Joshua Nkomo: Thin line between honour and dishonour

via Bulawayo24 NEWS | Joshua Nkomo: Thin line between honour and dishonour by Bantubenkosi Sithole 11 January 2014

There is no doubting that Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo is a large political and historical figure whose name and legacy remains available for use or abuse by those who remain behind. The avalanche of honours recently bestowed on Nkomo, the naming of the airport after him, erection of his gigantic statue and the renaming of Main Street after Nkomo, should all be read as political activities by the present government. The crowning question of my argument in this article is that in whose interest are these belated illustrious honours of Joshua Nkomo being done? I also seek to argue that the name and legacy of Joshua can still be mobilised towards building that ideal Zimbabwe which Nkomo represented, and which his enemies now turned admirers and friends evidently betrayed.

Recently Dumiso Dabengwa argued correctly that these honours that have been bestowed on Nkomo must not be seen as generous favours from the present government but as highly deserved and belated recognition of the liberation war and nationalist icon. Nkomos’ contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe and his legendary envisioning of a united Zimbabwean nation are not negotiable achievements but indisputable marks of his heroism. The title “father Zimbabwe” is not just a loose label but it fits the description of Nkomo’s contribution to the birth of Zimbabwe.

My first observation in this article is that Joshua Nkomo is now curiously being honoured not just belatedly but as a lone iconic figure of history. The fact that Nkomo was produced by ZAPU and ZIPRA has been conveniently forgotten. This convenient and deliberate loss of memory betrays the sinister intentions of the present political actors who seek to benefit from Nkomo’s good name and still manage to conceal the great contribution of ZAPU and ZIPRA to the liberation of Zimbabwe. There is no true and honest remembrance of Nkomo that will fail to recognise the presence of ZAPU and ZIPRA in the production of Nkomo as a hero and in the liberation of Zimbabwe as a country. The attempt by the present establishment in Zimbabwe to delete ZAPU and ZIPRA from history must be seen as continuing violence against Nkomo and his illustrious legacy.

My second observation, dear readers, is that certain small pieces of the very large legacy of Joshua Nkomo are being honoured while others are conveniently concealed behind sweet political language. Nkomo’s personal contribution to the liberation struggle and his contribution to national unity are being recognised while his suffering and exile as the man once called “the Father of dissidents” have been shoved behind the scenes as the history that never happened. An honest honour to Nkomo would include a sincere acknowledgement by the present regime that Nkomo suffered under white rule and other black rule in the country of his birth. To honour Nkomo and conveniently ignore the high price that he paid in the struggle for Zimbabwe is equal to exploiting his good name and then laughing at his bleeding wounds.

My third observation is that the thousands of people who died, and those who were exiled for being supporters and followers of Joshua Nkomo cannot be honestly alienated from Nkomo’s glory. If the present Zimbabwean political establishment honestly wishes to recognise and honour Nkomo, the many victims and survivors of Gukurahundi ought to be put into the picture. It must be within the power of the current regime in Zimbabwe to come clean and condemn Gukurahundi and express remorse and regret for the suffering and the lose that ZAPU supporters and followers of Joshua Nkomo were put through.

For a government such as that of Zimbabwe that has presented itself as an Africanist government, it is a damning indictment that victims of Gukurahundi still lie in shallow mass graves, and the heavy rainscontinue to wash open some of the graves. It is such an irony to be erecting a statue to the memory of Joshua Nkomo while those who died following him have their bones scattered in the wilderness together with those of wild animals. Those organisations and individuals who have raised alarm over these bones have been arrested and harassed in what points to continuing determination of the current establishment in Zimbabwe to deny justice and dignity to ZAPU and by extension to the same Joshua Nkomo whose name they seek to profit from.

The building of the Zimbabwe that Nkomo fought for will not be easy as long as those who claim to value and honour his legacy continue to deny part of the painful history of the country. Zimbabwe will remain divided between victims and victimisers as long the leadership does not grow up to the responsibility of owning up to its mistakes and working hard to promote truth-telling and national healing in Zimbabwe. The process of national healing will not be possible without the honest work of correcting the narrative of Zimbabwean history that has suppressed the truth about ZAPU and ZIPRA as factors in the liberation of Zimbabwe and the production of Joshua Nkomo as a nationalist icon.

In my humble view, all the honours that have been bestowed upon Joshua Nkomo will constitute a mockery and dishonour if they don’t include a clear recognition of ZIPRA and ZAPU as the organisations that produced Nkomo as the hero that we have all come to know. More still, a genuine recognition and honour of Joshua Nkomo must include recognition not only of his personal suffering but also the death and suffering of those that followed Nkomo. Any attempt to isolate Nkomo from the people who suffered and died pursuing his vision is a criminal attempt to short-circuit history and fraudulently absolve the present Zimbabwean leadership of its heinous crimes against humanity.

It is my argument in this article that Joshua Nkomo’s name and legacy can still be used to build an ideal Zimbabwe; however, it will take the present political establishment in Zimbabwe to accept its responsibility for the crimes that punished Nkomo in his lifetime and perished many of his supporters. An irony that should trouble all the right thinking people, and draw our attention to the real crime of the present Zimbabwean government is how this new statue of Joshua Nkomo towers in an impoverished city that government neglect and deliberate underdevelopment has turned into a ghost town. The economic and political marginalisation of Matabeleland itself stands as an indictment to a regime that pretends to care for the people when its actual goal is to keep power by all means necessary.

