Culture, Spirituality in struggle for Independence

JOSHUA NKOMOReverend Paul Damasane
It was on a wonderful 1988 December afternoon at a Christian Convention of the Family of God Church in Hall 3 of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair Exhibition Centre when the late Vice President, Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, took to the podium to greet congregates.

He still had his stick in hand; it was not the walking stick, intonga, which he later had to use as he grew older. His burly stature filled the stage and dwarfed the pulpit. He exuded an aura and his smile seemed to shine through to the congregates with impacting ease.

He had presence.
His presence was more than that of a politician and a man of this world.

We were all in Hallels when he began to read the Holy Bible, his own that he had brought.

It was King David’s Psalm 24:1; “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”

I had read that verse before but on the day I had deeper revelation of the difference of the Earth and the World. It was then that I fathomed that uMdala Wethu was truly a spiritual man.

Joshua Nkomo was actually an ordained lay minister in the Methodist Church after growing in the strict congregational tradition of the London Missionary Society, now the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa.

I celebrate him not just because of that December day at the convention, but because of the spiritual connection he made.

He proved to many that he was a living spirit.
There was always something about him that was awesome and tickled your spirit; be it his idiom, his jokes or even his off-the-cuff demagogy.

What captivated the ordinary person and connected us to him was his simple glow from the heart: he spoke from there.

There was something mystical around Joshua Nkomo. He had the ability to be and immediately not be – disappear so to speak. It was attributed to his trademark intonga. But why have the stick anyway if it is not a sceptre from above?
It is not an ordinary thing for an African to have such a stick and mean nothing. It is never ornamental!

It takes me back to the early days of the struggle when he was crowned by the people in Harare as Chibwechitedza.

The action culminated in the ceremonial handing over of izembe, a ceremonial battle axe, also during the days of the rise of nationalism in the then Rhodesia.

This was not done by the Birwa people of Kezi where he hails from, but by some deeply spiritual Shona people.
“Deep calleth unto deep…” (Psalm 42:7).

Joshua Nkomo was, therefore, to many not just a politician but an oracle.
To some he represented the incarnation of the deities.

It is in this nationalist and deeply Afrocentric expression of the naming of Joshua Nkomo that one sees the truism that ubuShona and wuNdewere are creations that should not divide us but join us.

For all we know, the answer to some typical Shona dilemma is hidden in a Ndebele persona and even more so the unshackling of some Ndebele knot could be cloaked in a Shona persona.

Carrying the name Chibwechitedza was as spiritual as the name Joshua or Mqabuko! Ahh! It actually testifies to the bond that binds us as one…a spiritual bond!

Consider that even his call to the armed struggle went beyond the mere political invitation of his progenitors. He went up the mountain in typical Moses style and had his Sinai experience. He also had his eDwaleni eDula!

It was there that he writes in his autobiography that in the company of Grey Bango they were commanded to cleanse themselves and go to war for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

Whilst in his personal family background he never saw his father, Nyongolo, consult the deities or offer libations, he writes of escapades to curiously watch spiritual dancers in the village.

The Dula experience gave him the spiritual drive to go out to war. Further, it was the presence of “Jomo”, the man in a black dress who was his spiritual advisor, that comes to mind.

Jomo never removed the dress in obedience to the spirits concerning Joshua Nkomo. There was, therefore, a continuous link with the spiritual at every stage of Joshua Nkomo’s life.

When one sees the behaviour of the guerrillas in the field, there is an unwritten but visible trust in the word of the elders. Speaking to some of the “Zipra boys” who operated in Hurungwe, they reminisce of how uMdala admonished them to obey the “imithetho yabadala”. This referred to the culture of the operational area.

As a result, the boys tell of incidents when the observance of “ukuzila kwamalanga” or “chisi” saved them from identification by the enemy.

In other instances, deadly snakes would not even harm them.
So, the liberation struggle was not won by the barrel of the gun only, but also by collaboration with the culture and spirituality of the people.

The songs and chant of the Itoyitoyi of the Zipra cadres in those camps come to mind. These were students of the Marxist Leninist philosophy, complete with its dialectical materialism!

They sang and chanted such words which to me were incantations more than just chants…

Itoyitoyi… (Hhawu) inyamazana (Hhawu)
UNkom’ufuna… (Hhawu)
Sende leBhunu… (Hhawu)

It is in isende (testicle) that we get usendo (clan). If said in English it would mean something else for the English do not believe like we do! The chant, therefore, invokes the spiritual emasculation of the imperialist as the guerrillas liberate Zimbabwe.

The future clans of iBhunu therefore are curtailed. This is the Joshua Nkomo that I knew and still know. A spiritual and cultural icon in all respects!

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