Image: 123RF
Image: 123RF

This is the prologue from the book Matabele Rising by David Hilton Barber, Footprint Press, R240

Zimbabwe is not one country; to pretend otherwise is a dangerous hallucination. The country has to be divided into two federal states of Mashonaland and Mthwakazi (Matabeleland).  The issue of the statehood of Mthwakazi should have been resolved at the pre-independence negotiations in 1979 and the error was a tragic constitutional omission on the part of the delegation led by Joshua Nkomo. It should not have been assumed the Mthwakazians embraced the Zimbabwean identity. That assumption has never been put to test.

The book in which this extract was published
The book in which this extract was published

This has to be achieved by negotiation under the auspices of an independent body of the United Nations. The alternative of an armed struggle is untenable. War drains resources, exacerbates malnutrition and disease, destroys infrastructure and impoverishes the state. If something is not done to stem this evil progression, the entire nation of over three million people faces a perilous future.

Matabeleland is bigger than Sierra Leone, Liberia, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea and Djibouti, all found in Africa, and all full members of both the African Union and the United Nations.

In terms of population, Matabeleland has 3.5 million people, making her one of the ten most populous nations in the SADC region. Economically, Matabeleland contributes nearly 40 per cent of Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP). This translates to US$12-billion in 2000. This figure is enough to comfortably sustain its people without subsidising the rest of Zimbabwe.

Author of Matabele Rising, David Hilton Barber
Author of Matabele Rising, David Hilton Barber

Successful precedents are recorded in Eritrea, Southern Sudan, Somaliland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Herzegovina, Slovenia and others.

The Government of Zimbabwe regards its current unitary constitution as non-negotiable and has consistently rejected demands for a federal dispensation in the past 30 years. During the 1999/2000 constitutional review process, six out of ten provinces wanted a federal system of government. Yet the compilers of the final draft document that was presented for the referendum edited this popular demand out of the final text.

Today, ten years later, Zimbabwe is back again on the road to finding a lasting solution to its constitutional anarchy. The late Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, who attended the 1979 Lancaster House Conference in London where Zimbabwe’s independence was negotiated, was an advocate of a federal state for Zimbabwe and a strong critic of the style of governance of Robert Mugabe. His son of the same name, who inherited the chiefdom on his father’s death, has kept the flame burning by publicly proclaiming that Zimbabwe needs to be separated into two states.

Zimbabwe, called Rhodesia before independence in 1980, is a former British colony. Although there are ten tribes which inhabit the country, Zimbabwe can effectively be divided into two nations, the Shona (75 per cent) and Mthwakazi, (25 per cent). Each ethnic group has further sub-divisions based on political, historical and geographical factors. Before colonisation in 1890/93, each group lived independently. However whilst Mthwakazi was a formally constituted state with all the mechanics of a government, Mashonaland existed only as a collection of scattered chiefdoms without any central authority linking them together.

Under the leadership of its arrogant president, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has, true to colonial traditions, exerted its authority violently on the Mthwakazians in an attempt to crush their national ego

The occupation of Mashonaland in 1980 was by means of a peaceful march of 500 men. The occupation of Matabeleland in 1893, on the other hand, was via an invasion force of 5 000 troops armed with the deadly Maxim gun, in a bloody war that lasted until 1894.

After the British forces defeated the Ndebele, the state of Rhodesia was created by the amalgamation of Matabeleland and Mashonaland for the settlers’ capitalist exploitation and administrative convenience.

A century later, when the country won her independence from Britain in 1980, Matabeleland was inherited by Zimbabwe as a colonial gift. This irresponsible decolonisation process placed Matabeleland under another, more ruthless ethnic domination. The people of Mthwakazi found themselves silently sleep-walking their way to eventual extinction.

There is an echo of the old colonial arrogance in Zimbabwe’s treatment of its Mthwakazi subjects. Colonialists impose their values, language, culture and contempt on the colonised and Zimbabwe has done just that. Under the leadership of its arrogant president, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has, true to colonial traditions, exerted its authority violently on the Mthwakazians in an attempt to crush their national ego and pride. They are denied political representation, employment opportunities and economic resources. Financial institutions, manufacturing industry, parastatals, public institutions and the private sector all became monuments of Shona economic and political supremacy. The domestic colonialists have denied the Mthwakazi people political space, economic opportunities and resources and have thus effectively barred any quality of life for the Mthwakazi people.

Robert Mugabe tricked the international community into complicity by sending secret state agents to kill six foreign tourists in Matabeleland and then blaming their murder on the ‘Ndebele-speaking dissidents.’

The Shona term for ethnic and racial domination is ‘chimurenga’ which operates in the darkness like a snake; the consequence of its venomous attack is equally life-threatening. It is distressing that some people of Mthwakazi extraction are collaborators in this evil process.

In the first ‘chimerenga’ in 1983, code-named ‘Gukurahundi’, the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade killed some 50 000 civilians, a million more being left traumatised, displaced and disorientated after being subjected to brutal treatment including torture and rape. This Gukurahundi operation, undertaken exactly 90 years after the Anglo-Ndebele war which paved the way for British rule in Mthwakazi, was a curious repeat of history.

Robert Mugabe tricked the international community into complicity by sending secret state agents to kill six foreign tourists in Matabeleland and then blaming their murder on the ‘Ndebele-speaking dissidents.’ Hence the world viewed the Ndebele as a ‘rogue people’ who needed to be punished. Thus Mugabe succeeded in deflecting any international sympathy they so desperately needed. As a result nobody raised a finger in condemnation while the Mthwakazi people were being brutalised. It is inconceivable that the search for six abductees and less than 100 dissidents led to nearly 50 000 people being killed. It is difficult to understand the psychology of a black government which was prepared to slaughter so many of its African population in search of a handful of foreign visitors. Curiously when three British tourists were killed in Manicaland in 1982, near the training bases of the Fifth Brigade, their murder did not prompt the ZANU-PF government to unleash the notorious force on the Manyika people.  

The statehood of Mthwakazi should have been resolved at the pre-independence negotiations in 1979 and was an unfortunate constitutional omission on the part of the delegation led by Joshua Nkomo

In an interview with a British newspaper in 1983, at the height of the military campaign against the Mthwakazi people, Mugabe remarked that his action was meant to ‘re-orientate the Ndebele and to accept the verdict of the majority under whom fate has placed them permanently.’

It was up to a Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) report to reveal the shocking reality.

Mthwakazians were pushed over the country’s borders into neighbouring Botswana and South Africa where they began to live a precarious life as economic refugees long before the post 2005 outpouring of Zimbabwean refugees into neighbouring countries. By the end of the military campaign in 1987, roughly 90 per cent of the jobs in Matabeleland were held by Shona people. Government departments, parastatals, public institutions and the private sector became exclusively filled with Shona labour force.

The statehood of Mthwakazi should have been resolved at the pre-independence negotiations in 1979 and was an unfortunate constitutional omission on the part of the delegation led by Joshua Nkomo. It should not have been assumed the Mthwakazians embraced the Zimbabwean identity, an assumption that was never put to the test. During the 1999/2000 constitutional review process, six out of ten provinces wanted the constitution amended to incorporate a federal system of government. Yet the compilers of the draft document prepared for the referendum edited this popular demand out of the final text.

Geoge Mkhwanazi writes in his private capacity 


Please sign in or register to comment.