Nkomo left revolutionary impression on history

HARARE - The son of a wealthy preacher and a cattle rancher, Joshua Nkomo, turned his back on a life of privilege to lead a left-wing revolution in Rhodesia that endured for decades and was shaped by his political cunning and keen sense of destiny.

Nkomo, who died of cancer on July 1, 1999 at the age of 82, was at once a teacher, trade union leader-cum-politician, idealistic and pragmatic, sharply intelligent and charismatic.

The colonial regime saw in him a stubborn guerilla founder of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) who threatened the minority white regime’s hold on power through  both guerrilla  and conventional warfare prosecuted by his Zapu’s  armed wing — the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra).

Before he became Zapu leader, he was president of the banned National Democratic Party, and was jailed for 10 years by Rhodesia’s white minority government.

Admirers saw a visionary who stood up to white domination of Rhodesia, inspired the socialist movement and brought independence after leading talks at the all-party Rhodesia conference in Britain that followed escalation of independence war, brokering a peace agreement and constitution for an independent Zimbabwe.

Even after reaching their ultimate goal of ousting Ian Smith’s minority regime, Nkomo would not reconcile his differences with President Robert Mugabe.

While ideological differences kept the two men apart far enough to begin with, Nkomo’s ethnic Ndebele background was grounds for additional distrust by Mugabe who constantly feared an uprising by the historically turbulent Ndebele population.

In a public statement Mugabe said, “Zapu and its leader, Dr Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.”

Mugabe was to deploy the North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade to crush rebellion by ex-Zapu guerrillas. Government forces are accused of killing thousands of civilians in the crackdown.

Nkomo was in 1987 forced to agree to sign a unity accord with Mugabe, leading to the integration of PF-Zapu and Zanu PF.

Nkomo could have reached 100 years this month. And even though he is long gone, for his family and the nation at large, there is an enduring sense of loss.

Chief executive officer of the Joshua Nkomo Foundation Jabulani Hadebe said under the watch of patriots like Nkomo, corruption, nepotism and abuse of human rights could have been supplanted.

“General Josh wouldn’t have allowed $15 billion to vanish without anyone being answerable to a single penny of it,” he said referring to Mugabe’s public admission that $15 billion worth of diamonds may have been stolen by foreign mining firms in Chiadzwa.

“He wouldn’t have allowed a self-serving police force with numerous roadblocks fleecing our already suffering population.

“When he said nxa ufuna imali phendulela ibala elithi lima ukuze okulimileyo ukuthengise kube yimali (if you want money, you have to work) he wasn’t referring to all this nonsense of sleeping outside banks.

“Gone are the days when it was illegal to while up time near a bank. If he was to resurrect and see this mess or had he known that what he fought for would be put to waste; he wouldn’t have dared to make an effort to liberate this country.”

Mugabe’s government is struggling with a cash crunch that has forced people to spend hours at banks queuing for money.

Hadebe said Mugabe and Nkomo may have similarities; “their problem is that of putting so much trust on their subordinates and then discover it too late.”

Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said the difference between Mugabe and Nkomo was that the late VP, who had many nicknames, including “Umafukufuku”, “Father Zimbabwe”, and “Chibwechitedza” (the slippery rock), was not as cunning and also had people at heart.

“Joshua Nkomo was radically different from Robert Mugabe. He was a statesman with vision and foresight who could easily have been another (slain Angolan rebel leader) Jonas Savimbi and (Mozambican rebel leader) Alphonso Dlakama.

“With a heavily armed Zipra army backed by Russia and Cuba, Nkomo could have decided to go back to the bush, costing the country hundreds of thousands of lives.

“Instead he embraced peace, unity and development. In 1987, he asked his brothers ‘what will God say to me if I allow thousands of people to be killed all because of power?’,” Nkomo said.

After the Gukurahundi massacres, in 1987 Nkomo consented to the absorption of Zapu into Zanu, resulting in a unified party called Zanu PF, leaving Zimbabwe as effectively a one-party State and leading some Ndebeles to accuse Nkomo of selling out. These Ndebele individuals were in such a minority that they did not constitute a meaningful power base within the cross-section of Zapu.

“That is the major difference between the two men,” Nkomo said. “One clearly valued lives of people and had people at heart. It was not surprising that on a daily basis there were hordes of people from all over the country at his Pelandaba home. Ordinary people had access to him.”

Nkomo described him as “an amazing visionary and entrepreneur”

“In the 40s before he went into politics, he was one of the country’s first black estate agents.

