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4— Missionaries, Migrants and the Manyika: The Invention of Ethnicity in Zimbabwe
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Introduction: Politics Through a Tribal Lens

Over the last twenty years there have been all too many conflicts in Zimbabwean African politics—conflicts between and within African parties and guerrilla movements, divisions between voters, strains within the cabinet and government of Zimbabwe. There have also arisen a number of schools of interpretation of such divisions. Some see them in terms of class conflict; others, however, see them in terms of ethnicity. They invoke not only the allegedly 'traditional' hostility between the 'Ndebele' and the 'Shona', but also an asserted conflict between Shona sub-ethnicities, the so-called 'Korekore', 'Zezuru', 'Karanga', 'Kalanga', and 'Manyika'.

Thus in March 1976 an international commission of inquiry, appointed by the Zambian government and composed of representatives from a dozen or so African states, reported on the murder of Herbert Chitepo, then National Chairman of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), in March 1975. The report found that Chitepo had not been killed by a Rhodesian agent. He had instead been a victim of the 'mutual hatred and suspicion among the tribal groups' within ZANU. The commission found 'abundant evidence of tribal and regional manifestations in ZANU'. In particular, it found that Chitepo's death was the climax of a struggle for power between the Manyika and the Karanga. The victorious Karanga, now supreme in the party's command, had eliminated the Manyika Chitepo.[1]

In May 1976 Ndabaningi Sithole, who was then struggling to regain the leadership of ZANU, endorsed these findings. In an open letter, calling on all Zimbabweans 'to do away with tribalism and regionalism', he analyzed the successive elections to ZANU's central committee in terms of tribal rivalry:

The main thesis of my letter is that ZANU as we had first formed it became constantly subject to a process of tribalization or regionalization so that it completely lost the nationalist perspective . . . When we formed ZANU in 1963 it was called the Zimbabwe National Union, but by 1974 and at the beginning of 1975 it had become in practice Zimbabwe African Tribal Union . . . If the death of Herbert Chitepo is to be associated with any 'ism', it cannot be directly or immediately with colonialism or capitalism, but rather with tribalism or regionalism . . . If it is to be associated with any race, it can


only be the African race . . . I want everyone to know that this tribalism did not originate from the people at home but from the people outside Zimbabwe. The Karanga, Zezuru, Korekore, Ndau, Ndebele, Kalanga and other tribes in Zimbabwe are solidly united and determined to become a nation.[2]

In March 1977, by which time Sithole had set up his own splinter ZANU group, he sought to carry this analysis into practice:

In appointing the central committee, I have been guided by definite objective criteria . . . [but] in the allocation of the various offices I have been guided by the principle of ethnic balance, in order that we may forestall any ethnic manipulation of any of our political structures. In ZANU we have had tragic experience resulting from ethnic imbalances in the central committee. The allocative principle of ethnic balance will be applied to the national executive committee, the central committee, the provincial committee, the district committee, the branch executive, the high command, the general staff, all committees and to any other organs of ZANU.[3]

Sithole appointed two Ndau, two Karanga, two Zezuru, two Ndebele, two Manyika and two Korekore to his executive. Political scientists also began to adopt this style of analysis. In 1979 Ndabaningi Sithole's brother, Masipula, published his Zimbabwe: Struggles Within the Struggle . With the aid of ethnic triangle diagrams, he argued that prior to 1971 ZANU's party leadership was shared between Zezuru, Karanga and Manyika, an arrangement that had prevented straightforward 'tribal' hostility:

Competition, whether perceived in personal, tribal or regional terms, was in three directions. An individual from the Manyika group could not only rely on regional/tribal support. . . . One had to appeal at least to one other tribal/regional grouping.

After 1971, however, 'the Zezuru group pulled out', and 'bi-polarity sharpened tribal/regional competition in the party'. A deadly struggle between the Manyika and Karanga developed.[4]

The analysis spread to British commentators. In July 1979, for example, Professor Claire Palley gave an ethnic interpretation of the recent Internal Settlement elections which had been won by the 'Manyika' Muzorewa:

If the tribal basis of [Muzorewa's] support is analyzed, it will be seen that by the time of the election, his party (the UANC) largely consisted of a coalition between the Manyika, Korekore and Zezuru tribes, totalling 43% of the population. The UANC received only about 40% of the total potential vote. There is here a remarkable tribal correlation. Since Mr Chikerema led Zezuru dissidents out of the bishop's party, much of the bishop's Zezuru support has been lost. The bishop is now left with basically 25% of the African population supporting him. The Ndebele speakers support Mr Nkomo . . . The Ndau and some Rozwi support the Rev. Sithole. The Karanga by and large support Mr Mugabe.[5]

The British press and others began to reproduce and refer to maps produced by the Southern Rhodesian government which purported to show the exact boundaries of these sub-ethnicities and the exact proportion of the country's African population which each contained. Such maps often carried beneath a note to the effect that 'the above divisions are based on historical fact'. Even the Minority Rights Group, a body highly critical of the Rhodesian government and


suspicious of its propaganda, devoted a page of its Inequalities in Zimbabwe, published in December 1979, to the 'tribal background', in which it informed its readers that the Korekore constitute 12 per cent, the Zezuru 18 per cent and the Karanga 22 per cent of the African population, and that tribal rivalry 'looks set to grow'.[6]

Analyses such as these raise two main questions in a historian's mind. The first question, to which I shall return briefly at the end of this essay, is whether they provide an accurate explanation for recent conflicts. The second question, to which most space will be devoted, is from where the idea of such entities as the 'Manyika', the 'Zezuru', and the rest has come. These entities certainly do not represent pre-colonial 'historical fact', nor can they in the present be properly described as 'tribes' or 'clans', no matter that both African and European commentators employ these terms. Yet they evidently have come to possess a subjective reality in the minds not only of commentators but of participants. How has this come to pass?

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