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How Joshua Nkomo was spotted

25 Mar 2018 at 09:02hrs | Views
NOW aged 90, Abraham "BroNnkie" Dumezweni Nkiwane still has that fire in his belly that saw him fighting for the independence of two African states, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Nkiwane was also the first man to be trusted by Southern African nationalists, the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo and Dr Kenneth Kaunda to smuggle arms of war from the then Tanganyika (Tanzania) via Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe to ignite the fire of the armed struggle.

Our Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda (MS) last week traced Nkiwane for an interview and the veteran nationalist and guerilla spoke about all the stages of the country' liberation struggle. Below are excerpts of the interview:

MS: Baba Nkiwane, when were you born and from which part of the country?

Nkiwane: I was born on 6 January 1928 in Ntabazinduna. My father was Siqhotho and my mother Sarah Mpofu. In Ntabazinduna there were two schools worth of note at that time, Ingwenya Mission established by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and David Livingstone. My village was almost at the centre of the two schools. I went to David Livingstone where I was impressed by one of the teachers there, Mr Manoa Chirwa who played an important role in my education by influencing my father to continue sending me to school. During those days people did not take education seriously.

In 1935 I started my Sub A at David and remained there until I had gone up to Standard 4. In 1942 I then enrolled at Tegwani (now Thekwane) Methodist Mission attending up to 1943. The next thing to do was to study for teacher training but because I was still a juvenile, under 16 years of age I could not proceed to train as a teacher. At that time my father had moved from Ntabazinduna Reserve and bought a piece of land under the African Purchasing Scheme in Lupanda under Lupane District.

MS: So the developments meant you stopped going to school?

Nkiwane: Yes. I was at Tegwani for two years and there was no school to do secondary education in the country. Actually pupils in my category had to find secondary school places in South Africa. Since my parents were not in the picture about this development I had to go home and spend the whole year in Lupane. To me Lupane was very strange, unlike Ntabazinduna, Lupane had tall hard wood timber trees, funny wild animals like hyenas, I had not seen before, lions and elephants that moved in large numbers. The rivers had crocodiles, very unsafe to draw water from. To me this was not only strange but frightening as well. However, eventually I went back to school, but to Kilnerton Institute, a Methodist Mission near what is now called Polokwane in South Africa and that was in 1947. That is where I passed the University Junior Certificate (UJC). However, because of financial problems I could not continue to the Matric stage and had to return home to teach. I was now more qualified than most of the teachers as locally they had done what was called the Lower Teacher Certificate, which meant they could teach lower grades, but I could teach the upper primary classes.

MS: Where did you teach and how were the conditions then?

Nkiwane: When I came back home I thought I was educated well enough more than many people. I was deployed to teach in some schools that fell under the Tegwani Circuit of the Methodist schools and in what is now called Bulilima District of Matabeleland South. I taught at Tjehanga. Some of us were soon to clash with the church authorities when we opposed school concerts, which were used to raise money for the schools and were supported and influenced by Reverend Percy Ibbotson and others. The following year and on the eve of the schools opening we were invited to attend a teachers' meeting for our circuit and the issue of some teachers opposing the concerts were high on the agenda and that is when myself, Cephas Malikongwa and Alfred Mkandawire were told to resign and that is how I left teaching. After job hunting I found employment at Bulawayo Omnibus Company as a fleet clerk. Malikongwa got a job soon after that as a teacher at Luveve while Mkandawire joined Bantu Mirror as a journalist.

MS: How was the national political situation at that time. May you please take us through that period?

Nkiwane: There wasn't much, but as Africans we had started coalescing around a platform which attracted intellectuals during those days. There was Gama Sigma Club, a voluntary organisation that attracted young African intellectuals. Its meetings were held at Stanley Hall in Makokoba. It held its meetings every Wednesday afternoons.

MS: Who were the active members at that time and what were you discussing?

Nkiwane: There were people like Tennyson Hlabangana,, Mazibisa, Mr Rubatika, a friend of mine from Hope Fountain Mission, Dzviti, W Makubalo, Male and so on. Later on came degree holders like the late former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, Enoch Dumbutshena and Stanlake Samkange.

So the Stanley Hall became a centre for many activities of all sorts, cultural, educational, political and trade unionism with the likes of Grey Mabhalane Bango and Mr Ngazimbi joining in the fray.

MS: How did you co-exist considering your different ethnic backgrounds?

Nkiwane: During those days to us it did not matter where you came from. One would speak his language and others would make an effort to learn.

We understood each other very well, one speaking his own language and the other doing the same (mutual intelligibility in Linguistics). People only started seeing tribal lines in each other in the 1960s, not at that time in the 50s. You can see that we were serious about discussing pertinent issues at that time compared to the current youth, a majority of whom find pleasure in going for beer binges at the expense of important issues that affect their communities. The meetings were usually chaired by a welfare officer from the council. Sometimes specialists in different fields were invited to come down and deliver a lecture. We also competed in reciting plays from William Shakespeare and we will even have a cast to act. We derived pleasure in acting, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, in fact almost all the Shakespeare plays. We even did a Russian one, What Man Lives By.

We also did Alan Paton's Cry The Beloved Country. We took those plays around and when we took Cry The Beloved Country to the centres we had visited before we attracted a lot of blacks, this observation to me might have been the beginning of my political awakening. Inspectors of schools who in the past had organised venues for us suddenly stopped doing so when they realised the influence the plays had on the people.

MS: Bit by bit you were turning political.

Nkiwane: To an extent, yes. It was during that time that we started communicating with the City Youth League formed in Salisbury (Harare) led by James Chikerema, George Nyandoro and Mushonga. They then asked us to provide a leader from our group. They insisted that the person to lead should come from Bulawayo and so we looked around us and gave them Samkange who had graduated with a degree in History and English, but he was turned down by Chiki (Chikerema) on the grounds that there was nothing new in him since they came from the same area. We then proposed the name of Dumbutshena, a holder of Laws Degree and again Chikerema said there was no difference with Samkange as he also came from Zvimba. The City Youth League members said they wanted someone from Bulawayo and its surroundings. We were in a fix. It was at that time that somebody mentioned that we should consider a chief welfare officer from the Rhodesia Railways, Joshua Nkomo (late Vice-President). The core of us then asked about his educational background and when we were told that he had attended Tsholotsho Government School, there was a burst of laughter.

MS: Why?

Nkiwane: We could not imagine ourselves being led by somebody who had done courses like carpentry and building. Tsholotsho taught mainly practical courses and within our group some even said "udaka boy" for this. Let us be serious gentlemen. However, after some discussions it was agreed that let us try this Nkomo chap, so he was invited to participate in a debating competition, we were testing him. He debated against our member Dumbutshena and we were shocked at the level of understanding of issues this Nkomo fellow exhibited and I can say he won our hearts. When we set eyes on him, we saw a handsome man and at that time Nkomo was slim and he won us. We then forwarded his name to Chikerema and he was accepted. That is how Nkomo came into politics, he was invited by others and never sought a position.

MS: So you mean to say before that you guys had never heard of Nkomo?

Nkiwane: We did not know him and the same applies to former President Mugabe who was a teacher just on the outskirts of Bulwayo at Hope Fountain.

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