Professor Gatsheni's rendition on Mthwakazi's colourful history

Professor Gatsheni's rendition on Mthwakazi's colourful history
Published: 29 November 2014 | by Thembani Dube


With Thembani Dube

Agenda4Action is uMthwakazi Review's online publication's latest programme whose aim is to interact with the political and non-political movers and shakers in Mthwakazi and beyond on a regular basis. Our guest to grace this programme this week is one of Mthwakazi's movers and shakers in the academic field with a colourful academic and professional resume, Professor Sabelo Ndlovu J. Gatsheni. Professor Sabelo Ndlovu J. Gatsheni is currently working as a Full Professor in the Department of Development Studies at the University of South Africa in Pretoria and Head of Archie Mafeje Research Institute in Applied Social Policy (AMRI) based at the same University of South Africa. He holds three degrees, a BA (Hons) in History, MA in African History, DPhil in Historical Studies (University of Zimbabwe). He also possesses a Post-Graduate Diploma in Tertiary Teaching from the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), a certificate in Research Supervision from Monash University (Australia) and another certificate in Decolonizing Power and Knowledge from Autonoma Universitat de Barcelona (Spain).

He began his academic career as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of History at the University of Zimbabwe (1995-1999); taught History & Development at Midlands State University in Gweru (Zimbabwe) (2000-2004); taught International Studies at Monash University (2005-2007); taught African Studies at the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies at the Open University in Milton Keynes (UK) (Jan 2008 to Jan 2010) and worked as Senior Researcher at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) (March 2010-Dec. 2010), before joining UNISA in February 2011.

Professor Sabelo Ndlovu J. Gatsheni has published over 40 peer-reviewed articles in such internationally renowned and peer-reviewed journals such as African Affairs, Journal of Southern African Studies, Third World Quarterly, The Round Table: International Journal of Commonwealth Studies; African Studies Quarterly, Development Southern Africa, African Studies Review, Australasia Review of African Studies, and many others. He has also published over 25 book chapters and presented over 40 academic papers in international conferences in such countries as United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Sudan, Egypt, Canada, Finland and others. Professor Sabelo Ndlovu J. Gastheni has also published four sole authored books: The Ndebele Nation: Reflections on Hegemony, Memory and Historiography (Rozenberg Publishers and UNISA Press, Amstardam & Pretoria, 2009); Do 'Zimbabweans' Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation & Crisis in a Postcolonial State, (Peterlann International Academic Publishers, Oxford & Bern, 2009); Coloniality of Power in Post-Colonial Africa: Myths of Decolonization (CODESRIA Books, Dakar, Oct. 2012) and Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity (Berghahn Books, New York, June 2013)

Professor Sabelo Ndlovu J. Gatsheni shares his views and thoughts about Mthwakazi history in this week's Agenda4Action programme.

Thembani Dube: Thank you Professor for joining uMR's Agenda 4 Action programme to share your views about the history of Mthwakazi. The first question to you is what really inspired you to be a historian, a researcher and a Development Studies specialist?

Prof. Gatsheni: Thank you Thembani for having me in your programme. My response to your question is that you will probably know that history is basically a concentrated and systematic study of human affairs across space and time. I have always wanted to know the trajectory of humanity from cradle to the eternity. History to me is one of the most important subjects that enable one to understand human condition in its complexity and temporality. To be a historian entails developing good research skills, empathy with the past and wide imagination. As a historian, I worship at the altar of evidence just like a lawyer, but I don't issue sententious judgements. I judge situations and make conclusions, as a way of projecting into the present and the future. History has enabled me to appreciate and develop expertise in other fields of study such as Development Studies, International Studies, African Politics and African Studies. I found myself teaching and contributing to these fields in terms of publications without any problem.

Thembani Dube: Mthwakazi (Matebeleland) history is fascinating and interesting. I am sure you have covered a lot of ground in this area as a Professor. There are two towering figures in the history of the Matabele, King Mzilikazi and King Lobengula. What are your comments on their contribution to the moulding of the Ndebele nation?

