By Tshepho Mabalane Mabalane Wa Nhlanganiso
The discussion of academic conferences is generally stewed rhubarb in Zimbabwean circles/public media.
To me this apathy in interest is a cause for concern and part of the big problem that Zimbabwe faces today.
This disinterest made the likes of Terence Ranger, David Martin and Phyllis Johnson to mould Zimbabwe in Mugabe’s own image and create this cauldron of nationalistic fervor which threatens to engulf the country for the next 50 years after Mugabe is gone.
Let me cut to the chase. Enter St Antony’s:
This year’s participants explored the historical and contemporary connections between Zimbabwe and her neighbours. The usually buried rich and interconnected history of social, cultural and political movements that transcend national boundaries was resurrected.
Outside the two key note speakers Professors Welshman Ncube and Jack Spence the line-up of real speakers were Francis Musoni, Maxim Bolt, Joseph Mujere, Miles Tendi, Jocelyn Alexander, Ushehwedu Kufakurinani, Hugh MacMillan, JoAnn McGregor, Andrew Mutandwa and Tinashe Nyamunda. Does one sense a NUST enrolment dejavu here?
Enlightening papers they were, indeed. With no disrespect to other speakers who by and large did a pleasant job, I was impressed by Francis Musoni’s paper that traced illegal migration and touched on transnational belonging something at the crux of Zimbabweans’lives today. He also explored Michel Foucault’s interesting notion of ‘tolerated illegality’ in the context of Zimbabwe and South Africa migration.
Interestingly the different papers ‘spoke’ to each other. Without citing tolerated illegality most speakers indirectly referred to the notion. The fact that the speakers spoke of this tolerated illegality as a top-down phenomena (government tolerating illegals) is worth taking note of. I think we missed a serious dimension here, the illegals are also a source of counter power and they constantly embarrass the idea that the state enjoys complete sovereignty by not observing certain ordinances.
On a subliminal level the border to the illegals is not a barricade cast in stone but it’s just an idea, an unfair constraint that needs to be dealt with of course with the help of abomalayitsha lama guma guma. This comes to the crux of my argument. The papers were reductionists, they reduced illegal migration to labour and its reward labour; if not corruption and its reward bribe. We were made to see illegal and legal migration through the monetary lens.The search for jobs and greener pastures.
Do I dismiss those lens? God forbid, far from it. They are part of the complicated process but focusing only on those lenses, robs us of greater insights.
I give two factors that are linked to each other that I believe could have been explored. These are complexities of nation building and the cultural dimension. I think the reason for migration in the SADC region is strongly tied to the cultural dimension.
Since the 1860s people in the region currently known as Matabeleland have been known to visit Botswana, South Africa and Zambia for cultural reasons that include marriage, traditional rites and just visiting relatives among other reasons. The creation of borders did not bring an end to these form of migrations but merely introduced the terms legal and illegals.
The state to me like the seminars fails and continues to fail in acknowledging the importance of the cultural dimension. This cultural dimension is getting complicated by the day, for example in South Africa someone who has worked and stayed there for 30 years with kids that have graduated from medical school can be deported overnight.
We have had people like Sithole originally from Mozambique having gone to nursery till University in South Africa and heading one of the biggest if not biggest corporations deported. Coleman Nyathi rose to Premier in Mpumalanga only to be deported. The list is endless and still a lot of people in the South African cabinet have their roots elsewhere whether by ancestry or birth and they know a huge axe hangs over their heads.
Ok be careful now, I will use an example that always drives Zimbabweans into a cauldron of nationalistic fervor.
Zimbabwe has really tolerated both legality and illegality. The majority of the people today that claim mainly the Shona identity know it themselves that they are of Malawian and Mozambican descent.
These traces can go up to the Head of State.
Ok lets look at a representative situation. Our national football team or heroes even our parliament and journalism icons. List them down and then take a close look. We have done well. Just to digress. Then why do we hate and kill each other if we are not all bona fide nationals?
