Is Tribalism On The Rise Under Jacob Zuma?

2015-11-27 07:48

Tribalism is very much an ideology rooted in tragic ignorance and bigotry. It is the extremely narrow view that one’s ethnic group is inherently supreme or superior to those around. Patriotism, heritage and patriarchy are often the driving forces of this regressive dogma.

Historically, different ethnic groups would not be grouped together under one governance, like we see in post-colonial or ‘democratic’ states across the world. As much as many ethnic groups can be traced to a common origin, internal conflict or the desire for independence has led to the rise of new languages, cultures and nations.

In modern times, in the African context, Tribalism resurfaces when historical ethnic groups struggle for relevance and significance in the aftershock of so-called civilized western rule. Prejudices imposed by the manipulative westerners to ‘divide and rule’ may come to play to disastrous effects if not addressed in a civilized manner. Another contributing factor could be pre-existent quarrels dating back to antiquity.

It is not necessary to remind ourselves of the ugly end results of tribal conflict across Africa as a result of outside influences inspired by greed and hatred. Political conflict in post-colonial countries like Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania is often drawn along ethnic lines rather than on actual political ideology.

Former president Thabo Mbeki has in recent times made stern warnings regarding the dangers of the rising trend of ‘tribal politics’ in democratic South Africa. While some were quick to dismiss Mbeki, accusing him of hypocrisy in the matter, one cannot simply turn a blind eye to this clear and present challenge.

Undeniably, many a social commentator strongly felt there was a concerning preference shown toward people of Xhosa ethnicity in business, culture and politics during the presidencies of both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, who have Xhosa ethnicity. The sarcastic term ‘Xhosa Nostra’ was conveniently coined during this period by some critics.

Like elsewhere in Africa, South African colonists sought one ethnic group through which they could communicate with other ethnic groups in the colony. This was both convenient and malicious on their part. As much as this served to save money for the state in terms of dealing with one group as opposed to several, it promoted ethnic rivalry and a false sense of superiority by the preferred ethnic group.

The act of addressing conquered African nations via one ‘dominant’ ethnicity also served to derogatively imply that all black people are basically the same, and may not hold distinct values as such. Zulu culture was clearly seen by colonists as a medium through which all the different ethnic groups of colonial South Africa may be addressed or identified. Social culture, under the guardianship of the west, has as such given Zulu culture a disingenuous image of masculine supremacy and some form of mystical appeal.

Through the dedicated work of some ANC leaders in KZN and the rise of Jacob Zuma, Kwa Zulu Natal, the ethnic home of Zulu people, has become the new stronghold of the celebrated ANC movement. But many now feel the ANC has been reduced to a corrupt, tribalist and visionless political party, which clearly goes against one of the party’s founding goals – to bury the demon of tribalism.

In the true manifestation of Tribalism, we see a particular ethnic group suddenly acquiring key positions in business, government, sports and social culture. While some might argue that the subject itself is but creating an issue where there is none, statistics and general data may be analysed to resolve the matter of validity once and for all.

As reported in a recent Kick Off article, Kwa Zulu Natal’s Moses Mabhida stadium has hosted almost every second soccer final since the 2010 soccer world cup. This brings the total tally of hosted finals to eight for the Zulu Kingdom stadium, while Limpopo’s Peter Mokaba is yet to host a single soccer final. Whether this gross favouritism can be exempted with justifiable reasons is beyond debate in my opinion.

Even in local television, the amount of programming dedicated to Zulu content is not proportional to actual demographic representation. There are countless dramas being screened in Zulu language but none in other official ethnic languages like Swati, Tsonga and Ndebele. This argument can equally be applied in the political field, since Zuma’s own repulsive 2012 initiative of Cadre Deployment.

Even if we were to argue that Zulu people are the most numerous ethnic group in South Africa, this still doesn’t validate a total disregard for other ethnic groups consequentially. Our aim should be to afford all the 11 official languages full functional rights, as opposed to shoving down both English and Zulu as the default lingua franca of the New South Africa.

By this time in our democracy, every official Ethnic Group should be conducting business, education and social life in its home language. This should be even more applicable in the regions where these particular ethnic groups originate and have spiritual ties to. In essence, democracy is supposed to restore the statuses of these marginalised cultures, rather than try to assimilate them into its own understanding of what advancement is.

At the 2014 20th anniversary commemorations of the Rwanda ethnic genocide, in which over 500 000 Tutsis were massacred in a period of 100 days, President Paul Kagame admitted: “The most devastating reality of the European control of Africa and Rwanda was the transformation of social distortions into so called races. We were classified and dissected and whatever differences existed were magnified according to the framework formed elsewhere.”

As much as we can admit the involvement and influence of external sources in African ethnic conflicts, at the end of it all, it is the locals themselves who choose to take up arms against their fellow brothers for whatever end. I believe any culture which doesn’t teach its devotees to respect and live in harmony with others should be detested, no matter what race or how powerful it may be.

(Check Out My Blog on Twitter: @JustSmartRage)

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