Understanding what made Dr Nkomo tick

While the nation is this month commemorating and celebrating the patriotic life of the late Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, it is appropriate to look at the economic, social and psycho-political environment prevailing in his home area at the time of his birth in 1917 throughout his boyhood, his education here and in South Africa, up to the time he committed his life to the liberation of this country.
That will enable us to understand and appreciate the factors that motivated him to forsake his relatively secure job as a social welfare officer at the then Rhodesia Railways in Bulawayo for the highly risky, virtually thankless nationalistic political career he embarked upon in the early 1950s.

When he was born, the Great War that had been started by the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand — heir to the throne of the then Austria-Hungary, in Sarajevo — on June 25 1914, was about a year to its conclusion.

So the inevitable talk about the war did not mean anything to him as he was too young to understand the conversations by the elders some of whose colleagues had joined the British colonial army and were actually in the war front either in East Africa or in German West Africa.

In October that very year, that is three months after he was born, the Reverend Mongwa (pronounced Mon’wa) Tshibamani Tjuma arrived at Kezi, a little business centre near Nkomo’s home.

He had been deployed to Matobo district from Dombodema Mission, some 24km west of Plumtree, by the London Missionary Society.
Earlier, Rev David Carnegie, of the same denomination, had briefly run a mission station known as Centenary in the Figtree area while the Nkomo family was still living there.

When they and the rest of the community were forcibly evicted by Rhodes’ British South Africa Chartered Company and sent to Kezi and elsewhere, the LMS abandoned the mission station and sent Rev Carnegie to Hope Fountain, 16km south of Bulawayo.

Before moving to Kezi from the Centenary Mission area, Joshua Nkomo’s father, Nyongolo, had become very active in church affairs. In fact, he had become a prominent lay preacher.

His church membership was to be consolidated by Rev Mongwa Tjuma’s presence in the region.
Joshua Nkomo was deeply impressed by Rev Mongwa Tjuma’s Christian campaigns and he later became a Methodist church lay preacher. However, in addition to this Christian influence, he was so deeply touched by evening family fire-side anti-colonial stories by the elders.

Stories about the arrival of Mzilikazi and his people who comprised the Nguni and Suthu were common among the predominantly Kalanga people of the Talawunda and Nyubi extraction in the Nkomo family’s new home region.

Those people had been defeated by Mzilikazi and were being culturally assimilated into the Ndebele military state when Rhodes’ white invaders arrived.

The difference between the Ndebele governance and that of Rhodes’ BSACC was that the former did not remove the indigenous subjects from their traditional areas of residence, and land was occupied and owned communally whereas the BSACC’s administration said that land was owned by private individuals on whose behalf that government forcefully removed whole communities to the hostile and arid areas.

There was no compensation for affected communities.
In addition to this un-African land tenure system, the administration went the whole hog and seized cattle from every black person on the downright false pretext that they belonged to the defeated Ndebele King Lobengula.

Such stories, plus the cruelly-administered racially-discriminatory BSACC laws and administrative practices, shaped Joshua Nkomo’s antagonistic predisposition towards the regime.

We should note that other nationalist leaders such as Welshman Mabhena, Todd Msongelwa Ndlovu, Tarcisius George Silundika and Benjamin Burombo were also influenced by the Southern Rhodesian government’s inhuman land alienation policy.

Mabhena was a member of a community supplemented from the Insiza and the Fort Rixon region near Mbembesi. The LMS had established a school in that area. It was headed by Zhisho Moyo (Mrs Joana Sibanda’s father).

In 1900 when the LMS opened a school at Insiza, there was a thriving community there.
Those people were ordered to leave the area in 1913 and were dumped in the Nkayi district’s Zinyangeni region.

Among them was Welshman Mabhena’s elder brother, Jeffrey (uyise kaLwani Mabhena). He had attended Zhisho Moyo’s school at Insiza and became one of the pioneer teachers at Zinyangeni School under Rev W. W. Anderson.

Jeffrey’s younger brother, Welshman, was born and grew up in that community which had very sad memories about how they were most roughly removed from their traditional residential area and thrown into a region teeming with elephants, ferocious lions and leopards.

He later became a tireless critic of the Rhodesian government and joined Joshua Nkomo in the African people’s nationalist campaign to free the country, abandoning a relatively secure teaching post at one of the LMS mission schools.