Prof. Gatsheni: Kings Mzilikazi Khumalo and his son Lobengula Khumalo were nation-builders par excellence. They were statesmen. They built the Ndebele nation which has withstood so many forces that wishes it dead. If one wants to understand, the art of nation-building and state construction, Mzilikazi and Lobengula are excellent examples of nation-building artists. Of course, there are forces which have tried to distort their legacy, who have tried to project them as violent and blood-thirsty leaders, but the existence of a heterogeneous Ndebele-speaking community defies such sinister articulations of Ndebele history. What needs to be studied is how Mzilikazi and Lobengula succeeded in doing what present day leaders are failing to do.

Thembani Dube: We read in history Professor that Nkulumane was installed as King after King Mzilikazi had strayed into Zambia for some time before he found his way back to his people. We read again in history that King Mzilikazi was not best amused with the installation of Nkulumane as King in his absence. From your knowledge and research in history, what happened to Nkumane and those that installed him into power?

Prof. Gatsheni: Indeed the installation of the Ndebele nation on the south-west of what is now Zimbabwe, was hit by a crisis in the 1840s which became known as Nataba Yezinduna Crisis. It was a crisis that was informed by exigencies of long migration from South Africa that necessitated the splitting of the Ndebele into two groups. The crisis involved killing of some chiefs who had taken part in the installation of Nkulume as King in the absence of his father. Two schools of thought emerged. The first was that Nkilumane was killed on the orders of his father. The second was that Nkulumane was sent back to South Africa to his maternal people. Recent evidence indicates that indeed Nkulumane was not killed. He was sent back to SA but did not reach Zululand. He lived in Rusteburg among the Sotho-Tswana people. His descendents are found among the Bafokeng. I have travelled to Rustenburg and saw the place where he was buried. His surviving descendent is Ngwalongwalo Khumalo, who keeps a detailed memory of his family tree and has an explanation of how they ended in that area.

Thembani Dube: Interesting revelation indeed. Let us come to the situation that Mthwakazi finds herself in Zimbabwe. The most celebrated historical events in Zimbabwe are the uprising of 1896 against white settlers by both the Matabele and the Mashona peoples and the liberation war waged against the Rhodesians. One of your outstanding articles entitled: The construction and the Decline of Chimurenga Monologue in Zimbabwe is one of the best articles I have ever read about the construction of the post-colonial state of Zimbabwe. Can you explain in brief to us what you mean by "Chimurenga Monologue"?

Prof. Gatsheni: By Chimurenga monologue, I mean a particular rendition of modern history in a partisan and one-sided way that buttresses the claim by one ethnic group and political party to be the heroic progenitors of the nation and to be the authentic subjects of the nation, while silencing and distorting other histories, and writing other people outside national history. In Chimurenga monologue, the people of Zimbabwe are Shona and the liberator party is ZANU-PF. That is a distortion of complex histories of identities of people inhabiting the lands between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. It is also a distortion of the liberation history where ZAPU and ZIPRA played an important role not knowing that their participation will be trivialised. The trivialisation was accompanied by confiscation of ZAPU archives so as to authorise the Chimurenga monologue.

Thembani Dube: The Matabele rose up against colonialism in 1893 to 1894 as well as in 1896 to 1897 and fought gallantly to defend the Kingdom. These battles were followed by the liberation war under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo. What is the alternative to the "Chimurenga Monologue" that the people of Mthwakazi (Matebeleland) can utilize to give a narrative of their own rich history?

Prof. Gatsheni: The alternative to Chimurenga monologue is to accept the plurality of historical realities, plurality of identities, plurality of people who participated in the liberation struggle, plurality of heroes and heroines. What has been done by Chimurenga monologue has been to remove heroes like Lobhengula Khumalo who fought against British imperialism in 1893 and the Ndebele forces who fought against imperialism in 1896.

Thembani Dube: Are there other important battles that were fought by King Lobengula's warriors that should be celebrated or commemorated publicly in Matebeleland?

Prof. Gatsheni: Indeed the Battle of Shangani River, the Battle of Mbembesi and the Battle of Pupu and many others that were fought in 1896 must be commemorated.

Thembani Dube: King Lobengula signed the Rudd Concession in 1888 after being duped by the colonialist agent and a business associate of Cecil John Rhodes, Charles Rudd. The "Chimurenga Monologue" has and continues to abuse this event to score points against this towering figure of the Matabele history, accusing him of selling the country to whites. What is your take on this attempt at "reconstructing" history and destroying the pillars of the Matabele history?

