Joshua Nkomo: selfless patriot in the truest sense of the word

The following is a lecture delivered by veteran journalist and war veteran Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu at the Joshua Nkomo Memorial Lecture at Wits University in South Africa yesterday on the occasion of celebrating the 100th year Post Humus Birthday of national hero, Former Vice-President Dr Joshua Nyongolo Nkomo. The event was hosted by Wits University, African Heritage Projects Trust, Joshua Nkomo Cultural Movement Trust (Joshua Nkomo Family) and Industry leaders originating from Zimbabwe.

Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo was born in the Semokwe Communal land in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland South Province in June 1917. He should have been born in a different part of the country had his parents not been forced by the British South Africa Company authorities to move from there to make room for white settlers in 1913. That area Bazha is on Zimbabwe’s high veld, a much healthier and more fertile geographical region.

The Semokwe communal land is Zimbabwe’s low veld, an arid, infertile, malarial region with much less rain than the high veld. Communal lands were originally called “native reserves” and were the brain child of Cecil John Rhodes when he was the Cape Colony’s Prime Minister and Native Affairs Minister in the late 1880s. His first “native reserve” was in the then Cape Colon’s Glen Grey District and was created by a Parliamentary Act by the name Glen Grey Act.

Joshua Nkomo grew up in that repressive environment in which the black people of Southern Rhodesia lived precariously on the barren native reserves. More and more were dumped on that type of land yearly, creating a false picture of land shortage for the black people. The land shortage adversely affected the black people’s livestock as pasture became scarce. Because of this Africans became dependant on employment for their existence, and employers were the white settlers who had seized the black people’s good land. The socio economic environment formed and shaped Joshua Nkomo’s political outlook.

As a boy, herding cattle in the bush he would organise other boys into two make believe opposing groups, one group representing white settler soldiers and the other African warriors. The two groups armed with toy guns and wooden spears would engage in mock battles. He would always command the African warriors and I was told his group would always be declared the victors.

At school Joshua Nkomo was not particularly brilliant. He had a type of dyslexia that manifested itself only in the spelling of English words but not in reading. He was however, a hard and highly focused student. He excelled in debates, particularly during the upper primary and secondary school days.

In his early years, he meet Rev Mongwa Tjuma a London Missionary Society (LMS) pastor who was sent from Dombodema Mission near Plumtree to Zamanyoni the year Joshua Nkomo was born. He was highly impressed by the man of the cloth.
It was because of that experience that he expressed a wish to enter the ministry while he was at Adams College in Natal, South Africa later. The college authorities felt that he should be recommended for that vocation by his church’s authorities back home for them to positively consider his wish. He dropped the idea altogether.

While studying in South Africa from 1943 to 1948 he came into contact with some African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leaders particularly Nelson Mandela when he Nkomo was a student at Johannesburg’s Jan Hofmeyr Social Science College.

Mandela deeply impressed Nkomo, not just his personality but also, if not especially by his justice of the political African cause he stood for and was propagating. That was strengthened by the fact that the grievances of the black people of South Africa were identical with those of their brothers and sisters in Southern Rhodesia where an ANC branch had been formed by Aaron Jacha Rusike, the Rev, Thomson Samkange and the Rev Matthew Rusike in 1934 at Makwiro in what is now known as Masholand West Province.

Professor Jabavu from South Africa actually travelled to Southern Rhodesia to assist the formation of that organisation at Makwiro, Rev Samkange became SRANC president. Reverent Samkange was later transferred to Bulawayo to be in charge of the Makokoba Methodist church. He was at that church when Joshua Nkomo was employed by the Rhodesia Railways as a social welfare officer in 1949, the year he married Joanna Fuyana, a granddaughter of Lobengula’s last senior councillor Magwegwe Fuyana. Rev Samkange immediately recognised Joshua Nkomo’s leadership qualities and put him under his wing so to speak. Meanwhile Rev Samkange’s son, Stanlake who was a teacher at Mzingwane Government school showed much interest to succeed his father as the SRANC president sooner rather than later as the reverend was already an old man and about to retire.

However, the reverend clearly preferred Joshua Nkomo because of his (Nkomo’s) down to earth attitude and social cultural inter action with ordinary people unlike Stanlake who was undoubtedly elitist. Nkomo was elected secretary of the workers organisation, the Rhodesia African Workers Union (RAWU) whose president was Aaron Ndabambi, a former British South Africa Police Officer who later became welfare secretary in successive national executive committees headed by Joshua

Nkomo as president.