T. G. Silundika was another example of a revolutionary created by dispossessive, oppressive and discriminatory colonial laws.
Before he was born his people lived at a place called Mafeha, some 80 or so kilometres west of Plumtree. They were forcefully removed by the BSACC administration and settled at Manguba, some 90km north of Plumtree, where there is hardly any surface water.

His people’s original residential area was declared a part of what was termed “Crown Land”, and it was meant virtually for wild animals after the removal of those people who included Silundika’s clan, the people of Mazuwa.

Benjamin Burombo’s role against land alienation is a well-known part of Zimbabwean black nationalist history.
Leading his organisation, the British African National Voice Association, Burombo tried to contest the eviction of the black people from their traditional areas, particularly in connection with the Fort Rixon (Emakhandeni) community. Burombo had very little education but he had immense courage. He was assisted by Rev Percy Ibbotson of the Methodist Church to write his memoranda and other documents which he took to the Southern Rhodesian courts on the land alienation question.

The regime based its arbitrary actions on the Land Apportionment Act passed by the white minority parliament in 1930.
Earlier we find a native purchase area (NPA) farmer, Aaron Jacha (Rusike), launching the African National Congress with the assistance of his brother, Rev Matthew Rusike and Rev Thompson D. Samkange in 1934.

The cause of establishing the ANC was the Land Apportionment Act passed four years earlier.
As for Joshua Nkomo’s mental political formation, the eviction of his community from the Figtree locality and the Christian doctrine, one of whose major tenets is to “do unto others as you would like them do unto you”, had a quite deep impact.

It is because of that, that we see him rescuing a student who was being viciously assaulted by a highly temperamental teacher at Tjolotjo Industrial School.

Some years later, when he was to Adams College in South Africa, he tried to join the religious school to train as a minister.
The authorities, however, would rather he was referred and recommended by church officials in Southern Rhodesia than for him to apply to the seminary as an individual. Had Adam’s College authorities not made that suggestion, which he did not take up, Nkomo would have returned from South Africa as Rev Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo.

Whether or not he would have still pursued a political or quasi-political career and succeeded Rev Thompson D. Samkange as the Southern Rhodesia ANC president is a matter of conjecture.

What we are sure of, however, is that he was by social and politico-cultural upbringing a man of justice. In his early political life we see him opposing the imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

We see Joshua Nkomo being invited by Southern Rhodesia prime minister Sir Godfrey Huggins, later called Lord Malvern, to be a part of the country’s delegation to a London conference to discuss the creation of the federation.

He was one of two Africans who were invited by the Southern Rhodesian government. The other was Jasper Zengeza Savanhu, a journalist, who supported the federal idea.

At the London conference on April 23, 1952, Nkomo called for more and wider consultation of the black people of Southern Rhodesia.
Savanhu did not express any opinion as he was in agreement with Sir Godfrey Huggins.

The federal scheme went ahead in any case and an election was held and Nkomo stood as an independent for the Matabeleland constituency but lost to a pro-federation candidate, Mike Masotsha Hove.

In Mashonaland, Savanhu stood for the United Federal Party and won. Both he and Hove were given diplomatic posts by Sir Godfrey Huggins federal government in 1953.

Nkomo, meanwhile, went back to the people to say that there was no alternative to getting the country completely out of the colonial regime and have it ruled by the black majority.

What we see throughout this narrative is that colonialism breeds its own destruction by generating irresistible hostility among its victims who suffer dispossession through measures such as livestock culling or displacement through such laws as the Land Apportionment Act which was amended in 1969 by the Ian Smith regime and was renamed the Land Tenure Act.

Racial and socio-cultural discrimination is another factor which eventually brings about the downfall of colonialism by creating revolutionaries such as Joshua Nkomo.

Socio-cultural discrimination was practised by colonial powers such as France in those countries that are predominantly Islamic.
In Algeria, it produced a revolution led by the unforgettable Mohammed Benbella and the uncompromising Belkacem Krim.

In Kenya, it created Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau whose aim was to stop the British from “stealing the land of the people of Kenya any more”.

In Vietnam, colonialism produced Nguyen Tat Thanh whose nom de guerre was, of course, Ho Chi Minh, which in English means “the enlightened one”. Vo Nguyen Giap was another Vietnamese patriot. In Cyprus it created Archbishop Makarios and the feared Colonel George Theodora’s Grivas. In these countries and Zimbabwe, of course, British colonial settlers and their racialist administration should have known much earlier than December 21, 1979 when they signed the Lancaster House constitutional documents surrendering power to Nkomo and Robert Mugabe that they were living on borrowed time.

Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired Bulawayo-based journalist.

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