Unity Day: Of My Being Shona & Kinda Ndebele

What does Unity Day mean to you? Here are some of my reflections and thoughts.

Image by: @sethdoylee

Zimbabwe celebrates Unity Day in about a week from today!

Well, for those who do not know, we have had deep-set conflicts between the two largest tribes in the country – the Shona and Ndebele, and in 1987, a political pact with tribal restorative connotations was signed. Known as the Unity Accord, the signing treaty is what we celebrate every year on the 22nd of December. We all get to share pictures of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo smiling at cameras and symbolizing the unity that has been achieved in the country.

However, I am not too sure we are as united as we would like to think we are. I mean, I am a staunch supporter of Dynamos Football Club and I cannot help but feel the tribal connotations that make up the yearly derbies between DeMbare and arch-rivals, Highlanders. Dynamos, as it were, is largely perceived as a team for Shonas although there is a good number of Ndebele people who support it. Highlanders on the other side, is a team for the Ndebele, with a good number of Shona people vying for it still despite the prejudices that come with the tribal connotations in supporting either football teams.

Shona people basically sing down Ndebele people, and Ndebele people sing down Shona people. It’s a known fact. Phrases from Shona Dynamos supporters like, “Hakuna Joina City kuna-Sokusile” (Bulawayo (Matebeleland) has no great malls but little flea markets) or those from Ndebele Highlander supporters like, “Wake walibona i-Shona lihlal’ eSowetho?” (Have you ever seen a Shona on our side of the stadium) all point to the reality of how much anger, bitterness and rivalry still exists across the tribal divide.

The undocumented atrocities known as Gukurahundi (which means “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains” in Shona) were the bone of contention in the signing of the historic accord. It is undeniable that the tribal tension that exist in the social stratosphere of Zimbabwean society all have to do with the effects of this dark cloud in Zimbabwean history.

I recall some time ago a good brother of mine telling me of how his uncle was brutally murdered during the time of that genocide. He described in crude detail how he was buried alive before being shot at while submerged under the dirt. The stories break my heart.

The bitterness then that I sense and I am told of by my Ndebele friends comes from a place where they feel like the powers that be have not down enough to address the genocide and move towards an actual functional unification process – beyond a piece of paper. There are parts of this that I understand because I grew up amongst them and yet there are parts of it that I don’t understand because I don’t live in the reality of their memories of this dark cloud.

On the other hand, my Shona brothers and sisters do think that Ndebele people should ‘just let it go’. Which I think is a dumb statement to begin with, but what they really probably mean, especially those my age is, “We know nothing about this – could we just move on?”

And I know it’s hard for both sides because I kinda co-exists in both understanding.

Honestly, all this tension tribally places people like myself in an awkward position. I mean, I am 100% Shona – a product of a Zezuru man and a Manica woman. Yet I have called Bulawayo home all my life. The streets of Makokoba, Emakhandeni, Nketa, Queens Park and Sauerstown all contributed to my becoming the man that I am. I went to Robert Tredgold and Thomas Rudland Primary Schools before I did six years of high school education at St. Columba’s – at the heart of Makokoba. In fact, I studied Ndebele at Advanced Level and I easily aced an A, thanks to the good old Mrs. Q. Nkomo who taught us all things Ndebele so well.

I also attended college at the National University of Science and Technology, which is also a Bulawayo based institution. All I know is Bulawayo. All I have breathed is Bulawayo. I have grown in my faith in Bulawayo. I have fallen in love in Bulawayo.

Some of my closest and best friends have always been Ndebele too. From my boy Tedious Ndlovu – who introduced me to video games when I was 9, and whose sister was the first lady to call me ‘handsome’ (well, she made me feel special and uncomfortable), to my boy Delvin whose mama was my mama’s best friend and his papa was my papa’s best friend, to my boy Billman whose mama and papa are literally my family too – and that puts me in awkward positions because Ndebele people are literally family to me.

Looking at it, the people who disciple me earlier in my faith were Ndebele men, and God used them tremendously in my life. So I really don’t have the liberty to broad-brush stuff and say stuff about either tribes.

Funny enough, I don’t even have the liberty to broad-brush anything even in racial issues. I have extremely close relationships across the racial lines that I feel awkward even calling it a ‘racial line’ because that practically is none existent. Just two days ago I sat on a dinner table with five American and one Zimbabwean (Ndebele dude) and we spoke about everything from tribalism, racism, white privilege in the United States and so forth.

I don’t know what to feel about Unity Day.

But I know what God commands us to do: to love one another, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Could we try that all you Ndebele and Shona people?


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