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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Tribal war halts development in Northern Limpopo

29 march 2019

I hate tribalism with the same vigor that many black South Africans show whenever a racist incident occurs. Every time I hear someone uttering degrading statements about my tribe, Tsonga, I feel doubly discriminated against. I am black and Tsonga.

The recent widely reported soccer tribalism incident bears reference. Black Leopards Chairperson David Thidiela stormed onto the pitch to confront Premier Soccer League (PSL) referee Victor Hlungwani, following his team’s loss against Bloemfontein Celtics. Thidiela in his frustration over Hlungwani’s officiating, said to him “Mchangani xilu lexi”, meaning, this thing is Shangaan. What was meant to be him berating the referee for poor officiating, turned into a rant based on ethnicity and tribalism. The term, Mchangani, is also subtly used to refer to people coming from outside of South Africa.

The incident forced me to revisit the painful dark past I chose to bury for years. I am Tsonga, who grew up in Venda, Limpopo Province. Even though my primary school years were enjoyable, one thing I hated was being constantly reminded that I was not Venda, but Shangaan. The song ‘Mchangana bika Vhuswa muladza rido la phanda’, meaning ‘Shangaan cook pap we will eat it when it’s cold on the way’ which was constantly sung by my primary class mates in the 80s whenever they wanted to mock me, still rings in my head, 30 years later.

I grew up being made to believe that as a Tsonga person I was inferior to Vendas. It was not a matter of me believing the statement to be true but, being part of a minority, I felt the pain.

My late grandmother, Nyanisi, used to tell me of her wonderful upbringing where Vendas and Tsongas used to live in true harmony in Mashau’s Bonchas Village, in Limpopo. There was no tribal separation. The creation of Bantustan by Malan and Verwoed did not only separate people who lived together as one family, but planted tribal differences which is still felt some 66 years later. For the remainder of her life, the 22nd December 1972, became a painful reminder of how my grandmother and her family were evicted from the only place they called home.

Because of pervasive tribalism, I was not surprised when Tsonga people of Malamulele complained about lack of services by Venda led Thulamele Municipality. The same scenario repeated itself when Venda people of Vuwani refused to be incorporated into newly formed Tsonga led Collins Chabane Municipality, citing fear of discrimination. It is about power dynamics. The dominant tribe in terms of number of villages, within a municipality, gets all the top political positions. Services and job opportunities are skewed in accordance with power dynamics.  

Going back to Thidiela’s incident, I was eager to check Twitter’s uptake on the matter as it grew in prominence. ‘Black Twitter’ – a space where issues affecting black people are discussed usually on Sundays, and where everyone is usually in agreement; was divided. Some Venda speaking people sympathized with Thidiela, arguing that he did not intend to degrade Hlungwani, as fuming Tsonga people were saying. However, Tsongas wanted action against Thidiela.

This divide and rule principle created by the apartheid government, played out on the modern digital pages of Twitter, clearly still having a firm grip today. People look at tribalism based on interest not substance.   

Whilst people are obsessed with tribalism, my 66 year old mother and other women of Vuwani are suffering. The area’s decision to shut down Vuwani, refusing to be incorporated into Collins Chabane Municipality, has resulted in them enduring months of hardship. Visiting home last month opened a wound that is refusing to heal. I was hurt seeing elderly women waking up at around eleven o’ clock at night, to fetch water in the nearby taps. If they don’t, these elderly women are forced to two to three kilometers in the scorching Limpopo sun just to realise their Constitutional right to access water.

Their plea to the relevant authorities to fix the unreliable water system is falling on deaf ears.

Because apartheid orchestrated tribalism, people of Vuwani are left in the limbo. The temporary deal by the municipal demarcation board for Vuwani to fall under Vhembe district municipality is exacerbating service delivery frustrations. As such, there is no clarity on who is supposed to render day-to-day services between Collins Chabane and Makhado local municipalities.

I urge Vendas and Tsongas to revisit their spirit of Ubuntu and dismantle this apartheid created tribal rivalry with the same vigor as racism. After all we are one.

Wisani Baloyi is a Communications Officer at the South African Human Rights Commission.

 

 

 

 

 

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