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Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo through the eyes of his bodyguard

by Staff reporter
14 Jul 2022 at 07:31hrs | Views
THE late Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo was an open -minded and friendly person who freely interacted with everyone throughout his entire political life regardless of social standing, one of his top aides, Nehemiah Nyathi has said.

Popularly known as Father Zimbabwe, the fearless freedom fighter succumbed to prostate cancer on July 1, 1999 at the age of 82, and was buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare.

In an interview yesterday as part of commemorating 23 years since the death of the veteran nationalist and liberation struggle stalwart, Nyathi who was privileged to work closely with Dr Nkomo in various spheres of his political life, described him as an open minded and friendly boss.

"After my guerrilla training, I was selected for further training in State Security, which involved protecting the country and finding out what is troubling the nation and protecting the leaders. I started my security duties with Dr Nkomo in 1980 upon returning from the war of liberation," he said.

"Throughout the 19 years I worked with Dr Nkomo, I noticed that he was an open minded and listening boss who interacted with everyone. Wherever he went in public gatherings, people from all walks of life would swarm around him, and to us as his security team, it made us uneasy as we feared for his life."

Nyathi said he first met Dr Nkomo in 1961 when he was still a boy doing Sub-A at Khumbula Primary School in his rural home in Tsholotsho District, Matabeleland North.

"When I returned home from Zambia there was already a new Government and I was deployed into Dr Nkomo's security team. That is when I started working with Dr Nkomo whom I had first met in 1961 when I was still a boy," he said.

"I was to see him for the second time in 1969 when again he visited Tsholotsho. I realised when I was working with him that he had these tendencies of just visiting places without any specific mission. He simply loved meeting the people."

Nyathi said when he joined Dr Nkomo's Close Security Unit in May 1980 after the country's first general elections, Albert Nxele was the head of security and was deputised by Joseph Maphosa.

Below those there was Lovemore Dube, who was commonly known by his pseudo name Newsreel and his deputy was the now Harare businessman Fred Mutanda whose war name was Chillies.

Nxele was in charge of Dr Nkomo's overall security. He was involved in all departments that concerned the Zapu president.

"The presidential security unit was very big as before we returned to the country there were hopes that Umdala would become the Head of State. The presidential unit was very big with a number of shifts. There were shift commanders under Newsreel and Chillies," he said.

Nyathi said when he joined Dr Nkomo's security team, he was put under a shift that was under Aiden Thwala whose war name was Lawrence.

"Each shift had around 24 officers and the other comrades I worked with included the late national hero Zenzo Ntuliki, popularly known as Maphekapheka. We also had Garnet Muleya and Albert Nguluvhe (Beitbridge East MP) whom we called Miles," he said.

Others were Cdes Siphithi Nkomo, Section Ncube, Prinslar Moyo, Henry Manheru, Saunders Mathwasa, Correct Dube and Boikano Ndlovu.

Nyathi said when the new black majority Government took over from the Rhodesians, the security team from ZPRA protected ministers from PF-Zapu while their colleagues from ZANLA protected Zanu ministers.

"When the coalition Government failed, I decided to leave employment and continued providing security duties to Dr Nkomo together with Boikano. Other comrades remained serving our new Government," he said.

"It was their personal choice to do so as it was ours to go with Dr Nkomo. I had to make sure that he was protected. I told myself that if I failed and he (Dr Nkomo) was to die then the nation would be doomed."

Nyathi said it was easy working with Dr Nkomo because he too was security conscious.

"Sometimes he would even alert us of possible threats. He never used to argue with us when we briefed him of our security plans," he said.

Nyathi said after the collapse of the coalition Government there was a lot of tension between Zanu and Zapu, but because of Dr Nkomo that tension was eased and people were able to work together.

He described Dr Nkomo as a true statesman who believed in dialogue to resolve political differences.

"Very few had imagined that the two nationalists former President Mugabe who was Prime Minister then and Dr Nkomo would work together again. It happened because of his political maturity and statesmanship," he said.

