Separatists watch likely secession closely

Separatist movements in Africa are watching the referendum in South Sudan and its likely outcome ­– secession from Khartoum — with interest.

Numerous organisations are actively fighting for national “freedom” on the continent. Contested areas include Biafra in the southeast of Nigeria, Casamance in the south of Senegal, Cabinda to the north of Angola and Mthwakazi in Zimbabwe’s Ndebele-speaking provinces.

Their claim to statehood has been bolstered by events in Sudan, where southerners are expected to vote this week for their own state.

Coleman Asomba Emejuru, of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob), confidently declared: “Biafra will be next.”
Emejuru, Massob’s Johannesburg-based regional coordinator, has been closely monitoring the Sudanese poll. “There’s no better chance [for us] than now,” he said. “These events will give strength to struggle movements elsewhere.”

Biafrans fought a war to secede from Nigeria from 1967-1970 in which more than a million died.

The African Union – and its predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity — have been reluctant to recognise new states. For example, the AU refuses to recognise Somaliland, which broke away from war-torn Somalia.

The only “modern” state the AU has recognised is Eritrea, which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year fight.

The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda, which has been fighting for independence from Angola, came to world attention last year when it attacked and killed members of Togo’s football team at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which Angola hosted.

Senegal’s Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance has long been viewed as an ineffectual force, but surprised the Senegalese military last month when it killed seven soldiers in a shootout.

In Zimbabwe the Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) is a newly formed vehicle for those seeking the autonomy of ethnically distinct Matebeleland.
Launched last December in Bulawayo, the MLF’s objective is the creation of an independent Ndebele state. The party was formed by young, exiled Zimbabweans, but its goals have been embraced by older politicians, some of whom formerly represented Zanu-PF.

Sabelo Gatsheni-Ndlovu’s Do Zimbabweans Exist? reports that in 2007 Welshman Mabhena, a former governor of Matebeleland North and a former Zanu-PF high-up, wrote to the British ambassador in Harare insisting that Matabeleland has a historic claim to autonomous statehood, based on treaties signed with ­Britain’s Queen Victoria.

Mabhena argues that Mashonaland was occupied by Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company in 1890 and that Matebeleland, then led by King Mzilikazi, was independent until its defeat in the Anglo-Ndebele war of 1893.

Other veteran Matebeleland politicians, Paul Siwela and Agrippa Madlela , have endorsed the new party and given their support to the “liberation” of the Mthwakazi people.

Although dismissed by the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai as a “fly-by-night party created to confuse the people of Matabeleland”, the MLF’s agenda could appeal to disillusioned Matebeleland voters.

In an interview this week MLF party spokesperson David Magagula said: “Our aim is for the liberation and creation of a Mthwakazi nation that is independent from Zimbabwe. We are after a total breakaway from the current national structures and not just a devolution of power.”

Magagula said the MLF’s secession agenda had drawn “fresh impetus” from events in Sudan, which “would see us in the new year embark on the task of lobbying regional and continental bodies such as the Southern Africa Development Community and the AU to consolidate strength”.

“We want to do exactly what they are doing in South Sudan. It shows us that it’s possible here,” he said.

Zimbabwean media reports suggest that President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai recently discussed the problems of Matabeleland with the MLF’s leaders at a meeting brokered by Phelekezela Mphoko, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa.

Initially set up by exiled Zimbabweans in South Africa in June 2006 as a pressure group, MLF launched as a political party in Makokoba, Bulawayo’s oldest township.

The party is led by “General Nandinandi”, an assumed name adopted for “security reasons”. Zanu-PF is certain to stonewall ­separatist demands.

Zanu-PF’s spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo, described the MLF’s agenda as “misguided”, saying that secession would not be allowed in Zimbabwe. “Its agenda has nothing to do with uniting the people. It is aimed at humiliating and confusing the people of Matabeleland,” said Gumbo.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday