AFRICAN NEWS FEATURES
a SARDC Service
|13 July 1999
JOSHUA MQABUKO NKOMO, SYMBOL OF UNITY IN SADC
by Tinashe Madava
"A leader is he who expresses the wishes of his followers. No sane leader
can disregard the voice of his people and supporters."
This was the late vice-president of Zimbabwe, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo at the peak of the
Rhodesia Federal Review and Constitutional Conference, expressing his nationalist idealism
that was to encourage many Africans to take up arms against white minority rule.
Born on 7 June 1917 in Semokwe reserve in Matebeleland, veteran African nationalist,
Nkomo, affectionately referred to as "Father Zimbabwe", died of prostate cancer
on 1 July 1999.
The late Zimbabwean vice-president, Joshua Nkomo, came from humble beginnings, born of
peasant parents living in the harsh and arid province of Matebeleland in southwest
Zimbabwe. He did his primary education at Tsholotsho School and then worked as a delivery
boy for a bakery in Bulawayo, owned by Sir Donald MacIntyre. He later worked as a
carpenter at Kezi and Tsholotsho.
Nkomo did his secondary and college education in South Africa at the same time doubling as
a driver to raise his school fees. While in South Africa, he interacted with some of the
leaders of the African National Congress in that
country, whose influence played a great role in shaping Nkomo's political career.
After his return to Southern Rhodesia (colonial Zimbabwe) in 1947, he was employed by the
Rhodesia Railways as a social worker, the first African to be given such a post. While at
the Rhodesia Railways, he studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Sociology
with the University of South Africa (UNISA). He
married his stepmother's young sister, Johanna Fuyana, in 1949.
"We got married and immediately afterwards, he went into politics. We were never
together. I was young then and did not understand what he was doing," said Johanna,
talking about their early years together, in an interview after her husband's death.
"He always put the people of this country before his family," said Johanna of
Nkomo, true to the nickname Umdala wethu (our father) or "Father
Zimbabwe", was in the thick of the anti-colonial struggle from the 1940s, as a
railway workers' union official, to his glorious days as the leader of the nationalist
movements. He joined nationalist politics in the early 1950s, and was elected president of
the African National Congress (ANC) in Southern Rhodesia, in 1952.
That same year Sir Godfrey Huggins, then prime minister of southern Rhodesia invited
Nkomo, to represent African opinion at the London Conference on the proposed federation of
the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda from Nyasaland (Malawi) and a group of influential chiefs from
Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) also attended the conference called by the British government
at Clarence House in London, in January 1953. Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are now members
of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Denouncing the idea of a federation, Nkomo said that Africans would not take the
imposition of a federation "sitting down".
"Africans shall struggle. They will use every power they have to fight against this
scheme. Let there be no illusion about this. Let us not be blamed that the Africans resort
to savagery again...We refuse to be bound by unjust laws."
When, in 1957, the Bulawayo branch of the ANC merged with the Youth League founded two
years earlier by George Nyandoro, James Chikerema and Edson Sithole, Nkomo was again
In December 1958, Nkomo traveled to Accra, Ghana, for the first All-African People's
Conference and then to Cairo, Egypt. During that time, a state of emergency was declared
back home on 26 February 1959 and 500 ANC members were detained. Undeterred, Nkomo set up
an office in exile, at Golders Green in London where he spent the next 18 months.
During this period, the National Democratic Party was formed on 1 January 1960, and
Michael Mawema was chosen as the substantive president. Nkomo later replaced him after
elections held at the NDP's inaugural congress in November 1960.
Nkomo became the leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), formed after the
ban of the NDP by the colonial government in 1961. A new militancy marked the time of ZAPU
leading to its banning in September 1962.
Nkomo was in Lusaka at the time ZAPU was banned and he considered the idea of forming a
government-in-exile as a way of stimulating international pressure to help effect
political change in Southern Rhodesia. Sithole, Enock Dumbutshena and former Tanzanian
president, Julius Nyerere and many others, advised him against this.
After sharp differences emerged over the way forward, the Zimbabwe African National Union
(ZANU) was formed by Ndabaningi Sithole Nkomo was later arrested on 16 April 1964 and
spent the next 10 and a half years in detention at Gonakudzingwa Camp in Southern
Rhodesia. After his release in 1974, Nkomo was again back at the centre stage of the
During Zimbabwe's liberation struggle, there was so much cooperation in southern Africa as
Nkomo's armed ZIPRA guerillas fought from Zambia and the ZANU armed wing, ZANLA, came from
Mozambique in a war that intensified in the late 1970s. This resulted in the Lancaster
House conference that paved the way for independence in Zimbabwe in 1980.
The late Nkomo was instrumental in achieving peace in post-independent Zimbabwe. He led
his political party, PF ZAPU, in negotiations for a peace accord which resulted in the
unity of his party with the ruling ZANU PF in 1987.
Says Johanna, "Joshua's vision for Zimbabwe and the region was that everybody should
get land, jobs and decent accommodation. Even on his death bed, he called for unity and
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