The delayed farewell to Nkomo

HARARE - Among the superstitious, someone is bound to pay a very high price for humiliating Joshua Nkomo with the much-delayed honour of a statue in the middle of The City of Kings.

Nobody has yet explained to a befuddled country why one of the architects of the war of liberation was subjected to this delay.

If someone was hoping to achieve “payback time” — for a “sin” committed against him by Nkomo — it is my fervent hope that they will trip and fall flat on their face, probably breaking some part of their anatomy, I first saw Nkomo in 1957, in the Recreation Hall in what was then Harare township.

He and others were inaugurated as the first leaders of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress, the forerunner of all other nationalist movements that followed, including Zanu PF, which now seems to claim it did everything.

I didn’t interview Nkomo becaue I was only a rookie reporter.

So it was not until 1980, after independence, that we said anything at all to each other.

He was the first to speak to me — I think it was at a function in State House. “WenaSaidi wena!” he said, crossly.

Evidently, he was referring to our time together in Zambia, where his party, Zapu, was based  and where I was working for a newspaper, having been hired from Salisbury in 1963.

We had not spoken to each other, directly, while in Lusaka.

But we knew of each other — naturally. A incendiary device had been thrown at our editorial offices during one night.

Nobody was keen to establish who had thrown the bomb or why.

Incidentally,  an editorial in The Times of Zambia, in which I worked, had said something uncomplimentary about Nkomo the previous day.

But all that was nothing compared with what happened to me  when I was editor of The Sunday Gazette in Harare in the early 1990s.

The-then Vice-President of the republic, Nkomo, telephoned me.

After introducing himself, and I having identified myself, he asked if we  could speak in SiNdebele, Shona or Chewa, all of which I could speak with some fluency.

But I said English would be just fine. The subject was a story we had published about two women, related to the new Mrs Mugabe, by marriage.

They wanted their nephew, now resident at State House, to be moved from there.

“He is not a Mugabe!,” they said with passion.

But what concerned Nkomo was why I had published the story at all.

“How can you do that to your president?” he thundered over the phone.

I made a number of attempts to interrupt, but he would not hear of it.

He went on and on and ended with the threat that if I persisted with such stories he would personally drive to my office and give me a few whacks on the backside for my juvenile behaviour.

I found myself laughing. He asked what I found funny.

I said the picture of the vice-president bursting into an editor’s office to give him a whack or or two on the backside would make a great story, wouldn’t it?

He said something to the effect that I had been forewarned.

This was all after Gukurahundi had come and gone and all had been forgiven.

For me, the matter had not ended with the phone call.

As a result of my publication of the Mugabe-Marufu romance, I was fired as editor of The Sunday Gazette.

I doubt that it was Nkomo who initiated that ouster.

Whatever else Nkomo had, he had a great sense of humour.

I shall miss him terribly.

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