Bantubenkosi Sithole Is a Telecommunications Engineer based in South Africa. He is reachable on



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    Bantubenkosi Joshua Nkomo is up there with Nelson Mandela when it comes to a true son of Africa. I am honoured to have met him. I do not know the rest of the family .This man started in the unions (Rhodesia Railways) and extended to the streets even in Highfields Salisbury at the time. When I was growing up this is the man’s face that I saw. Like Nelson he refused to hate the white man that had imprisoned him.He hated tribalism with a passion. That is why he had so many in his party that were not from his tribe. He joined Zanu to try once again to unite Zimbabweans. Father Nkomo I salute you.

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      Ruramai 8 years ago

      Dr Do Little you are absolutely right to say Nkomo was a true son of Africa. I would however not equate him with Mandela because he never let go of the leadership of Zapu from the time that he was instrumental in its formation till it was swallowed by Mugabe’s Zanu P.F. Indeed by agreeing to the superficial unity with Zanu P.F. Nkomo saved lives because Mugabe would have continued to kill innocent civilians. I however have serious problems with leaders who never give other people a chance to lead.

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        Black man 8 years ago

        Mandela left because he achived what he was fighting for. Nkomo had not yet  achieved what he was fought for, that’s 
        why he did not leave, that is establishing a united Zim. Same   applies to Mugabe  the reason he is not  leaving it’s because     he has not achieved  what he fought for and still fighting for, that’s blue print of the 1979 zanu pf grand plan. 

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          Point of correction. The 1979 grand plan was achieved long time ago. Zimbabwe is Zanu. The leadership is equally Zanu, all sectors of the economy are Zanu, the main language spoken is by all accounts, what the drafters of the grand plan had in mind. Education is disproportionate in favor of Shona’s. Âll these are a fulfilment and in-accordance with the aims and spirit of the grand plan. All the pieces of the jigsaw clearly fall into place.

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    Mugabe left Nkomo with two options.

    Either Zapu was sucked into the Zanu vortex or Gukurahundi (5th Brigade genocide) would continue.

    I watch with interest to see if Dabengwa repeats history. The clue will be if he accepts the vice presidency offer. Mugabe is desperate to put Gukurahundi to bed once and for all and I think Dabengwa needs to not buckle.

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    Kevin Watson 8 years ago

    Joshua Nkomo was leading nationalist before ZAPU,ZIPRA, ZANU or ZANLA ever existed. To say he was “made ” by ZAPU or ZIPRA is patent nonsense, a more accurate statement would be to say he made ZAPU and ZIPRA. He was a leading Nationalist pushing for political rights when Mugabe was a scared boy hiding in Ghana.

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    Joshua Nkomo always said he was not fighting the white man. He was fighting the system. His dream was to unite Zimbabweans of all walks of life. At that time it was not only racism that was rife but Tribalism was at it’s worst. That is the reason why he asked people like Mugabe and others from other tribes to join him.

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    Anold Anderson 8 years ago

    Well in life you can never please all the Jacks and Jills. Whatever you do someone has to have a negative or positive opinion over what you have done. Remember options are not facts let the dogs back and never give up or give in.. it is a fact that Joshua Nkomo brought peace. It is a fact that these honours are bestowed upon him. Your opinions are good for you not for the destruction of our fathers and children to be lost.

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    Ndebvu Mukomichi 8 years ago

    Interesting article. I’d say that like any other liberation politician JNN make his fair share of mistakes/miscalculations. Here are a few:
    1. Split of PFZ and formation of ZPF: JNN wanted a negotiated settlement while RGM and others felt that the armed struggle was the only way. Guess what- RGM and the others were proved right- without armed struggle Lancaster would still be a pipedream today. JNN then followed suit later.
    2. Reduced ZIPRA Coverage of the country in the war: JNN decided to build a well-trained regular army and keep it stationed in Zambia ready to move in at just the right time to claim victory by snatching it from ZPF. The downside was that the war ended in a negotiated settlement- which meant that the greater ZPF coverage allowed them to campaign over a larger area resulting in an electoral victory for them.
    JNN’s stationary regular army was attacked at their stations and annihilated by Smith before they could be deployed.
    Some of the weapons found on PFZ farms are said to be from this original stockpile.
    3. Political statements about ZIPRA attacks: During the war ZIPRA fighters downed two civilian aircraft, (Viscounts), travelling from Kariba to Hre. The fighters found survivors on one of the planes and proceeded to kill them all, even though they could see them to be unarmed and injured civilians. Asked to comment on the attack JNN went on to celebrate and brag about the killings to western journalists, giving himself a bad name with in western capitals. This meant that his statements about not hating whites were not taken seriously.
    4. Disturbances and rebellion post-independence: Arms caches were found on ZIPRA properties, the same properties being demanded by a new party called ZAPU today.If he knew about this JNN should have surrendered them to govt, and if he didnt know then it raises qeustions abt his leadership. JNN could have stopped the rebels before more people had been killed- but he ran away to UK. The rebellion stopped as soon as JNN gave word to stop. Question – why wait until so many civilians had perished?

    Some of the rebels even used western hostages as bargaining chips- these hostages were later presumed dead, but their bodies were never found- giving JNN a bad name in western capitals.
    5. Conclusion: Yes JNN is ‘Father Zimbabwe’. His contribution to Zim’s liberation was immense but he was human like all others of his generation. He also made mistakes, therefore writers should moderate their comments by taking these into consideration talking/writing about his life and contribution.

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    Ndebvu Mukomichi 8 years ago

    There is no need to scold anyone. Providing better/more accurate information allows for more meaningful engagement. It also provides a cure for the political/knowledge gaps/deficits in the statements presented.