"From that I learnt that even if someone throws stones at my house, I will not retaliate and throw my kitchen utensils back at that person. I will rather find a way to dialogue with that person and make peace. That's what Umdala taught me."

Nyathi said while a majority of the Zapu leadership who included the late Vice-President Joseph Msika and Dr Nkomo's late brother, Stephen Jeqe Nkomo didn't want to hear anything about peace talks, Umdala managed to convince them.

He said the one quality that stood out in Dr Nkomo's personality was that he was slow to anger.

"When he got angry, he would not stay in that disposition for long. I remember an incident before the signing of the Unity Accord when there were people who came to his home in Pelandaba and told him that they had been harassed by security details," said Nyathi.

He said Dr Nkomo decided to meet the late former President Mugabe who was then Prime Minister to register his displeasure.

"When we got to Zimbabwe House, you could see that he was really livid. Considering his state, I asked if he wasn't going to fight with the Prime Minister and he just said he wouldn't fight with someone younger than him," said Nyathi.

"That little talk we had allowed the anger in him to subside. He had a lengthy discussion with the Prime Minister. We don't know what they spoke about, but they emerged from that meeting laughing and holding hands."

Nyathi also reminisced on the other time he saw Dr Nkomo very angry during an interview with a BBC journalist after his return from the United Kingdom.

"The journalist said to him, ‘you have just come back from self-imposed exile' and went on to ask him why Dr Nkomo had gone to the UK, Zimbabwe's former colonisers, of all countries and not Russia. I saw flames in his eyes and he almost struck that fellow with his stick," he said.

"Umdala restrained himself and laughed at the journalist and asked him to read history to appreciate why he went to UK and not Russia."

Nyathi said the other time his former boss got angry was when the then Zapu National chairperson William Kona resigned from the party to join Zanu.

"Kona's son went to the press and denounced his father. He accused him of cowardice and disowned him and Umdala (Dr Nkomo) wasn't pleased with the son's actions," he said.

"He sent for him to be collected and a press conference to be arranged."

Nyathi said Dr Nkomo chided Kona's son in front of journalists.

"This was supposed to be a press conference but Umdala took time talking to Kona junior telling him to respect his father's decision to change parties. He ordered him to retract his statement in front of journalists and tell them that he was still part of the Kona family," he said.

"It was his nature not to prolong anger. Anger, according to him, steals precious time for more important things."
Nyathi said Dr Nkomo's favourite meal were traditional dishes such as dried vegetables (umfushwa) and isitshwala samabele.

Nyathi said Dr Nkomo personally requested him to be redeployed to his team after the December 1987 Unity Accord.

"From then on, I worked with him until his death in July 1999. I was with him until the end. He was a strong man even when he was not feeling well during his last days," he said.

"When Dr Nkomo was ill, before his death, people like us who were close to him could see that the old man was not well, but he wouldn't show it. He didn't look sorry.

"When people visited him, he would never complain about his illness. He would talk about other issues that were not even related to his state, as if he was someone who was well and fit."

Nyathi said Dr Nkomo was a father figure, very friendly and approachable.

"From a distance people saw him as someone who was very fearsome, but he was the direct opposite. He was a father to us and you could talk to him about anything. He loved people," he said.

When Nyathi lost his sister, the last born in their family, Dr Nkomo played a fatherly role. He came to their home and paid his condolences and spoke to the elders.

"The following day he sent for me. He asked me about the funeral programme and assisted with money to cover funeral expenses. The money was more than enough and the elders remained with change," said Nyathi.

"He would do that to everyone. He was just like that. It's those qualities that I feel made it possible for the Unity Accord to be signed. He treated everyone like his own kin."

Nyathi said Dr Nkomo was a hands-on person such that when a minister submitted a file or a report of programmes being undertaken under their ministry, he would opt to go on the ground and see for himself if what was reflected on the report corresponded with what was on the ground.

Source - The Chronicle
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