My point is illegal migration cannot be divorced from the processes of state building and the state in Southern Africa today is a wish, a farce. In fact a failed experiment. As long as the state ignores the cultural dimension in its existence it is still-born.
I will give a few more examples that trace the importance of considering the cultural dimension:
1. Zambia under Chiluba decided not to allow someone with foreign ancestry to lead because Kaunda allegedly had Malawian roots, but himself Chiluba had DRC roots, while Banda was born in Gwanda and Sata allegedly has Tanzanian roots.
2. Mugabe went to his brother’s wedding Madoda Ngwenya in Soweto while Benjamin Nkonjera’s parents wanted him to be buried in Malawi while Albert Luthuli the great ANC president was born in Solusi near Bulawayo
The seminar missed the cultural dimension because the organisers found themselves stuck in the 1980-2012 Zimbabwean prejudiced exclusionary processes of State building that omit or silence people from Matabeleland, the Midlands and even Manicaland regions. This is evidenced in the line up of speakers. It’s just not clear and mind boggling why not at least one speaker who hails from the region could be part of the line-up. We have many people interested in that topic who could add a lived experience to it. What a missed opportunity!
There are many fundis from the region with interest in that area. I am talking of fundis here not exhibits ala John Nkomo or Thokozani Khuphe. To mention a few Sabelo Ndlovu an Oxford fellow, Brilliant Mhlanga, Nkosinathi Ndlela, Thwala or even upcoming stars like Nkululeko Sibanda or Mcebisi Ngwenya who have published and made a documentary in that field.
Also prominent and capable women like Lucia Dube and Angelous Dube could have provided a woman’s perspective. The list is endless but the question still remains, why, why, why, why? as Joshua Nkomo once asked.
I think I experienced what I call tolerated Mugabeism even at Britain’s highest institute of learning. But when we apply his exclusionary tactics such as the one done by the BZS Seminar it is okay. I venture to say and I strongly say it. What I experienced was an academic Gukurahundi.
Now I understand that many Zimbabwean academics have a general tendency to support those who are in power and will never upset Mugabeist dominant interests and his hegemonic principles. Probably it is his interests that created them and they feel they owe him loyalty.
In closing I think it would be equivalent of the great train robbery not to mention Professor Welshman Ncube, whose presentation was a bit of a digression from the rest of the speakers as it was not academically inclined. In a nutshell, his was a report on Zimbabwe’s power sharing government and its position in the global world.
I have never heard the man speak before and I was forced to believe that he is ahead of Zimbabwe by at least a decade in terms of leadership and vision.
For those present at the seminar, only a very few will disagree with me. One guy during lunch was quick to tell me that Zimbabwe is not ready for Welshman, but he would be very important as a leader of a country like Australia, Botswana, USA, United Kingdom or South Africa.
He further argued that Zimbabwe needs a President that promises to beat the populace up or dole out goodies to those who suck up to him. I think I understood his point but I still believe God raised him in that country for a reason. I think it is stupid to continue to ask an ‘educated’ country to move away from politics of emotion to that of reason at this point, to borrow Prof Ncube’s terminology.
In Zimbabwe I think certain extremist groups choose to see a tribalist in the Professor because that is the only blemish they could create and again owing to the fact that they are not used to a leader from that part of the country.
Also the people of Matabeleland had initially not taken him to heart as they are at times suspicious of people from the Midlands. But so far I think the fruit of his work has followed him without doubt; that is why his party is the fastest growing party.
After that speech of his I will not hesitate to be part of the youth that is going to reject this demonic regime and be part of the history making generation. It would be good if guys I spoke to like Blessing Pasirayi or Francis Musoni could join the likes of Welshman Ncube, David Coltart and Priscilla Mushonga-Misihairabwi in rebuilding the country and Zimbabwe would be a different country altogether.
This article was written by a Zimbabwean PhD student at Oxford University, Tshepho Mabalane Mabalane Wa Nhlanganiso.