Many Zimbabweans reacted angrily on Thursday to reports that President Robert Mugabe had called members of the Kalanga tribe uneducated crooks at a SADC summit this week.
Video footage of the 91-year-old president on Wednesday saying that Kalangas were widely regarded in the past to have engaged in petty criminal activities in South Africa is being circulated widely in Zimbabwe.
Many Kalangas live in Zimbabwe’s south-western Matabeleland provinces, where rates of migration to South Africa are highest.
Responding to questions from journalists on the xenophobic attacks that hit South Africa this month, Mugabe said: “The Kalangas were very notorious in South Africa.”
He said Kalangas were reputed to have been crooks and weren’t “educated enough to assume … jobs.”
Twitter user @MariaZest1 says: “Anyone who’s still believes Mugabe is a unifier is deluded. I’m offended #PartKalanga #PartShona #PartNdebele.”
User @PRONKOMO says: “Mugabe has showed his tribalistic side… he is not well informed about Matabeleland people… people he supposedly governs.”
Some Zimbabweans have pointed out that a number of Mugabe’s ministers may have Kalanga roots. Common surnames that can indicate Kalanga heritage include Moyo, Mpofu, Ngwenya, Dube, Gumbo and Sibanda.
“Wonder how SK, a big Kalanga, feels after the boss said Kalangas are uneducated tsotsis,” asked Ncube Njabulo. SK is Simon Khaya Moyo, a former Zanu-PF chairperson and ambassador to South Africa who is now the ruling party’s spokesperson.
A Facebook user, identifying herself as Zimbabwean socialite Nomathemba Primrose Ndebele, posted: “Did the president truly say those of my tribe are uneducated (KALANGA)… my uncle was the Attoney General … my aunt is the police commissioner… I’m educated”.
Mugabe’s criticism of those who flock to South Africa – he complained that migrants saw it as “heaven on earth” – has rankled many in Zimbabwe. There are at least one million Zimbabweans in South Africa, only 900 agreed to board state-provided buses home in the wake of the attacks in Durban and Gauteng.
The Zimbabwean president told heads of state and delegates at Wednesday’s summit that foreign nationals in South Africa were there “voluntarily”. But critics of the Zimbabwe government, including former education minister David Coltart, claim that thousands more Zimbabweans left as a direct result of Mugabe’s controversial policies during the economic and political crisis years after 2000.
@ZimMediaReview accused the official Herald newspaper, which is the voice of Mugabe’s government, of trying to “sanitise… with little success” the president’s Kalanga jibe. The newspaper said Mugabe cited Matabeleland South “as one area where there was emigration to South Africa.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo launched an attack on a Twitter user who said Mugabe had called Kalangas uneducated “idiots”.
“The uneducated ‘idiot’ bit is of course your creation & [you] should be ashamed but then you’re shameless!” Moyo tweeted.
When asked whether he had Kalanga blood, the minister did not reply.
Other Zimbabweans argued that Mugabe was merely sharing his memories of how Kalangas were perceived in the past.