By Michael Mtungwa
ONE of the nightmares I experienced as a youth growing up in Bulawayo in the early 1980s — that is in between trying to find employment and escape the ravages of Gukurahundi — was the failure to get a newspaper that could express the tribulations and
despair of my fellow youths and the generality of the population in that city and region as a whole.
Depending on the Herald and the Chronicle in the whole country meant a horrible genocide that left 20 000 dead was virtually uncovered and remains a myth to the majority of the population in Zimbabwe today. The 20 000 is almost the same number as the losses suffered by Zimbabwe as a whole in the liberation war.
It was therefore with a heavy heart that I read Geoffrey Nyarota’s long, patronising article in the Financial Gazette of March 9, partly because I learnt later that Nyarota was one of the editors of the newspaper I resented during Gukurahundi. I suppose what made it worse is that the article came out a few days before March 13, the day 23 years ago that Joshua Nkomo fled Zimbabwe for the United Kingdom after enduring various forms of humiliation by the Zanu PF government.
In seeking to promote Morgan Tsvangirai — against whom I have nothing — and to portray Welshman Ncube as the leader of an ethnic club, Nyarota also sought to justify the senseless mass murders committed by Robert Mugabe’s government. I could not help but feel mad at his comparison of an act of lunacy that was ignored by the whole world to what he called “the predatory raids” on Mashonaland by the Ndebeles’ “forefathers”. A number of Zanu PF politicians have used the same comparison when cornered to explain the genocide, notably ex-Zapu vice-president Joseph Msika, who has been accused of failing to control his tongue in his old age.
Not surprisingly, Nyarota believes the only development to read from Nkomo’s capitulation to Zanu PF is the creation of a one-party state and the demise of Zapu, which he accuses of having had a “largely ethnic following”. He makes the same accusation of regional focus against Zapu 2000, but astonishingly leaves out the ZUD, a Harare-based grouping that never made any pretensions to being national. No thought is given to the thousands of lives that were saved in both Matabeleland and the Midlands and in Zimbabwe as a whole by Nkomo’s humiliating submission to a party he knew had no vision for the country, and whose bankruptcy of ideas is plain to everyone today.
The portrayal of Nkomo as a traitor for embracing the Unity Accord by comparing that act to Ncube’s alleged involvement in a plot to push for a government of national unity has been a common feature in the utterances of both Tsvangirai and senior members of his party, and shows how little our progressive leaders care about the plight of Gukurahundi victims.
Apart from steering away from the common reasons that led to the split in MDC, such as Tsvangirai’s rebellion against his national council, and indeed the obstinate resolve by Ncube and his colleagues to stick to a white elephant, Nyarota strives to show that there have been bad Ndebele leaders in Zanu PF as well, notably Jonathan Moyo and Enos Nkala, just as there have been Shona victims to Mugabe’s rule — 300 he says, insinuating this should make the Ndebele stop what he portrays as playing the victim.
I will not seek to justify the loss of any human life, as Nyarota does, but comparing genocide to the killings that have taken place since the formation of the MDC is to express that you do not empathise with the hurt felt by the survivors of the genocide.
Nyarota also emphasises the ethnic angle to the split in the MDC, simply because Ndebele leaders Gibson Sibanda and Ncube led it. Notably, while the import of his argument is that ethnicity is behind much of the problems afflicting the MDC today, he places the blame on the leaders of one camp and leaves the “mainstream” MDC, as he calls it, untouched. Where he criticises the “mainstream” MDC, it is to advise it on how to proceed in future, such as whom a government it forms must work with.
What also baffles my mind is Nyarota’s eagerness to embrace Zanu PF leaders and sympathisers who have been complicit in the destruction of the country either as protagonists or cheerleaders while he trashes opposition leaders who have stood up to both Mugabe and opposition leader Tsvangirai.
Gideon Gono, Mutumwa Mawere, Oppah Muchinguri and Dumiso Dabengwa are therefore praised as progressive leaders alongside MDC members from Matabeleland who support or are perceived to support Tsvangirai, and these are the people he suggests Tsvangirai should work with. Arthur Mutambara is flogged for being an opportunist who joined a tribal band, and is advised to stay away from politics because he has been away for too long and has a PhD in robotics anyway. To bolster a perfect argument, Nyarota deliberately removes the context of Mutambara’s praise of Tsvangirai — and Mugabe by the way — and his anti-senate position.
However, what frightens me and indeed most of the victims of Mugabe’s rule since 1980 is that Nyarota’s views mirror the opinions of many people in civic society and among intellectuals in Zimbabwe today, some of whom he mentions by name. Like Nyarota, many of these leaders care little about whether Tsvangirai is right or wrong. Many of them waited until they realised he still has support, and then attacked his opponents using the same views expressed by Nyarota. In his lengthy essay, Nyarota also leaves out the violence perpetrated by Tsvangirai against members of his party last year, which was probably his way of fighting the plot Nyarota is alleging. Not even one of our boisterous civic groups condemned that orgy, because doing so would have cast aspersions on the moral authority of Tsvangirai.
If you ask me, I would say Zimbabweans want a president who will steer this country from the economic and political mess it is in, restore confidence in the population and re-establish meaningful relations with the international community, but beneath this lies the fact that Zanu PF poisoned our society to believe ruling is a preserve of the majority ethnic group, and this has been supported, both implicitly and explicitly, in business, politics and even in civic society and even by some of the most “progressive” people in this country. To deny the xenophobia that exists between Shona and Ndebele in Zimbabwe and attack those who state the obvious is simply hypocritical. And hiding behind one’s tribal bigotry by pointing fingers at others and dodging pertinent issues is hardly the way to address the crisis in Zimbabwe now.
For all the talk about a united front and Zanu PF abuses since 2000, none of the leaders in the civil society groups, most of whom are based in Harare, have mentioned that by far the biggest crime Zanu PF has committed since Independence is the Gukurahundi atrocities. Some of these leaders still prefer the safety of referring to these as “disturbances”. At the same time, it is the common language of the Zimbabwean press that the MDC is Zanu PF’s biggest challenge since Independence? Really? A challenge that cost 20 000 lives to put down and became a lost cause because of xenophobic politics is relegated simply because those who coin our language are now feeling the pinch as well.
The disappointing thing for one who lived through the horrors of Gukurahundi is that little has changed. Many of these academics and civil society leaders either cheered Mugabe on or happily looked away when the 5th Brigade rampaged through Bulawayo and Matabeleland. Many of them would also accuse Ndebele victims of Mugabe’s brutality of thinking all the Shona are guilty of the atrocities. Not that they think this is the situation, but because by so doing, they think they exorcise the part they played during that time, for not only Mugabe and Zanu PF will be charged with genocide should that time come, but also the various editors and opinion leaders who helped him cover up the crimes from the world.
It is also depressing that many of these opinion leaders, just like Mugabe, have not changed. Mugabe committed crimes against humanity in the 1980s because of the support he received when he made inflammatory speeches and accused his opponents of being tribalists and traitors simply because many among their leaders belonged to a different ethnic group and rejected his one-party state notion.
Like Mugabe, Tsvangirai too can become a despot after being encouraged to disregard internal democracy in his own party, and after seeing that even sinking to the violence he condemns in Zanu PF will not earn him any reprimand, so long as he chooses his victims carefully.
It was admirable for Tsvangirai to state that the senate, just like parliament by the way, will not change the suffering Zimbabweans are going through, but this self-serving stance cannot be used to cover up the dark side he has exhibited through all this.
* Michael Mtungwa is a Zimbabwean writing from South Africa.
By Michael Mtungwa