Prof. Gatsheni: It is nonsense to say that King Lobengula Khumalo sold the country in 1888 by signing the Rudd Concession. King Lobengula Khumalo was using a combination of diplomacy and force to avert colonization of the Ndebele state. Through this technique he managed to delay colonialism until 1893. Even then he fought fiercely against imperialist forces. Mashonaland was occupied without resistance whereas Matabeleland was conquered after fierce battles.

Thembani Dube: In your view has Zanu PF's attempt to "reconstruct" history via the "Chimurenga Monologue" and of late being fronted by Professor Jonathan Moyo been successful?

Prof. Gatsheni: It is very hard to try and sustain a lie. The Chimurenga monologue is informed by distortions and exaggerations of heroism of particular people, while real heroes are turned into villains. That is not sustainable as long as people live to tell what they know and experienced. The case in point was that of attempting to deny Joshua Nkomo the title of 'Father Zimbabwe' through framing him as the 'Father of Dissidents' including tribalizing and provincializing him. This failed dismally.

Thembani Dube: The Matabele Kingdom was eventually destroyed by colonialists through the barrel of the gun. The Matabele impi warriors eventually surrendered after the leader of the Rebellion Mlimo was killed in the uprising of 1896 to 1897. We have read many confusing reports about what happened to King Lobengula during the rebellion. From your study of historical events, what really happened to him and where was he buried?

Prof. Gatsheni: King Lobengula Khumalo was a proud son of men of heroic stature in African history; he did not succumb to the embarrassing scenario of being captured by what he considered to be white dogs. He decided to migrate and died secretly.

Thembani Dube: After this sad episode the triumphalist white settlers under Cecil John Rhodes eventually took over Matebeleland in 1897 and combined it with Mashonaland to form a state called Southern Rhodesia under the administration of the British South Africa Company and Legislative Council (BSAC). A lot of people from Matebeleland trace the source of Matebeleland Question and problems that they face today in this colonial event and are of the view that in 1980, Matebeleland should have been de-colonized as a separate state from Mashonaland. Was the issue of separate de-colonization of Matebeleland ever mentioned during the Lancaster House talks?

Prof. Gatsheni: At Lancaster the nationalists from ZAPU and ZANU pretended to be united and were intent on hiding their tribalistic tendencies hence the issue of separate decolonization of Mashonaland and Matabeleland did not arise. Leaders of ZAPU and ZANU were both complicit in recognition of colonial boundaries as though they were set by a god and they were happy to inherit the colonially crafted state that was put together through forcible integration of otherwise separate peoples without common histories, languages and cultures. It is a sin that was committed by all so-called nationalists and was legitimized by the moribund OAU through the principle of inviolability of colonially inherited boundaries.

Thembani Dube: In one of your best articles entitled: The changing politics of Matebeleland since 1980, you have chronicled the reasons that have given rise to "Ndebele particularism" including the Gukurahundi Genocide. You are clearly following the developments of this "particularism" in Matebeleland very well. Is there a likelihood that in the future "Ndebele particularism" will eventually develop into full blown Matebeleland nationalism that will lead to the restoration of Matebeleland as a post-post-colonial state emancipated from another post-colonial state in Africa?

Prof. Gatsheni: Ndebele particularism is a term I used to describe what histories, cultures, ideologies and languages that unites and distinguishes the Ndebele community and nation, which has enabled it to weather such storms as colonialism and Gukurahundi. Ndebele particularism is already developed because such operations as Gukurahundi solidified it instead of diluting it. Its future trajectory will depend on how forces of exclusion continue to marginalise Ndebele-speaking people, and how Ndebele-speaking politicians are openly excluded from the corridors of power. The treatment of Professor Welshman Ncube must be closely analysed for what it signifies. It is the most recent political development that indicates how far those entrenched in power can go in preventing people from Matebeleland and Midlands region from holding any powerful position in government. It is not a small matter, it reveals something that ethnic favouritism is practiced rather than expressed verbally most of the time. It is such treatment that will solidify Ndebele particularism into full blown separate nationalism.

Thembani Dube: On the cultural front we have witnessed the celebration of the founding fathers of the Ndebele nation, King Mzilikazi and King Lobengula in Matebeleland. These celebrations have also taken an international perspective and are now taking place in the USA, UK and South Africa where Ndebele communities are found. Are these the early attempts by the Ndebele to safeguard and give their own historical narrative as a people as well as their reaction to the "Chimurenga Monologue" that has been deployed relentlessly in every facet of "public commemorations and memorialization" in Zimbabwe since 1980?

