AT the height of his power in the ANC, former president Thabo Mbeki was known for frowning upon tribalism in the party and government. In fact, displaying such tendencies was a sure thing to being marginalised from leadership positions and lucrative jobs in the party and government.
One of the guidelines for deployment was that a candidate should not have a history of factionalism, divisive tendencies and tribalism. While Mbeki’s critics saw his tough stance as a ploy to shield his administration from accusations of a “Xhosa nostra”, it worked for the ANC and the country. Tribalism hardly reared its ugly head because the culprits knew that the consequences were dire.
It is worrying to hear that Malamulele residents took a number of resolutions with far reaching consequences for social cohesion and ethnic harmony in Limpopo and beyond.
They met this week to discuss the government’s decision to allow the Vhembe District Municipality to take over the delivery of basic services in Vuwani from the newly-created Lim 345 Municipality.
The government had, in a compromise deal aimed at appeasing striking Vuwani residents, succumbed to pressure and effectively handed over control of Vuwani to Vhembe. Vuwani is a predominantly Venda-speaking area while the majority of Malamulele residents speak Tsonga.
Malamulele residents had earlier used violence of their own to force the government to grant them a municipality separate from the Thulamela Municipality, based in Thohoyandou. According to a secret document which circulated at the meeting, residents noted that “there is a secret mission to partition the Vatsongas-Machangana between Mphephu Ramabulana and Queen Modjadji”.
The document claimed that the chiefs and headmen across Malamulele and other Tsonga-Shangaan inhabited areas
“will be swallowed by this dragon namely: Mphephu Ramabulana. The stomach is very big enough to swallow all Tsonga and Shangaan people”.
It added that a hungry “dragon in the name of Queen Modjadji” will do the same to chiefs and headmen of Giyani, Lulekani, Thulamashi and other Tsonga-Shangaan inhibited areas. The meeting further agreed to prevent the establishment of the municipality.
“It can be seen without reasonable doubt that these tribalistic Vendas have planned to destroy and wipe [off] the Tsonga-Shangaan from the South African map. In this regard, let us note the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in. The demarcation has included the area of Vuwani – the former Tsonga-Shangaan Pfukani area. But the tribalistic Vendas are refusing to integrate themselves with Tsonga-Speaking people.
Their tribalism coerces them to be incorporated into either Makhado or Thulamela Municipalities. This openly indicates that the tribalistic Vendas do from the bottom of their hearts grossly hate Tsongas-Shangaan,” read part of the document.
Residents also resolved that Lim 435 must be removed from Vhembe, “as a matter of urgency particularly because water and paraffin will never be combined to become one variable”. As part of the solution, they agreed that “Hlanganani-Lim areas (Tsonga –speaking), including Elim Hospital and those areas that are still falling under
Makhado Municipality be incorporated into Lim 345 as soon as possible”.
Tribalism is not a laughing matter. It can have dire consequences as it happened in Rwanda in 1994 when about 800 000 ethnic Tutsis were killed by their fellow Hutus like animals. Disturbing as the Malamulele developments are, they have once more shone the spotlight on tribalism in Limpopo.
This is a topic which politicians and government officials have tried too hard to avoid or suppress in the name of social cohesion. Throughout the Vuwani crisis, various Limpopo government officials and politicians maintained that tribalism was not the issue. Criminality and poor service delivery were.
However, in his opinion piece published by African Times in May last year, Dr Thivhilaeli Simon Nedohe had noted that tribalism was the main reason behind the demarcation dispute in Malamulele/Vuwani because “Bantustan tendencies” were still rife in the area.
Predictably, authorities in Limpopo apparently gagged Dr Nedohe and accused him of undermining efforts to build social cohesion. Former ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa had also made the same observation about the corrosive nature of tribalism.
In an interview in 2015, he accused the ruling party of tribalism.
“Why can’t we have a Sotho premier in the Eastern Cape, or a Motswana premier in Limpopo, or a Pedi premier in KwaZulu Natal? Those are the questions we must answer if we are to deal with tribalism decisively,” he said. For a province with three dominant ethnic groups that lived separately under Bantustan Homelands for decades, tribal tendencies should not come as a surprise in Limpopo. The question is: what is being done about it.
When former MPL Ike Kekana yelled that he “felt like he was in Giyani” during his visit to the Limpopo Department of Sports under then [Tsonga-speaking] MEC Joyce Mashamba, that was naked tribalism.
When Malamulele residents marched carrying placards, with the words “we don’t want Vendas” printed on them in 2013 that was pure tribalism. When Limpopo politicians still consider ethnic representation when appointing the
provincial cabinet; often regardless of merit; 23 years into our democracy; that; too; is tribalism.
Such criteria only serves to perpetuate a tribal mentality and poverty of thought. Whether someone is Pedi, Venda or Tsonga should count for less when selecting MEC’s, mayors, chief whips and ministers.
A Pedi-speaking friend of mine told me he was once accused by colleagues in KwaZulu Natal of stealing government jobs from locals. The subtext here was that “you don’t belong here. You must work in Limpopo because you are Pedi”. Really? In this time and age?
With what has just transpired in Malamulele, you must be a denialist of comic proportions to keep denying that tribalism is a problem. It must be confronted head on. And the time to do so is now.
Piet Rampedi is editor of African Times