Tribalism time bomb in Limpopo

People watch as the Mariadza Inclusive School burns in Limpopo. Schools in the area were burnt down last week by disgruntled residents protesting against municipal demarcation  PHOTO: Sandile Ndlovu / Gallo Images
People watch as the Mariadza Inclusive School burns in Limpopo. Schools in the area were burnt down last week by disgruntled residents protesting against municipal demarcation PHOTO: Sandile Ndlovu / Gallo Images

Comprehensive social cohesion programme likely to be considered to address tension in Limpopo villages

Defaced road signs, on which Venda village names are concealed under black spray paint and replaced with Tsonga ones in white paint, are a new sight around Bungeni village near Vuwani in Limpopo – indicating a seething threat that could unleash devastating cultural violence between the two groups.

While these villagers shared resources for decades and intermarried, residents spoke last week of incidents of passengers being thrown out of minibus taxis and staff kicked out of a local clinic because they spoke “a different language” – a shocking reality that traditional leaders in the area are struggling to come to grips with.

These are undercurrents of tribalism simmering and threatening the time-honoured relationship between Venda and Tsonga cultural groups that have for a long time lived side by side.

And the tensions are playing out in the ongoing protests against the redraft of municipal borders that have divided the communities around the villages in Vuwani.

Livhuwani Matsila, chief of Matsila in the Vuwani area, has expressed concerns over the ugly head of tribalism rising.

“It is a real issue in this whole protest and it can’t be ignored. Venda people have been attacked in Tsonga areas and the division between the two groups has been deepening as the protest escalates,” he said.

Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen told the media of incidents influenced by tribalism in the area.

“We have picked up that some staff members at a clinic in Mashau were expelled from [work] based on the language that they speak. The taxi industry informed us that some passengers were removed from taxis because of the language they speak,” he said.

“As government, we think we should pay full attention to the problem. We will investigate the allegations of tribalism and look for a solution such as a comprehensive social cohesion programme to address this.”

At least 25 schools were burnt and vandalised in the past two weeks, forcing communities in Tsonga villages to guard their schools with their lives.

Villages dominated by Tsonga speakers do not have a problem with being incorporated into the new municipal entity that will control Malamulele villages and others that previously fell under Thulamela and Makhado municipalities.

However, the newly established Malamulele municipality is a predominantly Tsonga-speaking area and it incorporates Vuwani, which is a largely Venda-speaking area. Vuwani, however, has small pockets of Tsonga-speaking villages or those that are a mixed of both groups.

The Malamulele municipality has been widely seen as one of Tsonga people who did not want to be part of a Venda-dominated municipality.

Residents of Malamulele fought for their own municipality, citing tribal issues, the lack of service delivery and insufficient jobs as being a result of tribal dominance in Thulamela municipality near Thohoyandou, a predominantly Venda area.

But villages are intertwined and almost inseparable. The creation of the Malamulele municipality has led to borders failing to separate the Venda and Tsonga communities. This is the reason the Vuwani villagers refuse to have their areas under the control of Tsonga-dominated authorities.

A resident of Bungeni, Makhosana Sambo, said tribalism was a “serious issue” in this whole demarcation protest.

“Venda people have a problem of being part of a municipality that will be dominated by Tsongas. They don’t want to be led by the other group,” he said.

Protesters were, however, dismissing this, saying they did not want to be part of the new municipality because they were never consulted or asked to be part of the new municipality.

One of those who saw no difference between a Tsonga and a Venda person is Nsovo Sambo, spokesperson for the Vyeboom Civic Association. He was against the area being part of a new municipality. Sambo is striving to put an end to the stereotyping.

“I am a Tsonga person who lives in a family that is highly blended with Venda blood. Tribalism can be an issue, but not with me,” he said.

“I am living in a Venda-dominated area and our civic group is against tribalism. Our opposition to being part of the new municipality is due to poor service-delivery issues,” he told City Press.


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