Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Joshua Nkomo, Father of Zimbabwe Nationalism, Remembered

Umdala Wethu remembered

By Tendai Hildegarde Manzvanzvike
Zimbabwe Herald

It is that time of year when we sit back and reflect on the life and timeless contributions by late Vice President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo — a man who left an indelible mark on Zimbabwe’s nationalist history and pan-Africanism in general.

The sum total of his commitment, dedication and contributions to Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonial bondage earned him the term of endearment — Father Zimbabwe. A timeless honour, indeed.

Father Zimbabwe or father of the nation is the personification of a man whose stature was larger than life, and who "surrendered" parenthood of his nucleus family — his wife, heroine Johanna (Mama MaFuyana), and their three children.

Instead, all these luxuries were exchanged for detention camps; life in exile; continual harassment and unlawful arrests. But they did not give up. They fought on to the bitter end.

During the early years of the nationalist struggle, he also had the nickname Chibwechitedza (slippery rock, implying a shrewd and wily personality).

With time, he became Umdala Wethu (our dearly beloved old man). The "wethu" (our) once again encapsulated the notion of Father Zimbabwe. For as a leader, he belonged to all, irrespective of race, colour, creed, gender, age or ethnicity.

When he died, he was passionately described as "qawe lamaqawe" or "gamba remagamba" (hero among heroes).

A speech delivered by Cde Mugabe on Chitepo Day, March 18 1979, was aptly titled, "Victory is the only tribute to a hero".

Eleven years on, we also say that victory is the only tribute for heroes like Dr Nkomo. Victory is the only tribute fit for countless men, women, boys and girls who sacrificed for Zimbabwe’s liberation.

Today, Zimbabweans are also paying tribute to one of the chief architects of not just modern-day Zimbabwe, but a man whose persona embodied the values and principles it stands for.

For it was through his leadership and that of other nationalists that Zimbabweans were able to wage a bitter and protracted liberation struggle that dislodged the British colonial system.

Like his biblical namesake Joshua, Dr Nkomo remained focused and did not betray the beliefs that could have made him abandon the comfort zone of a formal job and a normal family life.

His vision about this nation was larger than life. He lived that vision until July 1, 1999 when at the age of 82 he passed on, after a long battle with prostrate cancer. He was buried on July 5, 1999 at the National Heroes Acre before a capacity crowd of mourners estimated at 100 000.

According to an official source: "Indeed, Zimbabweans were united for five days in recognition of a man who knew no cultural boundaries. In mourning, people across the country experienced and lived together Joshua Nkomo’s ideals of peace and harmony regardless of tribe, race or creed.

"Record crowds felt obliged to bid farewell to this great son in Barbourfields Stadium and at his home in Bulawayo and at Stodart Hall in Mbare. Joshua Nkomo, the man with ‘a common touch’, exhibited his capacity for talking to all types of people in a language they can understand."

Dr Nkomo was born on June 7, 1917 in the Kezi District of Matabeleland. His father, Thomas Nyongolo Letswana Nkomo, was a prominent community leader and lay preacher of the London Missionary Society.

Despite his father’s polygamous marriage, his autobiography "The Story of My Life", gives recollections about his close relationship with his mother: "I could not keep up with other children, and kept running back to my mother. I adored her; I was a mother’s boy. My weakness made me backward in our games and the sport of stick-fighting."

He says that this had an effect on his confidence and self-esteem, although it also worked in his favour: "Even when I went to school and found myself coming first in all my classes . . . I felt the other boys were better than me.

"In later life, that lack of confidence has been both my strength and weakness. In my dealings with people, I have acted trustingly, and have found out too late when I have been betrayed. My comfort has been to trust in and be trusted by the masses."

When the masses turned out in thousands for his funeral wake and burial, it was a sign of approval that his instincts had hit the right chords

He initially trained as a carpenter, after completing Standard Six, but his eagerness to improve his carpentry qualifications saw him moving to Adam’s College in South Africa.

In 1942, he met the man who was later to become independent Zimbabwe’s first black Supreme Court judge, Justice Enoch Dumbutshena.

Instead of studying carpentry, he turned to an academic career and in 1949, he obtained a BA degree in Economics and Social Science. While studying in South Africa, he became friends with former South African president and leader of the ANC, Nelson Mandela.

During the same year, he returned to Zimbabwe where he married Johanna Fuyana. He also joined the Rhodesia Railways as a social welfare officer based in Bulawayo. The post exposed him to the huge salary discrepancies between black and white employees.

Then started the long journey to freedom. He joined the trade union movement to fight against the exploitative conditions. In 1951, he was appointed secretary of the Railway Workers’ Association, and by 1955, he had become president of the Federation of Africa Workers’ Union and was naturally propelled into national politics.

In 1952, he was elected president of the African National Congress of Southern Rhodesia. In this capacity together with nationalists in the region — Dr Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Dr Hastings Banda of Malawi, they fought for freedom.

After resigning from Rhodesia Railways, he went into private business as an auctioneer.

The birth of the Federation weakened the ANC, and Dr Nkomo set out to rejuvenate the party by incorporating into the ANC, the more radical National Youth League led by George Nyandoro, James Chikerema, Henry Hamadziripi, Edson Sithole and others. In 1960, the National Democratic Party was formed, and he was elected president.

The NDP was banned in December 1961 and on September 20, 1962 the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) was formed, with him as the leader.

