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Joshua Nkomo's costly heroism

17 Jun 2020 at 18:06hrs | Views
I first suffered the consequences of being a critical analyst and a questioner of orthodox opinion at my early secondary school. In one incident, I totally lost the kind favour of my Bible Knowledge teacher who also doubled as a pentecostal pastor. For many days I endured unkind whispers of my classmates about my alleged satanic persuasions and even shouts about how I had allowed stray demons to control my thoughts. Even the beautiful Nohlanhla that I had written a long poetic one to ask for her loving attentions and had said she would "think about it" wrote me a very short one to say "it cant, Dinny !" My sin was that I had argued in a Bible class discussion that,  "Jesus Christ was never a Christian he was only an intelligent Judaist rebel. It is only his followers who became Christians after his death……". I suffered severe isolation, humiliation and painful rejection for allegedly speaking ill of the good lord. It is with bleeding memories of such experiences that I propose to approach with extreme chameleonic caution my discussion of Joshua Nkomo's worrying political and historical legacy. I pray that my honest and frank socratic scrutinies of Joshua Nkomo will be received with the same honesty and goodwill with which I dispatch them to the audiences. I also take comfort in Naom Chomsky's argumentation that it is after all the vocation of journalists, artists and other critics to, not only "question" but also "speak truth to power".

The tragedy or else the comedy – depending on where the observer stands – of Joshua Nkomo's political leadership and historical legacy lies squarely on the criminal falsehood of the title "Father Zimbabwe". Joshua Nkomo wished hard and tried over time in words and in deeds to fit to the title but he never came near to being "father" of the slippery and imaginary Zimbabwean nation. After all, apart from the elusive nature of the nation, its being arcane and scandalous wind of ‘nationalism'; both as a process and ideology, Zimbabwe remains a dream. In actuality, the name was and it still is a cruel political nickname that Nkomo's foxy political enemies gave to him. In fact, the reader may want to understand how the one who had been caricatured as a moronic figure, to the extent of constructing a shopping mall, Karigamombe, as a way of living the ill cultural labelling now turns out to be a 'father' figure. Please note, a father of the esoteric nation. It is so sad then that Nkomo blindly clung to the name as if it was a potent fetish and he allowed himself to be deluded by it into making serious errors of judgement and dangerous mistakes of omission and commission. Like the proverbial foolish fly that ignored advice and followed the corpse to the grave, Nkomo ignored wise counsel from Chief Khayisa Ndiweni and even Ian Smith at some point.

In his pursuit of the illusion of "father Zimbabwe" Nkomo exposed his only loyal and genuine followers, the Ndebele people to massacre, cultural annihilation, discrimination, economic marginality and political orphanage in Zimbabwe. In fact, dear reader, there is a stubborn possibility that future generations of Joshua Nkomo's followers will view him, not as the colossal hero whose name we commemorate and whose life we celebrate today, but a cowardly traitor. It is not my intention to issue unsalutary descriptions of the departed nor is it my disrespectful habit to write uncharitable comments on the great, but I consider it my brief top cast fair and constructive comment. Imagine this, posterity may be told seasoned and melancholic stories about this great man; that is, as a man who was made to negotiate while on his tummy, forced to submit his ideals to the forces of evil, captured alive and imprisoned with a government position, then finally, only to have his bones captured and interred in Harare, under the guise of liberation hero status. In essence, the most painful moment is when you are forced to bury your dead in the territory of the evil ruler. A story is even told that Joshua Nkomo even went on hunger strike while imprisoned at the Avenues Clinic in his final days here on earth, but for now I shall not elaborate on this one. Suffice to say, I do have enough evidence!

The most monumental error of judgement that Nkomo made, and which Ndebele leaders in Zanu-PF and MDCT continue to make is to underestimate, by a wide margin, the British and Shona national memories of what Mzilikazi and Lobengula did to them in the past. To start with, the defeat and butchering of the British 1/24th battalion by King Cetshwayo's Unomkhenke regiment on the 22nd of January 1879 at the legendary battle of Isandlwana embarassed and angered the British for all posterity. Mzilikazi's Mbiko Kamadlenya led regiments also humiliated the Afrikanners at the Battle of Vekop. Chief Khama of then Bechuanaland also lived in dread of the ferocious Matabale. The Mashona of Zimbabwe still remember vividly how they were tribute paying serviles of Mzilikazi and then later Lobengula, both warrior kings whose law and order was maintained with the assegai, the butchering of Whites by Lobengula's impis in the 1893 War and the slaughter of white women and children during the Ndebele rebellion of 1896 is up to today a bleeding wound in British national memory. We must not forget that the British are people whose nationalism is deeply rooted in the memory of victory in war. Where they lose, they also detest and subject those who would have defeated them to perpetual banishment.

