THE greatest but shameful buck-passing game on the part of the British government has just been exposed in a letter written to Paul Siwela, the leader of the Matabeleland Liberation Organisation, rejecting his call for the restoration of the kingdom of Matabeleland on the flimsy ground the UK no longer exercises authority over Zimbabwe.
The letter was written last August by Mark Simmonds, Minister for Africa, the Overseas Territories, Caribbean and International Energy.
A copy of the letter has just reached Umhlahlo we Sizwe Sika Mthwakazi, a civic organisation which is pushing for the restoration of the Mthwakazi nation.
The letter minces no words, saying according to both the UN and OAU (African Union) practices, Southern Rhodesia was the unit to be established as independent Zimbabwe. “When Zimbabwe gained independence there was no challenge to the legality of Zimbabwe becoming a sovereign state and the UK is no longer able to exercise authority in this case”, says the letter.
It adds that in the run up to independence from UK nationalist movements treated Southern Rhodesia as a single country. All this may be true except that the UK, understandably, chooses to be selective in its argument to bolster its own defence, as will be seen later in this narrative.
The call for the restoration of the kingdom had been ongoing until 1918 when the Matabele Royal family sent a three-man delegation to London to petition the Privy Council to restore the kingdom.
Led by Prince Nyamande, the delegation was treated most disdainfully and told that the kingdom was no longer in existence, having been replaced with “something better” when warriors of the kingdom were crushed by Cecil John Rhodes’s forces backed by 652 black batmen from Mashonaland at the Battle of Mbembesi, which left 6 000 warriors dead.
The bodies of another 12 000 civilians of all ages littered villages from Shangani River to Bulawayo, with burnt villages stretching across 100 km, strewn with dead bodies.
If Rhodes’ forces had not met such stiff resistence by Mthwakazi forces, history would have recorded another extermination of natives by colonial adventurers and go-getters in Africa.
The petition was treated as a white man’s grievance and the Privy Council proceeded with preparations to annex the territory of Mthwakazi to form the self-governing state of Southern Rhodesia. The annexation in 1923 brought together the state of Mthwakazi and the British protectorate of Mashonaland.
The two territories had since 1891 been coexisting as sovereign states separated by what became known as the Jameson Line which was created in agreement between Leander Starr Jameson, the administrator of Mashonaland, and King Lobengula of Mthwakazi.
This might have been allowed to pass as an accident of history imposed on the native peoples by colonialists out to carve up African domains for themselves at whatever cost to the natives.
But history recorded on September 12, 1890 the British occupation of Mashonaland without any resistance by the natives of the territory that became the second British protectorate in Southern Africa.
But the natives of Mashonaland were to join British forces to overrun the warriors of Mthwakazi in a genocidal coalition that left 12 000 civilians of all ages dead.
The next coalition of the people of Mashonaland and the British, to commit genocide, followed after independence in 1980 when the United Kingdom provided 110 military experts to join 103 North Korean counterparts to train a sectarian military force, commanded by a Sandhurst-trained officer to kill everyone in their way who spoke Ndebele.
This became the second time in 100 years that the United Kingdom and the people of Mashonaland joined forces to commit genocide against the people of Mthwakazi, commonly known as the kingdom of Matabeleland.
I deal at great length in my book with how Mthwakazi became known as Matabeleland, but I must mention in passing some points of argument for the benefit of those who may not have read the book.
After the crushing defeat of the warriors of Mthwakazi during the final assault in the Battle of Mbembesi, the Privy Council promulgated the notorious Matabeleland Order in Council whose provision was the decree to rule the new state of Matabaleland by conquest.
This became an instrument to plunder, expropriate native lands, rape native women without fear of being arraigned before the courts to institutionalise racial discrimination and generally subjugate and degrade the natives in a system to deny them basic human rights.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is the United Kingdom’s attempt to pretend that the UK’s involvement in two genocides against the people of Mthwakazi should be treated as a non event, and that the fate of their case must be decided by UK’s partners alone.
It should be noted that lawyers that represented the British government in the Mau Mau insurgency case attempted to pass the buck of UK’s culpability to the government of Kenya, without success.
Is the British government telling the world that its role in the training of Gukurahundi forces in Zimbabwe should be ignored, and that only her partners in that unprecedented coalition with Zimbabwe and North Korea, in what was a horrendous ethnic cleansing operation, should be called to account, when the UK provided expert training and logistical support for an operation that provoked no condemnation by Her Majesty’s government?
A BBC Panorama report featured British military top brass in the training bases in the eastern highlands of Nyanga defending the government of Zimbabwe and likening the “dissidents” to the situation in Northern Ireland which had to be crushed. But the so-called dissidents in Zimbabwe were a creation of the government to justify its bloody campaign against innocent civilians, with the British government providing the where-withal to make the operation effective.
Simmonds makes a great deal of play about the role of nationalist movements in the moves to negotiate a transition to majority rule, but he is carefully silent to express an opinion on the UK government’s failure to invite members of the Nguni monarchy to the Lancaster House Conference to voice their concern. He is careful to forget that the Rule by Conquest decree remains in the British statutes despite the call by the Matabele Royal Society to revoke it in 1918 to restore the Ndebele Kingdom. He chooses to play to the gallery of nationalists who have become the most blood minded dictators on the face of the African continent.
If what the nationalists did or did not do in 1979 to remind the British colonisers of their responsibility is a factor, is the UK saying the nationalists represented the wishes of the Matabele Royal Family who were snubbed in their high profile petition for the kingdom in 1918?
Is it not because the nationalists were armed with Russian and Chinese weapons and the MRF was armed with a mere petition?
Many of us in Mthwakazi were once ardent followers of African nationalism but soon became disillusioned when tribalism, nepotism, corruption, looting of the economy, stolen elections, the dog-eat-dog syndrome, (as evidenced by brutal treatment of Morgan Tsvangirai and his followers), dictatorships, intimidation, no rule of law and a whole host of other evils became the order of 35 years of Robert Mugabe’s clenched fist rule.
Who would want to be part of that state of anarchy which, of course, has British approval, as demonstrated by arranging a knighthood for Mugabe. What has happened to the national conscience of this leading member of the free world?
At the receiving end of a litany of denial of human rights and the commission of genocide against the people of Mthwakazi the hand of the British government is visible in two genocides. There is further the looting of 600 000 head of cattle and other treasures that will form part of restitution claims against the British government and its co-operating partners.
It must further be noted that the annexation of Mthwakazi in 1923, under the Southern Rhodesia Order in Council, was done arbitrarily under the Matabeleland Order in Council’s Rule by Conquest provision without the people being consulted. Perhaps the most brazen manipulation of the people’s will was the United Kingdom’s failure to invite members of the Matabele Royal Family to the Lancaster House Conference to establish if the restoration of their kingdom was no longer an issue. Was it a case of short memories on the part of the UK when the instrument of suppression of the people’s case remains in the British statutes?
It is amazing that the UK government prefers to use the UN and the OAU as a shield to deny the people of Mthwakazi their inalienable right to decide their own destiny. But why does the UK choose to forget that the same OAU declared as sacrosanct all colonially determined boundaries, while at the same time supporting Zimbabwe in its rejection of the Jameson Line agreed to by Leander Starr Jameson and King Lobengula?
When the time comes it will be shown that the letter and spirit of the Jameson Line, separating the British Protectorate of Mashonaland from Mthwakazi, complied with the letter and spirit of the Berlin Treaty of 1885. Why then are both the UK and Zimbabwe rejecting the boundary the British created for the protection of their Mashonaland domain and later abrogated the boundary to suit British interest and that of her subjects? The people of Mthwakazi, outside of the realm of nationalists who betrayed their cause, have never sought foreign arms or engaged in military training to overthrow the government of those who rule them by conquest through a proxy of the British government.
The reason has nothing to do with the UN or OAU. It is simply the fact that the protectorate served the best interest of the UK in 1893 and continues to do so as manifested by her role in the eight-year Gukurahundi genocide of the 1980s. The UK’s shameful buck-passing stance, therefore, commands no legitimacy. The warriors of Mthwakazi were the only ones to resist occupation of their land by invading British forces and bore the brunt of the punitive measures that were unleashed against them. Successive British governments have never forgotten the fact they lost their kith and kin in battles against warriors using primitive weapons.
The letter to the leader of the MLO states in part:”Additionally, only agreement with the government of Zimbabwe would create a convincing legal case. This is because neither ethnic homogeneity/identity nor historical political organizations have any weight in the issue of self-determination; which is primarily defined by whether people have a say in their own government”. No wonder the UK government maintained a deafening silence, was indifferent, during the free run of the Gukurahundi forces whose training and equipment they provided.
Umhlahlo we Sizwe Sika Mthwakazi accepts the fact that the government of Zimbabwe will form a critical part to the talks to resolve issues in the bid for self-determination, but it rejects the UK’s notion that Zimbabwe is the sole arbiter in this case. If it were so, the UK would not be emboldened to refer to the role of the UN and the African Union (OAU) in the same letter. If historical examples do not matter in such fait accompli (and the fait accompli became a fact through British designs), then why did the UK participate, in a leading role, in the Holocaust settlement that led to the creation of the state of Israel? Why does the UK seek to split hairs to avoid culpability and responsibility? Is history not recorded to teach the world vital lessons in future conflicts? All that the UK is doing is ensuring that it enjoys the best of both worlds.
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Jonathan Maphenduka is a retired Zimbabwean journalist whose book, The Rule by Conquest, The Struggle in Mthwakazi, published last May, is banned in Zimbabwe. The book tells the story of two genocides against the people of Mthwakazi during the past century in which the British hand is visible. It has stirred a great deal of interest among the oppressed people of Mthwakazi (Matabeleland).