As a former IEC official in the area, I am talking from experience.
Since the first municipal elections in 2000, residents of the predominantly Tsonga-speaking nearby Malamulele, did not accept the merger with the then Thohoyandou municipality, the majority of whose residents are Venda-speaking.
The interim local government arrangements since 1994 always included Malamulele area in the names such as Thohoyandou- Malamulele and Levubu- Shingwedzi local governments.
In 2000, however, the municipality which included Malamulele became Thohoyandou (the name of the fore king of the Vhavenda) Municipality.
I remember when I was appointed as the first Municipal Electoral Officer of the IEC in 2000-2001; when the election area manager of Malamulele tried to sabotage electoral processes in protest against the government’s failure to grant Malamulele a stand-alone municipality.
He purposely put the results slips of Malamulele areas into the box containing counted ballot papers and sealed the box, knowing fully well that the results would not be finalised without those, and that we were not supposed to open the sealed box.
The man then disappeared and switched off his cellphone. I had to call an emergency meeting of the Political Liaison Committee (PLC) and shared my suspicion with them.
They took a decision to allow me to open the box in their presence. We found the result slips, sealed the box again and finalised the results. We learnt later that he was doing so in protest because Malamulele didn’t feature as a distinctive municipality of its own.
Politicians later decided to solve the problem politically, by changing the name into what they thought would be an inclusive historical name: Thulamela (a Venda name).
Thulamela was the seat of government of the Kingdom which used to be in the now Kruger National Park, where both Tsonga and Venda-speaking people lived together in harmony for decades.
But that did not help solve the problem either.
History has it that the Self Governing States tendency or Bantustan mentality cannot be changed by simply changing names but by engaging in genuine talks over a period of time.
The Malamulele people continued their outcry for a municipality controlled and run by Tsonga- speaking people.
Instead of listening to and engaging them, politicians such as the late Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Cabana (May his soul rest in peace), a Tsonga, dismissed it as a tribalistic outcry that could not be entertained.
Ethnic tensions continued to escalate and the Malamulele people put pressure until the last general elections in 2014; when residents protested loudly by burning schools, government buildings and shops day in and day out. Services came to a standstill.
They barricaded streets with burning tyres and stoned cars – exactly the same thing Vuwani residents are doing now. They listened to no one and demanded to be addressed by President Zuma, failing which they would not vote.
Their message was that they did not want Vendas (a hi lavi Vho he nndaa, loosely translated literally as, “we don’t want those who greet by saying nndaa- who are the Vendas) in their area, let alone the “Venda run” Thulamela Municipality.
In an act of desperation, President Zuma went and addressed them and persuaded them to vote, saying he would grant them their own municipality after the elections.
They then voted. What President Zuma did not realise was that he had created a bad precedent and sent a wrong message that he and his government can only listen to violent protests.
Pravin Gordan, the then Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, was then urgently sent to meet Malamulele people.
He assured them that if he had the powers he would grant them their own municipality immediately.
He then promised to use the window period before the next local government elections to make a proposal to the Municipal Demarcation Board, as provided for in law.
Indeed Minister Gordhan kept his promise, made those proposals and the Municipal Demarcation Board complied.
Again, politicians solved the tribalistic Malamulele crisis politically without realising it would backfire.
Vuwani (predominantly Venda-speaking) people then felt that the government had bowed to the pressure of Malamulele residents and blessed tribalism.
They also protested that they would not fall under a Tsonga-led and named municipality which would divide them.
They also demanded to be addressed by President Zuma.
He did not go to meet them. Instead he sent his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, who is a Venda himself, to go and address them.
The residents told Ramaphosa in no uncertain terms that they did not ask for a new municipality and that they, therefore, would want to remain part of a predominantly Venda run Makhado Municipality, hence they called their leadership ”Pro- Makhado Task team”.
This is a tribalistic mess which President Zuma created by executing poor and unsound judgment. Vuwani people felt that President Zuma imposed the new boundaries on them to solve a tribalistic problem. They also felt entitled to their tribalistic views as well. They feel that what is done on the left should also be done on the right.
I am of the view that two wrongs do not make a right. The Municipal Demarcation Board also continues to comment very arrogantly.
Moving forward, the situation needs a very well thought out intervention strategy.
We need to pray.
I thought that I needed to make a contribution through my analysis so that when we pray we should also have some historical facts.
Dr Nedohe is an advisor to Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha on social cohesion.