“His nose for business and empowerment could be seen in the way Zapu procured properties for ex-combatants using demobilisation funds,” he said.

According to Nkomo, the country’s founding father made sure that Zapu engaged in various life-sustaining projects including a technical college in Umguza, an egg farm, a snake park, had various farms and buildings including Magnet House, which was later seized by the State.

Perhaps one of the highlights of Nkomo’s illustrious life was when he helped Econet Wireless, now Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile telecoms company, get a mobile phone licence, after being stonewalled by minister Joice Mujuru.

In early 1997, Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa received an unexpected telephone call from the VP Nkomo. Nkomo invited Masiyiwa to visit him.

Masiyiwa said: “And he (Nkomo) said to me: ‘I read about this. Every time I hear your name it’s to do with this fight, tell me about it.’ And I told him the whole story. We must have spoken for maybe two hours. And he started crying.

“He said: This is not what I fought for, this is not the Zimbabwe I fought for. So he went to see the president. He found the president in a Cabinet meeting, and just stood in the middle of the room and said: ‘Why, why, why are you doing this?’ And then Mugabe turned around and said: ‘Okay, let’s talk about it later.’

“In the evening, the vice president called me and said to me Mugabe had agreed to issue a third licence, so Zimbabwe would have three operators instead of two. And I said fine.

“And he said: ‘But do you accept one condition, that the other people should be shareholders in the company? He (Mugabe) simply said that you cannot be alone in the business, you have to have other shareholders and you should accommodate others in the company.’

“I said: I am not going to accommodate anybody. I’ll take the company public, anyone who wants to buy a share can buy,” Masiyiwa recalled.

As they say, the rest is history, and Econet is one of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange’s best performers.

Obert Gutu, spokesperson of the main opposition MDC whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai like Nkomo once faced treason charges, said the country is going through current hardships because true nationalists with Zimbabwe at heart have long passed on.

“We have been on record stating that Nkomo was an iconic nationalist with very few parallels amongst his contemporaries,” Gutu said. “He was passionately and genuinely anti-racist and anti-tribalist; the very antithesis of Mugabe.

“Of course, Zimbabwe would have been a much better country in terms of governance and economic management had Nkomo been our founding president at independence in 1980.

“Some of us have intricately read the history of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe and we are definitely not very impressed by the role played by Mugabe in the liberation struggle. He was a rather late entrant into mainstream nationalist politics of liberation.

“Of course, Joshua Nkomo is the good founding President that Zimbabwe never had,” said Gutu.

Had Nkomo become the country’s president, his son, Sibangilizwe, said he had a blueprint that could have maintained the country as the “jewel of Africa.”

“He had a blue print of how Zimbabwe should be run.

“He had a blueprint of the land reform and resettlement programme and that was all in a book about a new Zimbabwe,” Sibangilizwe said, adding “he stayed with people and knew what people wanted.”

“If he was still alive, he wouldn’t be spending time flying out of the country attending conferences on how to extinguish fire,” Nkomo’s son said referring to Mugabe jetting off to the Mexican resort of Cancun in May for a “Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction” conference with a three dozen-strong delegation in tow.

“He was always with the people and did what people wanted, not what we are seeing today. We are in this mess because the people who are now leading us now are greedy, they are selfish, and they don’t listen to advice.

“They only want to run the country the way they feel like unlike what Nkomo used to do where he would put people first. Nkomo had one effective blueprint but they have several blueprints which have failed,” added Sibangilizwe.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said: “He was a gentle giant. He was unlike Mugabe. He harboured no parochial interests, but broad national interests. This was never matched by current crop of pretenders.  It’s a shame that he was laid at the same shrine with tribalistic non-heroes and violent thugs such as Elliot Manyika, Border Gezi and Chenjerai Hunzvi.”

Comments (2)

Oh, you forgot to mention that the great and revered national hero,Cde JNM Nkomo, deeply loved Dynamos. The undeniable fact is that Dynamos was dubbed 'timu yamudhara' in the sixties by its 7 million fans. Mudhara was, of course, the one and only indomitable Chibwechitedza.

Hon. Temba P. Mliswa - 26 June 2017

Our country is going down, we were born and about to die without testing the fruits of what our fathers fought for. As young people we feel betrayed and dishounered in Zimbabwe. As young people we plead for authentic, fair, anti-tribal and accountable leadership with zimbabweans at heart not self ambitious gvt.

Ndlovu Dingulwazi - 26 June 2017

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