Dube, Ndlovu, Mpofu, Gumpo and Nyati. These totems, probably embrace more than three quarters of the entire Zimbabwean population.
The people identified by these totems are obviously of the same tribe—though linguistically divided. As I view the stratum component that causes division, I find that language is strongly supported by culture. In other words, it is not necessarily the language that divides, but the culture that goes with the language. But can there be value, as imbedded in any culture?
This is another question that ought to be looked at objectively. What is so important about one’s culture, as compared with another person’s culture? Nothing can quantify value in a language, without culture—as language simply seeks to portray signals intended to effectively convey messages. Language is therefore an important tool in relational communication.
One may raise a question on which language ought to be regarded as more important than others in Zimbabwe? I find that question as bordering on stupidity more than intelligent reasoning. Language is necessary only for conveying one’s thought to the other person, so as to obtain what is desired.
A normal person would prefer using another person’s language, than expecting the other person to understand own language. That is as long as the person communicating expects the other person to fully comprehend the thought intended to be conveyed as communication.
English became one of the international languages, through colonialism. It appears as if the British have an advantage, in terms of having their language spoken internationally. But the opposite can be true, when appreciating the purpose of communication, being to convey one’s thought to other people.
A non-English person who speaks fluent English, and yet able to also speak other languages is at an advantage. The person limited to speaking English only, is obviously disadvantaged, except projecting vanity, in that his/her language would be used by others internationally.
Having projected the totems that embrace, possibly three quarters of the entire Zimbabwean population—which language ought to be used, as comprising the tribal majority? The similarity of totems indicate that those people are of the same tribal origin, but with linguistic differences.
Some people would obviously point at abolishing the other languages, before enforcing the one to be adopted nationally. The assumption being that such an endeavour crafts the desirable unity among the divided populace.
This sounds reasonable, but exposing stupidity at the same time. The purpose of language is for communication, which portrays the ability to help the other person to understand what is intended to be communicated. The heritage of language differences should therefore be taken as advantageous.
A person who is able to speak more than one language is more educated, language-wise, than the one able to speak only one language. This exposes the stupidity of seeking to eliminate other languages, in favour of one’s own language. As tools of communication, languages are necessary and important, only for facilitating good communication.
Zimbabwe is blessed with other minority languages, originating from those with totems of South African origin or other neighbouring countries. For instance, the Ndau-speaking people are basically of South African tribal origin.
This is just as many others from Matabeleland and midlands, with similar totems as some Ndau-speaking people, originated from South Africa. But, as alluded to, earlier on; it is the totem that projects the tribal background of an individual. Yet the culture of that person is determined by his/her spoken language.
Those Ndau-speaking people are more at home—with the culture that identifies them as Ndaus, than their actual tribal origins. Obviously, the Ndau people cannot claim to easily connect with their cousins from Zululand. They share the historical identity that describes them tribally, but totally estranged to each other.
However, none of these—though tribally identified by totems—can claim to be of original tribe as portrayed by totems, due to intermarriages. None can honestly describe him/herself to be of original tribe, having been a product of mixed marriages. This is just as this is the case with inter-racial marriages.
How does a child of racially mixed marriage describe his/her race? Would the person be English or African? If choosing either of the two, what would be the basis of desiring either of the two races? I suppose, nothing except perhaps the assumption that the other race would be superior to the other?
Preoccupation with that kind of assumption is as unwise as being preoccupied with racism. All human beings have got the same origin, having been created in God’s image. Through sinfulness, humanity wallows in confusion, describing all evils of this world, as including racism and tribalism.
In our Zimbabwean scenario, it is baseless to be obsessed with tribalism. We can talk about language differences, not tribalism. But languages have got little to do with the tribal background of an individual. This is just as language has got nothing to do with the race of an individual.
The Zimbabwean government has set up a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, whose mission is to address past misbehaviours, as characterised in Gukurahundi. Those tasked with this exercise, cannot achieve their objectives, as long as not appreciating the reality of falsehoods in tribal identities.
The starting point is removing the paranoia, causing unnecessary conspiracies, featuring among those desiring to find each other. The sensitivity in addressing Gukurahundi stridency, requires cool heads, in dealing with tribal considerations. Tribalism was blamed, but sheer madness was more involved than tribalism—although true that tribalism is also madness.
The Gukurahundi debacle was incited mostly by other considerations, other than tribalism. The dynamics of language can include consideration of language that goes with the culture adopted through one’s association with language. But language has got little to do with the biological tribe of those concerned. This is why the former president once described Gukurahundi period as having been the moment of madness, which definitely, it was.
What about the current developments—concerning government’s dismissal of those intending to install a king in Matabeleland? To me the problem is more with paranoia on the part of government. The dynamics of cultural differences present no threat to national security. Where is the problem of the government, except—maybe—creating unnecessary tensions with the people of that region?
Zimbabwe is a republican country and not a monarchy. Being republican means people’s empowerment to determine how they want to be governed, not the one governing, imposing own will to govern. Whatever the value desired by those affected—desiring a king to superintend over their cultural requirements—needs to be respected. As long as the government of the people is in place.
In my view, while those people may mistake the language for tribe, it is within their right to decide how they want to be governed. They take comfort in having a king, superintending over their cultural heritage. And that cultural heritage may not necessarily identify with their tribal background. Prudence on the part of central government, is in willingness to respect them, when identifying with their cultural heritage.
The state’s refusal to grant permission for those people to install their king, shows imprudence. This projects desire to create polarity between the state and the governed. This is another way that can easily be interpreted as displaying evils of colonialism. The colonialists failed to establish rapport with the colonized—by not allowing the governed to maintain their cultural heritages.
Colonialism sought to govern according to the colonial authority, thereby inciting resistance that led to the armed conflicts. There ought not to have been conflicts arising from government—inhibiting People’s rights to practice their cultural heritages. This is more to do with common sense than consideration of merits and demerits in practicing those cultures.
In a modern civilization, people ought to be allowed to be themselves, as long as not impinging on other people’s liberties. The local government minister should, actually, be involved in facilitating modalities—leading to the crowning of that Ndebele king. That is as long as the majority in that region, find value in the existence of that king.
The real cause of problems in the African continent is tribal considerations, when dealing with one another. But, democracy is considered as better than any other system of governance because it grants freedom—desirable to all human beings.
Nevertheless, it is these African cultures that lead people to succumb immensely to general enslavement of humanity. This includes assumption that there is value in maintaining traditional cultures, like having a king over them. Without proper education, such enslavements are bound to remain for a very long time.
This would be due to the governing authorities enacting resistance, rather than facilitating proper communication. Another way that could cause such enslavements to eventually disappear is allowing those people to embrace such cultures without restrictions. See [Tradition and idolatry are synonymous].
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing reliefs to those having witnessed strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long awaited providential oasis of hope.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99