Big Josh: More than a politician

Garikai Mazara
“Some might remember him for his political views and values, some might remember him for his religious beliefs, in fact there were so many facets to Joshua Nkomo, but as a cultural movement we thought it better to remember him through this cultural exhibition.” Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo would have been 100 on June 6 this year.Unfortunately fate would not let us have him till he celebrated his centenary, as he passed on at 82 on July 1, 1999.

But that he has not been with us for almost two decades does not mean that his spirit, his enduring legacy is no longer with us.

He is still much part of our moral, political and cultural psyche and the values that he held so dear in his life were the cornerstone of the celebrations held recently at St Joseph’s Mission in Kezi, where the iconic Father Zimbabwe spent part of his formative years.

Organised by the Joshua Nkomo Cultural Movement, the celebrations, which were largely cultural in context and complexion, did not attract Father Zimbabwe’s political peers, a move described by Mr Michael Nkomo, the chairman of the organising committee, as largely intentional.

“We didn’t want these celebrations to have a political colouring to them, they are purely cultural, hence the absence of any political figures or Father Zimbabwe’s political luminaries,” explained Nkomo Jnr, who is one of the five children born to Joshua Nkomo, and one of three surviving.

Mr Michael Nkomo showing the graves of the Nkomo family members
Mr Michael Nkomo showing the graves of the Nkomo family members

The other surviving children are Thandiwe and Louise Sehlule, also notable absentees at the ceremony. Themba, the first-born, died in infancy and Tutani passed away in 1996.

Asked if the absence of Father Zimbabwe’s luminaries and peers would not lessen the significance of the celebrations, Mr Michael Nkomo said: “As a cultural movement, we chose to remember how strong his traditional values were, and these are what we gathered here to remember — and pass them onto the younger generations.

“Some might remember him for his political views and values, some might remember him for his religious beliefs, in fact there were so many facets to Joshua Nkomo, but as a cultural movement we thought it better to remember him through this cultural exhibition.”

And the groups that turned up did not disappoint with cultural ensemble Indlukula kaNyongolo being the anchor performers for the two-day cultural extravaganza that began on Saturday June 10, ending with a number of sports tournaments the following day.

Veteran journalist Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, who started his career in Rhodesia and had a front-seat view of the liberation struggle, gave a moving narration of Father Zimbabwe’s life, chronicling from the days they met, their time together in the trenches fighting Ian Smith’s dream of “not in a thousand years will a black man rule Zimbabwe” to the days after independence in 1980.

Speaking on the sidelines of the cultural fête, Mr Michael Nkomo talked glowingly of his father, the kind-hearted Joshua, who in his teens stole a 50-kg of sugar and went to pour it into the village well so that his friends could drink sweet water.

Naturally that act of “generosity” backfired, with his father, Thomas Nyongolo Nkomo, giving the younger Joshua a thorough hiding.

He also talked of how unique Joshua was as a child, who reportedly had lion cubs as part of his large team of friends.

“There are many stories told of my father, especially of his generosity. See, our grandfather was a businessman, a successful one for that matter, we are told that at one time he had a two thousand-herd of cattle, ran a bakery and had a lorry and we are talking of the 1940s. My father, being the generous dude from the hood, would always look at ways of helping his friends out.”

Nkomo’s statue welcomes visitors to the festival
Nkomo’s statue welcomes visitors to the festival

Though much is told and known of Joshua Nkomo, one of the best kept “secrets” is that he married his step-mother’s sister. Michael Nkomo, though, says Father Zimbabwe wrote about this marital arrangement in his 1985 autobiography, “The Story of My Life”.

Thomas Nyongolo Nkomo was married to Gogo Mlimo Hadebe and the couple was blessed with seven children: Paul (died at 7), Alice (died in 1998), Joshua, Otillia (and her twin, who passed away in infancy), Stephen (died in 2003) and Edward.

In 1942, Gogo Hadebe passed away, and Thomas Nkomo had to look for a new wife and he settled for Mama Elizabeth Mafuyana, who is still surviving. She bore him four children: Patrick, Regina, Margaret and Clara.

At the wedding of Thomas and Elizabeth, Joshua met Joanna, sister to Elizabeth and fell in love and they later married and were blessed with Themba, Thandiwe, Tutani, Michael and Louise.

Nicknamed Father Zimbabwe, Joshua Nkomo was a political colossus whose beliefs were largely rooted in the philosophy of Ubuntu, someone who saw peace as the cornerstone to nation-building.

“My father did not see any difference in human beings, either on colour, racial, religious, gender, creed or political grounds. He was a selfless person and these are the values of Joshua Nkomo that we would like to pass onto the younger generation through celebrations like these.”

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