Dr Joshua Nkomo the legend

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By Saul Gwakuba Nldovu

FOR the past month-or-so, there has been talk about a wish or preparations to erect a second Dr Joshua Nkomo statue, this time in Harare, the first having been erected in Bulawayo.
As a wish, it is associated with the family of the late national hero, popularly referred to as ‘Father Zimbabwe’ or as ‘Umdala Wethu’, as well as a very large number of people who rightly regard Nkomo as one of the pioneers of Zimbabwe’s modern confrontational liberation struggle that led to the birth of Zimbabwe.
The term ‘Father Zimbabwe’ is, to this writer, more appropriate than ‘Umdala Wethu’ as the latter gives a regionalistic connotation by dint of the language.
It is not at all clear who will erect Dr Nkomo’s statue in Harare, assuming there is some truth in that talk.
This article will throw some light onto Dr Nkomo’s patriotic contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe, a country that had been granted ‘internal self-Government’ by Britain, the colonial authority in 1923.
Dr Nkomo graduated at the Jan Hofmehr College of Social Science in Johannesburg in 1948 and returned home to work for the Rhodesia Railways, with Bulawayo as his base.
He got married to Joanna Fuyana in 1949, having already got actively involved in the country’s black politics through the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC), whose president was then the Rev Thompson D. Samkange, who was heading the Methodist Church in the city’s oldest African suburb, Makokoba.
Rev Samkange immediately noticed Dr Nkomo’s leadership qualities as well as his commitment to the black people’s anti-colonial cause.
They held more or less regular consultations at the Stanley Hall where several prominent black Bulawayo residents attended. Among those who always attended those meetings regularly were Jason ‘Ziyaphapha’ Moyo, Grey Luposwa Bango, C. C. Ngcebetsha, Cephas Kele Malikongwa, Brown Luza Ndlovu, Welshman Mabhena, John Siphambaniso Khumalo, Benjamin Burombo, William Mpotshi Sivako, Amos Mazibisa Dube, Edward Mbakhwa Ndlovu, Benjamin Madlela and several school teachers whose attendance was always kept a secret because they were not allowed to participate in politics.
At his work place, Dr Nkomo’s African colleagues also recognised his education, skills and passion for the economic and social advancement of the black people and they made him the secretary-general of their trade union organisation, the Railways African Workers’ Union (RAWU).
Rhodesia Railways region, Dr Nkomo’s operational area, stretched from the Rhodesia-Mozambique border east of Umtali (now Mutare) to Mafikeng now the South African north-western provincial capital and extended northwards up to the Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) copperbelt.
He covered all that area in his capacity as the Rhodesia Railways social welfare officer.
He took advantage of his free staff second class train ticket to travel regularly and widely to perform not only his social welfare duties, but also to propagate the ANC’s political message.
In 1952, Rev Samkange virtually handed over the SRANC presidency to Dr Nkomo who closely liaised with Harry Nkumbula, the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress (NRANC) president.
Former Zambia President Kenneth Kaunda became the NRANC secretary-general in the mid-1950s and would much later work very closely with Dr Nkomo against both the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the white minority-dominated territorial administrations.
While Dr Nkomo was making his political mark as the SRANC in Bulawayo, George ‘Bonzo’ Nyandoro was vigorously campaigning against the Southern Rhodesia Land Apportionment Act (later called the Land Tenure Act) in Mashonaland, especially Mashonaland East.
In 1952, Nyandoro was joined by James Robert Dambaza Chikerema and, together with Eddison Sithole, Paul Mushonga, Henry Hamadziripi plus one or two others launched the Salisbury City Youth League, a militant local movement that made Salisbury (now Harare) well-nigh ungovernable.
In 1957, the Youth League realised the need to unite with the SRANC and a mini-congress for that purpose was held in Salisbury on September 12 1957.
It elected Dr Nkomo by 32 votes to be president and Chikerema, who polled 31 votes, became his deputy under the SRANC.
Recognition was given to the historical fact that the SRANC was much older than the Youth League, having been founded by Aaron Jacha Rusike, the Rev Samkange and the Rev Matthew Rusike in 1934.
That event marked the beginning of the modern era of Zimbabwe’s African political history in that, for the first time, it ushered in an electoral-based political organisation, the ANC.
We can see here that the liberation struggle of the people of Southern Rhodesia closely followed the historical pattern of other African countries in that its very first stage was led by traditional leaders comprising chiefs and spiritual leaders, then followed the second stage whose leaders were slightly educated people such as Chirimuuta, Masotsha Ndlovu, T. Dumbutshena (the father of the first black chief justice of Zimbabwe), Charles Mzingeli, Jacha Rusike and Rev Samkange.
That stage was followed by what we may refer to as ‘the final phase’ of the modern stage whereby well-educated black people took over the leadership of the struggle.
Dr Nkomo belongs to that era and should be classified as an educated black person who risked his life by abandoning opportunities to serve his own personal interests and live in relative comfort.
He must be given credit for internationally exposing a much hidden British colonial trick by which Southern Rhodesia could have been granted sovereignty on the basis that it had achieved internal self-Government in 1923.
Successive UK administrations undoubtedly would have liked Southern Rhodesia to follow the same colonial route as Canada, Australia and New Zealand by becoming an inheritance of tis nationals rather than of the indigenous people.
Britain could have easily achieved that if it were not for Dr Nkomo’s intervention at various international fora, especially at the UN.
That should be publicly acknowledged by every student of modern African political history, particularly the post –Second World War era.
The Zimbabwe liberation struggle history is not complete without reference to such patriots as Dr Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa, Benjamin Burombo, Benjamin Madlela, Jane Ngwenya and a number of other patriots who are generally erroneously regarded to have contributed insignificantly to the liberation of Zimbabwe.
That apart, Dr Joshua Nkomo’s role was always in the revolution’s top leadership, especially from 1957 right up to 1980 when Zimbabwe was born.
Mention must be made that had he wanted political power at any cost, he could have turned the whole of Zimbabwe into a pot of dynamite from April 1980 onwards, but he did not — he was too patriotic to sink that treacherously low.
He deserves to be honoured all over Zimbabwe, particularly in Harare, as his political stature was national and by no means regional.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: sgwakuba@gmail.com

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