|Fidelis Ncube of the M.L.F.|
“Now is the time,” Ncube said, to pursue “the total liberation of Mthwakazi. We are a peaceful organisation but will use other methods which were used by other people to liberate themselves. We are prepared to lay down our lives for the liberation of Mthwakazi from Zimbabwe. Before December we will send a delegation to present our secession letter with our demands. It’s time to serve divorce papers.” He referred to one of the searing traumas in the history of the Ndebele (also known as the Matabele)—the extermination of many thousands of political opponents, mostly Ndebele, in the 1980s by Mugabe’s North-Korean-trained shock troops. Ncube said it was in Mugabe’s “best interest to allow us to part ways ... and gone are the days when we could fold our hands when our people were being killed. We will not allow another 20,000 to be killed.”
|Some maps present a future independent Matabeleland|
as about half of current Zimbabwe.
The previous week, in Bulawayo, the chief city in the Matabeleland region, two other separatist groups, the Mthwakazi National Party (M.N.P.) and the newly formed Mthwakazi Republic Party (M.R.P.), held a joint meeting but failed to agree on forming a coalition. The M.N.P. regards the M.R.P., who have announced plans to declare independence within two years, as dangerous radicals. The M.L.F. had originally set 2018 as a year for declaring independence, but the rise of the M.R.P. this year has probably been a factor in the acceleration of the M.L.F. timetable.
|M.L.F. activists burning the flag of Zimbabwe|
The Ndebele had an independent kingdom called Mthwakazi until the United Kingdom consolidated rule in the 1890s, and Ndebele were at the forefront of resistance to British colonialism in that period. During the struggle in the 1970s and 1980s against apartheid in what was then Rhodesia, the Ndebele, who are the country’s largest minority at 20%, were represented by armed rebels of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), which found itself in a three-way war with British settlers and with the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), representing the Shona ethnic group that forms 70% of the population. ZANU-P.F. (the P.F. stands for Patriotic Front) has been the ruling party in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, and Mugabe, who is Shona, has proven himself to be one of the most repressive tyrants in Africa or indeed the world. He has been accused of genocide, and his corrupt, kleptocratic style of rule has left Zimbabwe in dire poverty, with an economy that barely functions. Through all of this, the Ndebele regions have borne the brunt of this poverty, as a result of deliberate governmental neglect.
|President Robert Mugabe|
In addition to republican groups such as the M.L.F. and M.R.P., the Matabeleland Freedom Party (M.F.P.) remains loyal to the current Mthwakazi king, in exile in South Africa. (The Ndebele, who are related to the Zulu people, include 700,000 or so people in northern South Africa, who under apartheid had a nominally autonomous “homeland” called KwaNdebele.) Other Ndebele separatist groups include the Matabeleland Liberation Organisation (M.L.O.), the Patriotic Union of Matabeleland (P.U.M.), and a self-styled provisional government called the Mthwakazi Free State (M.F.S.).
The brutalized victims of a dictatorship in a failed state, the Ndebele deserve the chance to govern themselves. The M.L.F. may well declare independence this year. But it is unclear if they will make any concrete gains amid the din of competing voices for Ndebele self-rule.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas. The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014. I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]