Prof. Gatsheni: No people can live a life which is culturally rootless. No people can celebrate other people's histories. No people can be forced to celebrate people whom they don't know what they did for them as heroes. It is within this context that Ndebele communities across the world have decided to claim their roots and celebrate their heroes. It is an indictment on Chimurenga monologue which has sought to exhume heroes and heroines from one particular community and raise these into national heroes. This can be solved through careful elevation of heroes from every ethnic group inhabiting the lands between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. Tongas, Nambyias, Kalangas, Suthus and many other groups know their heroes and heroines that have been silenced and forgotten.

Thembani Dube: Gukurahundi Genocide remains an emotive issue in Mthwakazi ( Matebeleland) and rightfully so. How do you think this issue can be resolved?

Prof. Gatsheni: Gukurahundi can only be sold through a TRC. The truth, accountability and genuine apology must constitute the path towards resolution of this wound. Denialism inflames the issue.

Thembani Dube: There is a lot that happened during Gukurahundi that has not come out for public consumption at present. Do you think that historians and all interested parties should set up a Gukurahundi Research Institute in the future to look at this issue in more detail?

Prof. Gatsheni: Indeed more research is urgent on what happened during Gukurahundi operations. Historical truth is therapeutic on its own. But it must be accompanied by accountability. No one can fool himself or herself that more than 20 000 people could be massacred and those who experienced it just accept it as a past that must be forgotten. The perpetrators can try every trick in the book but the time is coming to account. They just have to read history to stop fooling themselves.

Thembani Dube: We read in history that the San people, abaThwakazi, are the original inhabitants of the land we call Zimbabwe today. Apart from the San people, are all the ethnic groups found in this country the products of occupiers and settlers from a historical point of view?

Prof. Gatsheni: African history just like global history is a tale of migrations. The same is true of people who presently live on the lands between the Zambezi and the Limpopo Rivers; they migrated from the somewhere else in different flows and at different times. Some came earlier than others, but the reality is that they migrated from somewhere. Only the San and Khoikhoi are the original inhabitants of Southern Africa. However, this argument must not be used to justify white colonialism and telescoping history ala Afrikaners in SA who claim to have come into SA at the same time with the Bantu. This argument must also be qualified to say black people are Africans of the soil and blood and our white counterparts are Africans by settler-ship.

Thembani Dube: Some of us have always been intrigued by the numerous Ruins that are dotted around Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Ruins are one of the major ruins found in this country. There are no replications of similar structures in surrounding areas of these sites. From your historical research and study of history of Zimbabwe who built those ruins?

Prof. Gatsheni: The question of who built Great Zimbabwe has been on for a long-time. What exists are schools of thought some pushing the African nationalist thought on the local origins of the stone-buildings and others pushing the tired debate of white agency. We will continue to live with these different regimes of truth over this fantastic pre-historic heritage. The fact that they are located in Africa, they constitute an African heritage. The fact that they are inside Zimbabwe make them a Zimbabwean heritage. But live all good artefacts of human creation, there continues to be struggles over origination and ownership.

Thembani Dube: Some argue that Joshua Nkomo's legacy in history is secure despite some of the monumental blunders he made in politics while others are very critical of his legacy as a leader from Matebeleland. Are Joshua Nkomo and the legacy of Zapu and ZIPRA prisoners of Zanu PF's ideology of post-colonial state building in Zimbabwe?

Prof. Gatsheni: History needs to be liberated from the victor's narrative. History needs to be democratized to accommodate diverse accounts of contribution of different people to the making of the present. Nkomo, ZAPU and ZIPRA have a proud and heroic history that cannot be easily imprisoned by anyone let alone silenced and erased.

Thembani Dube: Professor Sabelo Ndlovu J. Gatsheni it has been a pleasure to have you on uMthwakazi Reveiw's Agenda4Action programme. We look forward to engaging with you in this programme in the future. Thank you.

Prof. Gatsheni: Thank you for inviting me to this great programme Thembani. I am more than happy to be your guest in the future. Many thanks once again.

- uMR


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