When the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), led by Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, was formed in August 1963, it was eventually Zapu and Zanu under the banner of the Patriotic Front that resolved that the only way to majority rule was through an armed struggle, which they fought from outside Zimbabwe, with assistance from the Zambian, Mozambican, Tanzanian, Botswana and other regional governments.

Zapu’s guerilla movement was the Zimbabwe African People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra), while the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (Zanla) came under Zanu-PF.

The governments of China, the former Soviet bloc and other progressive forces rendered immeasurable assistance to the liberation movements, until 1979, when the British and the Smith regime held talks with the Patriotic Front led by both Dr Nkomo and President Mugabe.

The leaders of the Patriotic Front made it quite clear to the British that the central issue to independence was land.

At independence in 1980, Dr Nkomo became Zimbabwe’s first Home Affairs Minister. However, the dissident insurrection that started in 1981 in Matabeleland and parts of the Midlands province strained relationships between Zanu-PF and PF- Zapu.

After talks brokered by then President Reverend Canaan Banana, the leaders of the two parties buried their differences, signed a peace agreement — the Unity Accord of 1987 — where the parties became one — Zanu-PF.

After the signing of the Unity Accord, Dr Nkomo joined Dr Simon Muzenda as co-Vice President of Zimbabwe, a position he held until his death.

This year’s commemorations of our liberation heroes and heroines is unique in that in 2010, Zimbabwe celebrated 30 years of independence.

It is also a Zimbabwe that marked 30 years of independence when the rest of Africa is politically free, 125 years after the "scramble for Africa" under the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. However, there are still a number of challenges being faced by the African continent, especially on the economic front, where poverty, disease, internal conflicts and dependence on donor funding from former colonial masters persist.

In the February issue of New African, Osei Boateng wrote that in 2010, "nine African countries will celebrate 50 years of independence . . ." At the time of writing, President Mugabe had left for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s golden jubilee. This vast expanse of African land, which is not only rich in mineral resources, but also among the first countries to produce true pan-Africanists like Patrice Lumumba was at one time under Belgian King Leopold’s "ownership".

This means that Zimbabwe commemorates Umdala Wethu’s 11th anniversary, a day after DR Congo’s golden jubilee.

Last week, Mozambique, which played a pivotal role in Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, commemorated 35 years of independence. It was also a time for African liberation movements to remember their fallen heroes like Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Moises Machel, and chart the way forward, a task they started when they met a few months ago in Arusha, Tanzania.

We also mark this special day when the Fifa 2010 World Cup is being hosted by South Africa — the first to be played on African soil since its inception.

Since Africa’s freedom was not handed down on a silver platter, but needed visionaries and resilient fighters like Dr Nkomo, it is worthwhile mentioning that 17 African countries are celebrating 50 years of independence in 2010.

However, a majority of the countries are former French colonies, an issue that needs interrogation on why Britain in particular could only let go of some of its former colonies like Kenya and Zimbabwe after guerrilla warfare — bitterly fought.

Zimbabwe also commemorates the life of Father Zimbabwe when the outreach programme for the writing of the new constitution is underway. A people-driven constitution was one of the issues close to Dr Nkomo’s heart.

Today, Copac and the people should take note of how he felt even in the fifties. According to an Evening Standard report of March 8 1961, as leader of NDP, Cde Nkomo said: ". . . No constitution is worth the paper it is written on if it goes against the will of the people. The mere solidarity of the people can block any constitution, which is imposed. There is no need for a stick to be raised or a stone to be thrown. There is not even need for ‘passive resistance’."

Despite a number of issues that still need to be attended to, it is important to say that two of Dr Nkomo’s dreams have been realised: unity and land
to the people.

However, even after the Unity Accord, threats aimed at derailing the process have resurfaced through the formation of Western-sponsored political organisations and the imposition of illegal economic sanctions. But it seems as though Zimbabweans are bent on being masters of their destiny.

The formation of an inclusive Government in February 2009 is a demonstration by Zimbabweans that they are capable of utilising the natural resources for the benefit of all. The Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act is one of the major legal instruments to ensure Zimbabwe’s total sovereignty.

However, it remains a problem when the international community especially the former colonial masters (using NGOs) still think that they have a right to dictate to Zimbabwe how it should run its internal affairs.

Thus this 11th anniversary is also being commemorated under the shadow of these machinations by the West, with the sale of the Marange diamonds taking centre stage.

Last week’s meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, proved once more that the Anglo-Saxon world was opposed to the sale, since this would render their illegal sanctions useless.

Next month’s meeting will be held in Russia, home to a majority of the Zipra cadres.

The best that Zimbabwe could do was, as reported yesterday, that Cabinet had unanimously agreed that July 1 be set aside a special day to commemorate Dr Nkomo’s life. We should borrow a leaf or two from the ideas on how President Mandela’s heroism is being managed both in South Africa and at the United Nations. For these are our generational pace setters.

It is, however, disturbing to see which Zimbabwean is writing our history. Visit any bookshops in Harare, and you will find nothing but imported texts, most of them irrelevant to Zimbabwe’s needs. Why is the writing of our history not being taken seriously? As our nationalist depart from our midst one by one, who will do it?

Why should writers rely on one-sided and non-authoritative sources? The Internet has today become one big source peddling unsubstantiated facts.

No comments: