HARARE – The death of Vice President John Landa Nkomo – to a deadly cancer Thursday – has once again underscored a ‘sad’ Zanu PF culture where national leaders die in office.
And as Zimbabweans mourn his demise, the 78 year-old ex-party chairman’s death is likely to intensify jockeying for his post in a battle allegedly pitting current chairman Simon Khaya-Moyo and resourced Mines minister, and dark horse Obert Mpofu, analysts say.
After the death of Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in 1999, Simon Vengesayi Muzenda in 2003 and Joseph Msika nearly four years ago, the death of this unassuming man somehow leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for they had to die in office when they could have been retired.
While members of his family were not immediately available for comment yesterday, President Robert Mugabe and other senior party officials such as secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa were quick to confirm VP Nkomo’s death yesterday.
“We have lost our vice-president John Landa Nkomo, he was suffering for a long time with cancer,” a distraught Mugabe said yesterday.
“We have lost a real revolutionary, a fighter of freedom, a friend of the people, he will be dearly missed by all of us,” he added.
Earlier, Mutasa – a State minister in the octogenarian leader’s office – had told the Daily News: “We will miss him as a party. He was instrumental in uniting the people of Zimbabwe.”
A founding member of Zapu, which later entered into a Unity Accord with Mugabe’s Zanu PF in 1987, Nkomo was a fairly level-headed politician in a party dominated by hardliners, including serial political flip-flopper Jonathan Moyo and others.
Notoriously ‘famed’ for his short fuse or temper, the ex-Zapu supremo was also one of a few top government officials who were able to transcend petty party and national politics.
With a fair share of controversy in his private life, Nkomo was also able to checkmate the likes of Moyo and other exceedingly ambitious young turks or mafikozolos, and who are routinely given to party excesses at the expense of national development or progress.
Emerging as the strife-torn Zanu PF party’s second secretary and national VP two years ago, his Thursday mid-morning death came after swirling rumours about his health and had just flown back from Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday for medical checks.
While Nkomo died at Harare’s St Annes Hospital yesterday, he had been battling cancer for years such that he was scrawny in recent years.
And as the party and nation digest Nkomo’s death, analysts said a bitter presidential succession battle could be in full swing as Zimbabwe also hurtles towards a key national election.
Although party officials had hoped his recovery would also help make traction in his native Matabeleland region, as he was routinely paraded at party functions and meetings, the hopes could now be all but dashed.
Apart from opening a potentially divisive and damaging leadership battle in Zanu PF ahead of the polls, where the 50 year-old party will battle Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, Nkomo’s death has robbed many of a source of comfort.
While many senior Zimbabweans were still in shock and declined to comment on the ramifications of Nkomo’s death, there is also intense speculation about how the anticipated Zanu PF battle may play to the advantage of opposition parties.
Appreciated by many as man of honour, integrity and humility, the septuagenarian served in many capacities of Mugabe’s successive governments since 1980.
However, some also saw him as a feeble and indecisive leader.
As a trusted hand – and after the infamous Tsholotsho debacle masterminded by Moyo to effect regime change in Zanu PF – Nkomo also served Speaker of Parliament from 2005 to 2008.
While his political fortunes in Matabeleland had been on the wane, he largely owed or survived on Mugabe’s benevolence.
With some people milling at the Avondale hospital where he died, others were gathered at his Milton Park home.
Without a doubt, Nkomo will be buried at the National Heroes Acre, where his predecessors Joshua Nkomo, Muzenda and Msika also lie. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor