Why the reference by the MDC's Eddie Cross to 'tribal areas' is ill-advised

Jun 19, 2011

A senior official of Morgan Tsvangirai's version of the MDC has unwittingly shown why it has often been so easy for Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF to dismiss their opponents as defenders of the old colonial order. While it is aided in its fight for influence and power against ZANU-PF just by the sorry state of the country Mugabe has ruled for 31 years, the MDC often shockingly drops the ball in the subtleties of how it gets its messagage across and how it is perceived.

A number of websites have featured the interpretation of Eddie Cross, MDC MP, on the outcome of the recent SADC summit in South Africa on the Zimbabwe situation. It is pretty much the expected, standard fare of a loyal party man spinning the results of the meeting positively for his side.

In his evaluation of what remains of ZANU-PF's support, Cross writes, ''They are well aware that they now only command residual support in all areas of the country and can no longer rely on the traditional and conservative voters in the Tribal areas.''  

That analysis is probably correct, but his use of the term 'tribal areas' will un-necessarily lose him some of the audience whose thinking he is trying to influence.

'Tribal areas' in a Zimbabwe in which much of the overall crisis has been cast in terms of either defending or  
 correcting racial-colonial balances is a most unfortunate choice of words by which to refer to the rural villages and other outposts in which most Zimbabweans still live. It is particularly ill-advised coming from the keyboard of older white gentleman who is a senior member of the party Mugabe & Co has said was formed and exists to preserve or bring back old colonial privilege.

Almost no black Zimbabwean would use the term 'tribal area,' a phrase which has specific perjorative historical linkages. It was used officially used in the colonial context to refer to what were designated 'tribal trust lands.' These were areas were Africans who had been displaced from more fertile lands to make way for white settlers were allowed to settle.  

A black Zimbabwean speaking in in English would mostly probably use the more Zimbabwe-neutral term 'rural areas,' but certainly never the 'tribal areas' usage preferred by Cross. In the overall scheme of issues that Zimbabweans are concerned about this is a small, inconsequential thing. But for Cross to be seemingly oblivious of how odd such a term sounds coming out of his brain immediately sets him apart as being from a very old time and mindset, in ways that do not reflect positively on an MDC that un-necessarily loses real support they might have over these issues of perception. 


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