Tribalism narrative in the 2024 polls is a nemesis to social cohesion
Blue Nile state had seen tribal clashes over land disputes in July, and a flare-up in September
Image Credits : Reuters


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By Prof Bheki Mgomezulu

Tribalism, ethnicity, and religious orientation are some of the ills that hold the African people back. These have been responsible for the deaths of many people across the African continent in different magnitude.

The continent is replete with examples to buttress this fact. The Rwandan genocide in 1994, political turmoil in the Central African Republic in 2013, activities of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria are some of the few examples one can cite to sustain this view.

Pixley ka Seme was mindful of the devastating impact of tribalism and other forms of discrimination.

In 1906, he delivered a speech titled “The regeneration of Africa.” He warned against embracing the scourge of division among the African people, arguing that “the African people, although not a strictly homogeneous race, possess a common fundamental sentiment.” Seme was averse to the idea of embracing racial and tribal or ethnic differences.

Unfortunately, decades later, some of Seme’s comrades in present-day South Africa have wittingly and unwittingly let him down. They have individually and collectively sustained a false narrative that some provinces vote along tribal lines and that some political parties appeal to specific ethnic groups. They do this even when facts point to the contrary. This practice negates any attempt to build the country. When such statements are made on the eve of an election, they become worrisome.

Since the formation of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) in 2023, tribalism has been invoked and has been used for political expediency. The narrative is that this party only appeals to Zulu people in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and has no national footprints. The fact that the MKP has branches in other provinces does not seem to bother the sponsors of this baseless narrative.

It can be tolerated when such claims are sustained by those people who are ignorant about the history of South Africa and the history of the African National Congress (ANC). What is concerning and puzzling is that some leaders in the ANC have joined the bandwagon to push this dangerous narrative.

Recently, ANC Youth League President Collen Malatji raised an unfounded concern that voters in KZN vote along tribal lines and called on different stakeholders to address this “issue.” Such utterances are unfortunate, especially when they come from an ANC leader who is supposed to know better. What he raised as a concern had no basis, it was further from the truth.

A quick reflection on the history of the ANC would have led him to a different conclusion. For years KZN has remained the ANC’s biggest province – with the Eastern Cape coming second. Even when the Eastern Cape was replaced by Mpumalanga province recently in position two and was pushed to position three, KZN still retained the number one spot. EThekwini (Durban) has been the ANC’s biggest region nationally for years. These facts debunk the claim that KZN votes along tribal lines.

If the claim of tribal voting pattern in KZN was true, most of the electorate in this province would be voting for either the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) or the National Freedom Party (NFP) – both of which are based in KZN and are led by Zulu leaders. However, this is not the case. Malatji and all those who share his view should have drawn from history and should have done an analysis of the ANC’s support base before making such false claims which have the potential to tear the nation apart. Such claims are a nemesis to social cohesion and nation-building.

Context is always important. The labelling of the Zulu people as “tribalists” has been going on for some time. When the July 2021 unrest began following the incarceration of Former President Jacob Zuma, President Ramaphosa publicly dubbed this incident “ethnic mobilisation.” Some of us challenged him until he withdrew his statement. This showed good leadership from the President in that he conceded that he had made a mistake. Others should do the same.

The 2024 general election is critical for this country. Any reckless statement could ignite the fire which would be difficult to extinguish. Social cohesion should take precedence over populism.


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