Ethnicity or tribalism? The discursive construction of Zimbabwean national identity

Brillant Mhlanga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


In Zimbabwe any attempt to discuss ethnicity risks being labelled as ‘tribalism’ and, therefore, divisive to a supposedly ‘united nation.’ But what is ethnicity? This paper will attempt to discuss this issue, with particular focus on its intersection with nationalism and the construction of national identity. It will illuminate the liminal process of the ‘criminalisation of ethnicity’ through some moves aimed at blocking open discourse on ethnicity as a form of identity. Furthermore, the paper illustrates how Zimbabwe’s Shona-dominated nationalist discourses tend to follow the social constructivist path, which publicly dismisses the existence of ethnicity while clandestinely embracing it for dubious political purposes. In the process, the paper will also challenge the Eurocentric-theoretical perspectives underlying the normative engagement of ethnicity within the political and culturalist perspectives in Africa for presenting ethnicity as retrogressive and divisive. It is further argued that the scarcity of indigenous theoretical lenses of understanding ethnicity, exacerbated by grotesque forms of nationalism, as seen in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa sustains the suppression of ethnic minority voices and the shrift dismissal of their issues as peripheral or regional. This lack of proper vent has thus led to the continued resurgence of violent ethnic upheavals across the African continent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-60
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number1
Early online date27 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • ethnicity, tribalism, nationalism, primordial, nativist, criminalisation


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