Last Updated: Friday, 09 December 2016, 15:34 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 - Zimbabwe

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 3 July 2014
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014 - Zimbabwe, 3 July 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/53ba8dc514.html [accessed 11 December 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political reform in Zimbabwe has been slow and insufficient, despite a new draft constitution and the implementation of the Global Political Agreement, which was signed in 2008. One positive step in 2013, however, was the amendment to the Zimbabwean Constitution recognizing 16 different languages as official languages. The Constitution also requires the state to promote and advance the use of all Zimbabwean languages. Commentators have applauded the development, but warn that legal change alone is insufficient without effective implementation. However, Minister for Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart stated that his department had already initiated a programme launching textbooks in various marginalized indigenous languages at primary school level.

Minister Coltart also consulted with various San community leaders on San education. The community leaders told Coltart that they wanted the Tshwao language to be included in the school curriculum among other minority languages. They equally called on the government to assist them in sending their children to school. This stands in stark contrast to claims made by President Robert Mugabe that San were resisting efforts to school their children. Mugabe talked of the need to 'acculturate' the San, rather than finding solutions that accommodate both San traditions and education.

Education is not the only challenge San are facing. Some San communities are struggling with food insecurity as laws banning hunting forced them to trade in their lives as hunter-gatherers for subsistence farming. However, most of them neither possess cattle or tools nor have the training to farm successfully, as they have been excluded from the government's 2009 farm mechanization programme. Some San elders have asked for readmission to the Hwange National Park to return to a life as hunter-gatherers, as the government seems to be unable or unwilling to aid San communities to become self-sufficient.

There are also issues of police harassment and wrongful accusations of entire villages. For example, in 2013 San communities living next to Hwange National Park were held responsible for the killing of elephants through cyanide poisoning in the park. Whereas it is not impossible that economic desperation drove some members of the San community to aid poachers, the government has failed to produce evidence against individual suspects and instead targeted the entire San community with blanket accusations.

San also lack political representation, despite attempts by San elders and local human rights activists to support their own councillors, MPs and chiefs to represent them. There is a tendency among government officials to blame those who came before them for the San's situation – or, alternatively, to blame San themselves. There is little sign that the Zimbabwean government is taking any meaningful steps to improve the situation of San communities. Instead, there have been allegations that the ruling Zanu-PF party is trying to intimidate San representatives.

The Ndebele minority continues to be marginalized with regard to political representation. The government has been accused of neglecting Matabeleland, a Ndebele-dominated region that is one of the most underdeveloped areas in the country. Companies have also reportedly been bringing in Shona workers from outside Matabeleland to work in the region, even though there are sufficient numbers of skilled workers already there. In April, a number of youths were arrested for demonstrating against the 'tribal employment tendencies' of employers who bussed in labourers from outside the region to work on a local labour project. The Co-Minister in the Organ for National Healing and Reconciliation denounced their arrest and confirmed that local employment opportunities were being given to others for politically motivated reasons based on tribal affiliation.

Reflecting the ongoing marginalization of Ndebele, there were a number of incidents of discrimination and violence against them during 2013. In February, three police officers in Bulawayo East allegedly verbally abused an employee of a sports bar for playing Ndebele music and subsequently tried to close the investigation into the matter. Furthermore, in September a man was struck on the head with a brick in a bar fight for speaking Ndebele – he later died in the hospital.

Members of the Zanu-PF party also engaged in hate speech against white Zimbabweans through public speeches and government-controlled newspapers, radio and television stations, scapegoating them for the country's problems. Following the forcible seizure of their lands, generally without compensation, some farmers had to accept settlements leaving them with 5 to 10 per cent of the value of their investments. As a result there is a significant number of elderly, impoverished former farmers.

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