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The long trial of Joshua Nkomo

14 Feb 2016 at 10:46hrs | Views
Even as he rests in peace, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo faces contesting judgments. In appreciation he is "Father Zimbabwe," the adorable "Umdala Wethu" who was once called "Chibwechitedza," the small slippery rock who eluded the Rhodesian killing machines.

In critique, Joshua Nkomo is seen by some as a reluctant if not cowardly warrior who was too good for the dirty game of politics. Joshua Nkomo is seen by some of his critics as having lacked the hardihood and gravitas that a guerilla commander in Africa needed. A close reading of Joshua Nkomo's own exposition about his life and times shows that largely, both his supporters and his detractors; simply do not get who the real Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo was.

As "Father Zimbabwe" and "Umdala wethu" Joshua Nkomo is portrayed as a ceremonial and symbolic figure, almost a saintly persona that is associated with harmless messianic nationalism not the political philosopher and stubborn revolutionary that he was. As "Chimbwechitedza," the small round and slippery rock, he is portrayed as a dodgy and elusive target that his enemies and potential killers could not handle, a kind of MacGyver and James Bond character; and not the principled political leader that he was. Nkomo was no magician or trickster, but a man who was prepared to die for freedom and his beliefs.

The Formation of a Political Philosopher

Joshua Nkomo's father, Nyongolo was born in 1880 and his wife in 1885. So when Cecil John Rhodes and his invading Pioneer Column landed in 1890, Nkomo's parents were toddlers who witnessed the violence and the plunder. Nkomo grew up on a diet of stories about the colonial conquest and bloody battles of resistance that made him angry. Nyongolo became a school teacher and Christian preacher who was also a successful farmer with a thousand herd of cattle. In a way Nkomo grew up in relative comfort amongst dispossessed and poor people. He was ashamed of going to school in shiny Khakhi shorts when his school mates wore amabhetshu.

What made Joshua Nkomo even angrier as a child was to see his father, an important man, being forced to take off his hat and kneel before white children, to him this was a sign that the world was upside down. As he enjoyed the Bible stories that his mother read to him, Joshua Nkomo asked himself difficult questions about God and his people. He asked himself about a God who allowed white people to use black people for cheap labour and call grown black men and women boys and girls. He became suspicious of Christianity and explored the African Traditional Religion that the communities in Khezi and Maphisa practised. Nkomo was infuriated when whites came or sent their black workers to come and collect tax from his father, to instruct him to reduce the number of his cattle or to move from his fertile land to the rocky and barren soils further away. In the dark nights he escaped his father's homestead to attend traditional ceremonies and other ancestral rituals that were important to the communities of Khezi and Maphisa. At a certain point, Nyongolo had to drag Nkomo away kicking and screaming from the home of one Mathimulana Nyathi, a feared sangoma who had begun teaching Joshua Nkomo the arts of traditional healing.

At boarding school Joshua Nkomo excelled in arithmetic, once becoming the youngest but the best student in the entire Rhodesia. He graduated as a qualified carpenter. Severally he was fired from the many jobs he got for demanding equal pay with whites and asking deep questions that were not expected from natives. Eventually he was sent to Adams College in South Africa where he saw a lot and met many other young revolutionaries from South Africa and beyond. The who is who of African politics met at Adams College and Joshua Nkomo learnt from them as much as he taught them. At this time Joshua Nkomo was already a towering giant who exhibited thrilling driving skills. One of the lady teachers, Mrs Hoskin, a widow, hired Nkomo to drive her in her car as she was not a driver herself. A tall black man driving around with a white lady was something not to see in the then South Africa. Soon enough rumours of a dark and unholy friendship between Nkomo and the white widow spread and Nkomo was sat down and questioned. He denied indulging in sin with Mrs Hoskin but admitted that the widow proved to her that whites are also human beings, no better and no less.

In 1948, Nkomo arrived back in Rhodesia as a qualified social worker. His education, travel and mixing with many young people from Africa had formed Nkomo into a confident man of the world. He had grown a low opinion of whites, especially the racists among them. The ANC rallies that he attended in South Africa and the political discussions he had with other African activists had grown him up to a hair raising orator and deadly debater. As a black trade union leader at the Bulawayo National Railways, Nkomo and his stubborn intellect gave the largely uneducated but privileged whites nightmares. For that reason, Nkomo became the political leader of choice for black people as he stupefied even the best amongst the best colonist white smart alecs.

The Theology and Philosophy of Joshua Nkomo

For me this is where most people, including Joshua Nkomo's fanatic supporters do not get who the real Nkomo was. Nkomo had a defined philosophy and understanding of God or the creator that he lived by to his death. In his own words Joshua Nkomo argued that the same Mlimu or Mwali who spoke from the rocks in Dula and Njelele is the same creator of the universe that is narrated in the Bible. The God that Nkomo knew had no chosen people or chosen nation, he only had his people and loved them to live in freedom and in justice. The white colonialists were evil fraudsters for claiming that they had a monopoly over God. For that reason, in deep anger, Joshua Nkomo regarded imperialism, colonialism and racism as disgusting crimes against humanity and insults to the creator.

Regarding war, Joshua Nkomo found it very silly that people would pick up arms and kill each other so that they can sit down and talk after the bloodshed. His considered philosophy was, why not talk before the bloodshed and agree on peace and justice. The long war of liberation that cost so many lives happened because white colonialists and racists were not wise enough to know that all wars lead to talks, the war was unnecessary and blacks were forced into it by racist denialists. Further, Joshua Nkomo had deep trust in other people; he acted always in good faith. He was betrayed several times but he always looked for the best side of everyone, this has looked like simplicity and naiveté to many people but for Nkomo himself it was a philosophy of life that people's weaknesses were useless but everyone's strength was something to treasure.

The Trial of a Philosopher
At the end of it there is no one Joshua Nkomo but many of them. He is Father Zimbabwe, Umdala Wethu and the elusive Chibwechitedza; and also a reluctant warrior or coward but what remains is that behind all these shadows was a deep thinker and a resolute revolutionary. Most of his names and descriptions tend to cloud rather than reveal the real Joshua Nkomo, a political pragmatist and opponent of war who believed that the liberation struggle was not only for humanising the dehumanised blacks but that it was also for humanising and liberating the white colonists themselves who had become animals by treating other human beings as animals. Nkomo will continue to be debated and discussed as an adorable old man and generous guerilla leader, but let not Nkomo the thinker be forgotten.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Pretoria: Feedback-

Source - sundaynews
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