It must also be remembered that up to today the Mashona of Zimbabwe, including their ten year olds, are very clear about what the Matebele used to do to their ancestors with the spear. That is aptly captured in their government commissioned history books by authors such as Mutirwa, Nhandara, Chigwedere, et al. Even reasoned why it took Terrance Ranger this long to acknowledge the evils of Gukurahundi genocide, let alone make mention of the name 'gukurahundi' in his books? I really fail to decipher what made Joshua Nkomo believe that the shona will suspend their memory of Ndebele war exploits against them and accept him as their "father". I think it was pathological political naiveté and absurd strategic simplicity for Nkomo to think that he could suddenly charm the Mashona and the British into forgetting who the Ndebele were. After all, on 4 November 1893 Lobengula was conqured by a combination of British, Shona, Tswana and Afikanner soldiers, all nations that lived in fear and passionate hatred of the Ndebele; the hatred originating from the vicious and ferocious military reputation of the Ndebele. What made Nkomo believe that this hatred and fear will be suspended just for him, a Ndebele, to be "father Zimbabwe" boggles the ordinary mind.

While Nkomo pursued his lofty and grand dream of being father Zimbabwe who ruled with "the arts of peace" the shona did not hide their grudge and hatred for the Ndebele and for Nkomo himself. In 1975, hundreds of unarmed Zipra cadres were slaughtered by the Zanla in Morogoro and Mgagao camps in Tanzania, killed for no reason except that they were Ndebele. The Gukurahundi genocide killed an estimated 40000 Ndebele people and many hundreds of thousands were forced to desert their homes and go to exile. On the ruins of their homes Mugabe has settled thousands of people from Mashonaland, a project aimed at totally shonalising Matabaleland. After Gukurahundi Mugabe was honoured in 1994 with Knighthood of the order of Bath by the Queen of England, Dear readers, this is the same honour that Leander Star Jameson was honoured with by the then Queen of England in 1894 after the defeat of Lobengula. To the Shona, and the British, the crushing of the Ndebele is sweet revenge for the crimes of Lobengula and Mzilikazi. Yet Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo was totally blind, totally deaf and utterly impervious to what was at play, what he saw was his fatherhood of the otherwise imaginary nation of Zimbabwe, like a pie in the sky it remains in the recesses of all idiots' wishes. Talk about heroics!

While the British and the Shona, common historical fearers and haters of the Ndebele conspired through Lancaster House negotiations to ensure that Matabaleland and Mashonaland that were colonised as two separate countries in different years were then decolonised in 1980 as one country under the leadership of the Shona, Nkomo continued to entertain the rather strange and ahistorical belief that he can rule Zimbabwe. Under this misguided belief Nkomo disarmed ZIPRA, one of most feared liberation armies in Africa. Not only that, but he went on to stop ZIPRA from finishing off ZANLA at the Entumbane battle in 1981, and by so doing, Nkomo exposed the Ndebele people to slaughter, subjugation, marginalisation, contempt and scorn of the Shona backed by their British ancient protectors. I insist, dear readers, that up to today, the Ndebeles in all their political and economic troubles are suffering an ancient Shona and British grudge, and their dear leader, Joshua Nomo, just did not see it. Chief Khayisa Ndiweni did emphatically put it to Nkomo that he should forget about ever ruling Mashonaland but to go for a federation or to separate the countries according to their precolonial boarders. In response, Nkomo did not only cast a deaf ear, and pursued a catastrophic apolitical position of wanting to be a "father Zimbabwe"; a position whose dire consequences the people of Matebeleland have continued to live to tell to this day. He further cast aspersions on Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, to the extent of discrediting him in the face of the maze of independence euphoria.

