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Magic or Superstition? The myths and legends that made Joshua Nkomo

13 Jul 2016 at 07:05hrs | Views
In times of war it is common to hear of legends and stories that give popular participants in battles superhuman qualities that seem to defy the rules of everyday life.

Perhaps to drive fear into an enemy or wow those watching on the sidelines, the greatest military strategists and leaders all seem to have fantastic legends attached to accounts of their exploits during a war.

Carthaginian general, Hannibal, was said to ride into battle on the back of an elephant during the first Punic War, which thus explained his repeated routing of various Roman armies during that struggle.

Some claim that this account of events was concocted by Roman soldiers eager to downplay losses at the hands of a clearly superhuman military strategist while some historians reckon the stories are pure myth.

In Zimbabwe, the late Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo has been the subject of as much myth and legend making as any prominent figure during a time of armed struggle.

Before and after his death, stories abound that convinced many that the late nationalist was no mere mortal as his exploits while avoiding the tentacles of the white colonial regime and its security agents became a staple of Zimbabwean folklore.

One of the most distinguishing features of Mqabuko was the walking stick which with time became such an integral feature of the man that it seemed like a third hand.

Beyond the practical use of the stick, particularly in his later years when he needed its support, the walking stick was a source of much speculation and wonderment for both sympathisers and foes alike.

Nkomo's walking stick seems to have also spooked Rhodesian authorities who also believed in the magical powers of his famed walking stick.

"Joshua Nkomo's power and security are in his magic walking stick with which he communicates.

"He never does anything nor does he embark on a journey without communicating with it first. For you to be able to kill him, you have to deprive him of his stick first," Selous Scout Rich Khama is quoted as having told fellow security agents in Aneas Chigwedere's account of the hunt of Joshua Nkomo.


The stick was credited as the reason why Mqabuko seemed to slip through the fingers of Rhodesian security forces countless times.

Another legend that is firmly associated with the man that is Joshua Nkomo is that he possessed the supernatural ability to turn into a cat when cornered by his opponents.

This is another legend that reinforced the view that no matter the odds, Mqabuko would triumph over his enemies by summoning supernatural powers that other ordinary beings did not possess.

The origin of this myth is unclear, although it gained further traction after a botched Rhodesian attempt to assassinate the late nationalist while he was exiled in Zambia in 1979.

According to the late Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Nkomo was to be assassinated by a special Rhodesian death squad but things did not go as planned as he had switched bases right before they could carry out their task.

International reporters were dumbfounded how he had come out unscathed from the attack which had seen his home razed.

"I turned into a cat and jumped out of a small ground little window at the back of the house," he recounts jokingly telling journalists in his book, The Story of My Life.

Magic and supernatural forces are indeed a recurrent theme when one is looking at Mqabuko's history in the struggle. One of the reasons for this was his supposed affinity and relationships with the sacred shrines of Njelele.

For many the shrines are particularly revered because of his relationship with them, as he regularly pilgrimaged there to seek strength and spiritual guidance.

Nkomo himself acknowledged the influence of Njelele, also outlining how he himself had an eye opening moment during a visit in the 1970s.

In his book, Dr Nkomo recounts having been led into the hill where a voice came from the rocks and promised that the land would be restored to its indigenous owners after 30 years. "I cannot explain this event, but it happened and the prophecy came true. The other people accompanying us witnessed it," he recounted.

Source - B-Metro
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