Breaking ethnic barriers

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Feb 21, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

Have you ever seen a hummingbird fleeing from a blizzard? People have a natural tendency to flee like a blizzard whenever you broach the subject of racism, tribalism, xenophobia, the gender agenda and sexual orientation.

People try to avoid these acute angles by sublimating their personal conservatism by saying socially acceptable words such as: “I grew up with black children on the farm and I used to speak their language. I love all the African people and the abuse of women and children is utterly wrong.”

Someone once told me that South Africans preferred to request an Uber service to requesting the government to deliver a noble service to their communities. We often do not make requests to the government we, however make demands.

Recently, there was a “shutdown” at Giyani where people were damaging the establishment of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) campus at Giyani. When I called someone to establish the facts, he told me that the Vatsonga felt marginalised and were enraged because they perceived themselves to the only ethic group in South Africa with no kingship and university.

Burrowed into my mind is the memory how all the elders of Israel gathered and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him: “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:4-5.)

My friend told that there are three ethnic groups in Limpopo but the Vatsonga did not have a king of a university. After I replaced the receiver, I realised that the dyke of rage was about to burst when my friend impressed upon that they were planning to take the South African government to the International Court of Justice for “ill-treating” the people of Giyani in particular and the Vatsonga in general.

I welcome the outbursts; they show us the seriousness of the disease. They are like bubbles that fly off the boiling pot. What I regret is the disease; the way in which we have lived together in the past to make such hatred grow.

We cannot amend matters by sheer hypocrisy. The ethnic quarrel is a stupid quarrel and it can be a tragic quarrel. There was a narrative during protest action that the University of Limpopo belongs to the Sotho Speakers. This is a deceptive half-truth.

For many years, the University of Limpopo used an acronym “Sovenga”. “So” for Sotho, “ve” for Venda and “nga” for Tsonga. This is like saying Soshanguve is a Sotho township. “So”, denotes Sotho, “sha” denotes Shangaan and “ve” denotes Venda. Leaders such as President Cyril Ramaphosa, Ishmael Mkhabele, Lyborn Mabasa, and Tito Mboneni are the products of Sovenga.

On the other side of the coin, there is another narrative that University of Venda belongs to the VhaVenda, not the people of Limpopo. What the protesters do not understand is that a university is not a gloried high school; it must attract students and academics beyond Limpopo and the borders of South Africa. It would be good a have a TUT campus at Giyani or to convert Giyani College into a university.

A university founded on ethnic lines, to use Jim Collins’s words, will not move our society from good to great. The Report of the National Commission on Higher Education (1966) titled: A Framework for Transformation states: “Higher education … has immerse potential to contribute to the consolidation of democracy and social justice, and the growth and the development of the economy.”

The question society should be asking is: Who is using tribal tactics to spread the seeds of hatred in Limpopo? I guess the construction Mafias are manipulating the people of Giyani. They know that Giyani College has been vandalised and they are desperate for contracts and they will stop at nothing to direct the procurement agenda.

If the tenders will not be in their favour, they will sabotage the entire process. Like the desperate Soul who went to the medium in order to communicate with Samuel from the grave, they are doing the same to the late chief minister of Gazankulu Professor HEW Ntsan’wisi. He should be turning in his grave.

They have catalogued all his achievements and how the new government had destroyed his legacy. The people who are lauding him as a great leader are the very people who, 30 years ago, were hell-bent on disrupting his funeral at Giyani Stadium even if meant injuring the mourners in the process.

They portray him as a tribalist as opposed to a visionary and a realist who predicted in 1969 that the solution to the South African’s intricate problem was a negotiated settlement. He had also acknowledged that while the leaders were languishing in jail and some were in exile, the wheels of education had to be kept in motion in preparation for the democratic order.

On April 2, 1993, I wrote his tribute in the Sowetan: “The most important thing about the late Professor Ntsan’wisi was the work he was trying to do. It was this which made him loved and hated. His name will be associated with many details of history. But they all add up to one thing – the search for peace.”

The construction Mafias are using emotional blackmail to incite the people of Giyani. If the people of Giyani are serious about education, let them adopt a Booker T Washington’s Tuskegee model where the students, not the contractors, rebuild Giyani College and maintain the infrastructure.

That will create more job opportunities for the youths. In addition, our government should galvanise into action to address some of the concerns of demarcation and kingship.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in construction management.

The Star