What Nkomo failed to understand and which many Ndebele politicians continue to fail to see is that Zimbabwe as a nation exists only as a shadowy and misty theory. It is an imaginary "sugar - candy" country that is in the air and remains a big wish. In reality and in practice, Matabaleland and Mashonaland still exist as two rival countries; only that now it is the Shona who have the Matabale in their servitude, not the other way round. If one is in doubt of this, he only needs to observe how both MDCT and Zanu-PF are structured, the Ndebele are perpetual ceremonial deputies and in the budget allocations by ministers from Simba Makoni up to Tendai Biti what goes to the whole of Matabaleland's three provinces is less than what goes to one Mashonaland province. Under these circumstances, if Nkomo did not live in his imagination, he should not have disarmed ZIPRA. He should not have stopped ZIPRA from finishing off ZANLA at Entumbane. He should have marched with amajaha across Zimbabwe from Plumtree to Mutare, from Victoria Falls to Beitbridge and from Beitbridge to Nyamapanda. And then Joshua Nkomo was to be father Zimbabwe, by force and not by wish. It is clear, dear readers, that even in the 1980 elections, the story as narrated through the ballot trends have it that the vote followed the bullet or the gun, hence Mugabe's celebration of what he calls, '…a Mugabe land' and '…a Nkomo land', with the latter referring to Matebeleland. Even if Joshua Nkomo could not have maintained peace at least, he could have created silence in Mashonaland. So sad then that Josh, decided to become the unwise prince that Niccolo Machiavelli describes as the one "who chooses to be loved rather than to be feared". When in reality what creates fathers of nations is fear and not love. Politics is not a game of love, but being astutely feared. Nkomo missed that point.

Before I conclude, I must observe that most politicians and ordinary people in Mashonaland love Nkomo and his memory dearly. Not for any other reason but that Nkomo was a welcome departure from the ways of Mzilikazi and Lobengula. He was, to them, such a pleasant surprise. They had never seen such a convenient and manageable enemy who believed all the lies they told and fell for all the traps that they set up. Sometimes I really don't know whether to weep or to laugh. There is today talk about erecting Nkomo's statue in Harare. The biggest honour to Nkomo that the Mashona led by Zanu-PF set up is Karagamombe centre, a building whose name celebrates what exactly Nkomo is to the people he so much wished to be father of, yet they were so clear that he was a Ndebele leader and not theirs. My sympathies and support are with Sibangilizwe when he prays that his father's remains be moved to Kwanyongolo where he can lie in peace, not as a captive corpse at Heroes acre.

I have observed with sadness and deep sorrow the jostling among Ndebele leaders in Zanu-PF and MDCT falling over each other to be seen in Mashonaland and in Matabaleland as "the next Nkomo". They try to prove that they are more Zimbabwean than they are Ndebele, even biting their tongues trying to speak Shona, apologising for what they have not done and giving thanks for what they have not received just to be accepted. Doing all this, the people of Matabaleland are still where they are, in political orphanage, servility, economic marginality and cultural colonisation. Another Nkomo is the lost thing that these people need. The people of Matabaleland have two choices to make, one very easy because it is already in progress, and another mountainous but necessary. The easy one is to lie down and accept shona nationalism with all its vices including a total absorption into the Shona nation in the hope that soon it will be forgotten that they were ever Ndebele and offended the Shona in the past. This is very easy because it is already happening.

The second choice calls for a total rejection and abandonment of the example of Joshua Nkomo. The Ndebele need, if they are to survive, to raise a selfless, caring, fearless and, sometimes, 'recklessly' foxy leader who will return them to the warrior ways of their ancestors. When this leader is risen for real, the people of Mashonaland themselves will ask that Zimbabwe be cut into Matabaleland and Mashonaland. I respect the words of Aristotle, one philosopher who has fittingly been called "the teacher of those who know". He said "the powerless always clamour for justice and equality and the powerful heed to none". The Ndebele can cry for federalism, devolution, Zambezi water, representation through this post or that post, so much developmental budget, respect, justice and such other, but the Shona will continue to "heed to none". The Ndebele need to return to being feared and "all other things will be added unto" them or forever keep silent. I do not, dear readers, wish to insult the legacy of Umdala wethu, neither do I intend to scatter infamy and aspersions on the legacy of the great father Zimbabwe, but I, like Niccolo Machiavelli, the ancient Florentine diplomat and statesman, choose to discuss things, politically as they are, and not as they are wished and imagined to be.

Too much imagining and wishing has cost the Ndebele dearly as I have argued above. I would also like to reject with the contempt and the disdain that it deserves, the idea sold by many commentators that the Ndebele who were killed and persecuted as Ndebeles and not Zimbabweans, should then fight back as Zimbabweans not as Ndebeles. It is also an unfortunate falsehood that the Ndebele are a tribe. The truth is that they are a nation. Period!

Dinizulu Macaphulana is a Zimbabwean student in Lesotho.

Source - Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana
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