Nkomo closely worked with two other trade union leaders, Jason “Ziyaphapha” Moyo (JZ) and Reuben Jamela both of whom represented black artisans. The three trade union leaders entered into an agreement in Bulawayo in 1955 to actively involve their workers organisations in the national liberation movement the ANC later headed by Nkomo. Meanwhile, also in 1955 in Salisbury five young activists James Dambaza Chikerema, George Bonzo, Nyandoro, Paul Mushonga, Eddison Sithole and Henry Hamadziripi launched the Salisbury City Youth League.

It was a militant organisation that called for action against the Southern Rhodesia Government and that of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Nkomo had been invited by the then Southern Rhodesia Prime Minister Dr. Godfrey Huggins in 1952 to participate in preparatory London talks for the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Of the three Black people who were invited, Mike Masotsha Hove, Jasper Zengeza Savanhu, and himself, he was the only one who rejected the imposition of that political creation.

His position was that the African people of the three component states, Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, should be given a chance through a referendum to say whether or not they supported the proposal. His idea was ignored, and the Federation was inaugurated in September 1953. It failed in due course and was dissolved in December 1963.

In Bulawayo, Matabeleland and Midlands, Joshua Nkomo campaigned against displacement of the Africans by the white settlers, and the culling of their livestock.

In 1957, it was strongly felt that the SRANC and the City Youth League should be merged. That was done in Salisbury on September 12 that year and Joshua Nkomo was elected by 32 votes to be the president, with Chikerema close behind with 31 votes. The City Youth League became an SRANC component from that date. Nkomo appointed a national executive that reflected the country’s national character, a practice that he upheld throughout his top leadership of all political parties he headed. In February 1959, the SRANC was banned and more than 500 black people were rounded up, and were either detained or restricted. Joshua Nkomo was at that time in Cairo, Egypt, where he had just arrived from Ghana. The SRANC leaders were released after three months. They decided to form another liberation movement which they named the National

Democratic Party (NDP) with Nkomo as its president.

He returned and later attended a constitutional conference in London which gave the country’s black majority 15 Parliamentary seats, and the white settler minority 50! Nkomo and his delegation returned home, having rejected and denounced the constitution. Back home, they organised a referendum which overwhelmingly rejected that obvious piece of injustice against the African majority.

Soon thereafter, the NDP was outlawed, but was soon replaced by the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), still led by Joshua Nkomo. The African Nationalist leadership decided that if Zapu were banned, they would not form another political party, but would defy the ban and operate underground.

Less than a year after its formation, Zapu was also conscripted and its members and leaders were rounded up, imprisoned or restricted. Three months later, they were released. Period of uncertainty followed. Some senior Zapu leaders felt that Nkomo was a week leader and should be replaced. They later changed their minds when they realised that the vast majority of the people were behind Nkomo and Zapu.

In August 1963, they formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu). Meanwhile, Nkomo formed a loose movement, the People’s Caretaker Council (PCC) to enable him to call meetings and rallies. It was soon banned and Nkomo and literally thousands of his supporters were rounded up and dumped at a hot remote part of a wild, animal infested area called “Gonakudzingwa; it is in Zimbabwe’s south-eastern region, bordering Mozambique.

Joshua Nkomo remained there, being moved off and on to various prisons, up to December 4, 1974 when he was flown to Zambia where he met other senior Zimbabwean nationalist leaders representing three other political parties: Rev. Abel Muzorewa of the African Nationalist Council, Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole of Zanu, and James Dambaza Chirekema of the front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (Frolizi).

They signed a unity agreement under the Rev. Muzorewa-led African National Council, but it broke up sooner than later, and Nkomo was once more elected the president of Zapu by his party’s congress in 1975 in Harare.
After that, he went back to Zambia from where he intensified the liberation struggle with more and more young people who left Zimbabwe to join the armed struggle in Zambia and Mozambique.

Saying that the armed struggle would henceforth be “sharp and short”, Joshua Nkomo indeed took the liberation campaign a rung or two higher, resulting first in the abortive Geneva conference in 1976-77, and two years later in the decisive Lancaster House constitutional Conference in London.

I would like to add that Nkomo could have turned the whole country into a pot of dynamite resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of people as Zipra, Zapu’s military wing, was not only highly trained but adequately armed. Its arms could have easily matched, if not surpassed those of the Rhodesia Regime.

However, because of his big heart he would not plunge the whole guerrilla army into the country to overwhelm the settler regime as that would have resulted in an indiscriminate slaughter of a large number of people, and a massive destruction of property and national infrastructure. Joshua Nkomo was not a power-hungry leader but a selfless patriot in the truest sense of the word.


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