Conversations surrounding multiculturalism have often been framed around Europeans failing to accept immigrants in their countries; but we have left a saw in our own eye as Africans. A continent that is plagued by tribal divisions mostly based on ignorance and intolerance needs to have more conversations about our intolerance for the other, especially when the other looks just like us. This hatred has been sown and sustained by the elite few who benefit from it while the masses suffer and are forced to live in toxic half-truths; this is the danger of a single story. The first step to remedying this is to actually allow people to tell their own truths. Below are the thoughts of young people from 10 of the 16 language groups belonging to Zimbabwe.
Will Diseree Moyo- Khalanga -Sotho
Being Zimbabwean means coming from a place where I should have certain rights guaranteed by the constitution but that’s not the reality, thus I am Zimbabwean in name. However after living in America for 6 years I’m still self-conscious about American ways/ culture but being Zimbabwean is second nature to me. My mother is Sotho and my father is Kalanga but my parents identify as Ndebele as it provides some social, political and economic benefits. I identify as Ndebele so I don’t have to choose between my parents tribes. This Ndebele alliance has resulted in the erasure of the minority tribes that fall under it. Kalangas and Ndebele’s are stereotyped to be lazy drunks and the women are loose, always going to South Africa and stingy with money. These stereotypes aren’t true; except for the SA one which is caused by the systematic oppression of minorities in Zimbabwe. People from my tribes are all different and deserve to be treated as individuals. Some of the most educated and important Zimbabwean figures are Kalanga e.g Joshua Nkomo, Thokozani Khuphe, Mzila Khaya Moyo to name a few. I love that my identity is unique and I get to choose how I identify myself on any given day. My identity liberates me and allows me to build a community with who I choose to.
Karstern Noko – Sotho-Venda
Being Zimbabwean means social ties history and childhood memories. Government officials speaking to me in Shona often reminds me of my tribe when I am in Zimbabwe. I don’t feel like I belong to Zimbabwe except when I’m around family and friends, the country is heavily dominated by majority tribes and not much room is left for minority tribes to feel like they belong. The stereotype is that we don’t exist in Zimbabwe, we’re South African. Which isn’t true. Even though we’re a minority tribe we wish to feel more represented. I love that I can go to a few countries and still be able to speak and understand people
Nokuthaba Dliso- Venda
To me being Zimbabwean means living in a country of poverty, used as cheap labour no freedom of speech, migrating to other countries due to poor economic conditions, living as a refugee in other countries and being exploited in those countries. Venda people are associated with witchcraft. These statements are incorrect. I would like for people to know that we are very respectful and we have love, we are intelligent and we love educating ourselves.
Musololi Mutale: Tonga
Tonga people are seen as primitive. Stereotypes associated with our tribe include witchcraft and weed smoking. I think they lead to further marginalisation of the tribe, people think they know Tonga people based on those stereotypes whereas there is more to the tribe than that. There is something of an imposter syndrome associated with being Tonga; at times it feels like one isn’t Zimbabwean enough. We are incredibly warm people, innovative and resourceful too. I would also like for people to know about the unfair treatment that we received when we were moved from the banks of the Zambezi river in order to make way for Lake Kariba. It’s a price we pay till this day, the economy and industry relied heavily on the on their proximity to the Zambezi and it was all taken away in 1956. My favourite thing about being Tonga is the enigma of it, I feel that people should take time to learn more about other people’s tribes.
Although there are a lot of things that are currently wrong with my country I am still proud to be Zimbabwean. I know we haven’t done anything of note but I am still proud. There’s a disconnect with being Kalanga, I don’t know the language so often times I feel like I am not an authentic Kalanga person. The stereotypes are that we’re lazy and make no progression in life. Sometimes I worry that that’s what people think of me before they actually get to know me. We are here, we might be few and our language might not be spoken widely but we’re here and we exist.
Josh Hollands- English
Being Zimbabwean means that I am a citizen of the most beautiful country on earth and by default I am member of one the toughest and resolute groups of people in the world. Stereotypes associated with being white in Zimbabwe include “Oh so did you lose a farm too? Or can you just move to Australia or the UK if things get bad”. I have no rights to any other nation other than Zimbabwe. Not all of us sit and dream about the good old Rhodie days, we also would like to help build a new Zimbabwe. I carry the legacy of my ancestors being involved in farming and politics and I have accepted what this means for me today by virtue of the colour of my skin. I know that many people are still uncomfortable around me and I understand that, I have accepted that I am part of this history. Anywhere you go in the world and you meet Zimbabweans it’s like you meeting long lost family, we are such loving and friendly people and I am just proud that I can relate to it and be a part of it.
Tsakani Muyambo – Tsonga
Being Zimbabwean means being African and I pride myself in that greatly. Simply put, it means being strong enough to rise to the challenges and tackling those issues gracefully. Being Tsonga means I am aware of my true identity, how I carry myself privately and publicly and personally is a reflection of my tribe, genuine. Apart from the Ndebele and Shona tribes within the country, minority tribes are treated as non tribes. It’s sad because people don’t get to experience and see the beauty of all the cultures we have here. I want them to know about the beauty of our language, beliefs and cultural practices. I cannot speak Tsonga fluently because the language was introduced into the curriculum, as a language less than 5 years ago. My favourite part about being Tsonga is our traditional attires and what they represent.
Laura Mbeve– Chichewa
Being Zimbabwean has no significance to me, I feel like I was born within these particular boarders and that’s that. It’s my life, it’s all l have ever known and I am content. Being ChiChewa is interesting because it’s different from being either Shona or Ndebele. I take pride in it, I research customs and beliefs and I even tried forcing my dad to teach me Chichewa. I think it’s because I personally yearn for a unique identity. I am me before I am of a tribe or nationality.
Sandra Gonah- Shona
Shona is my culture, language and ethnic group. I am part of the Zezuru group, namely the Njanja people. There are morals and traits that have been instilled in me which have contributed to my growth and made me who I am today. I grew up in Bulawayo and I have been fortunate enough to learn isiNdebele as well as Manyika and Tonga culture and languages. My favourite part about being Zimbabwean is its diversity; the ability to interact with various cultures and to form a family is amazing. I wish we could all embrace Zimbabwean culture. I acknowledge that we are all from various ethnic groups and cultures, however we are Zimbabwean. Therefore; we should be united, kind and loving to one another.
Candace Dube- Ndebele
Although it is often associated with poverty and bad government many still have the chance to be who they want to be and fulfil their goals, above all to be Zimbabwean is to be a fighter. To be Ndebele is to be strong, proud, free spirited, cultured and confident. I am Ndebele before I am Zimbabwean, my roots define me, I am not confined by my place of birth. Ndebele people are labelled as lazy and the women painted as violent and easy. It is untrue; putting a whole tribe under one stereotype is unfair. There are individuals from every tribe who can easily fit into those stereotypes. Thus in terms of employment Ndebeles are often overlooked. However we are hardworking people and that mentality should be done away with. These stereotypes block people from coming together to make any progress. I am unashamedly Zimbabwean, a Ndebele queen, a daughter of royalty. I love that I am unapologetically Nonhlanhla Candace Dube and that I am strong, I am the Indlovukazi, the Ndebele that does not crack, and the Zimbabwean with a vision. I love I am ambitious that what I set my mind to I achieve.
As the sun slowly sets on election season, what kind of Zimbabwe do young people envision? For so long we have been fed what to think and expect by the older generation but maybe, just maybe in spaces like these we can have real conversations and dare to dream about a different future that we have designed ourselves. That means dealing with uncomfortable truths so that we can become better than those that came before us.
Photography: Tinashe Charleson Moyo