BOOK REVIEW: Joshua Nkomo, Father Zimbabwe: The Life and Times of an African Legend


HARARE – Joshua Nkomo, Father Zimbabwe: The Life and Times of an African Legend, By Fortune Senamile Nkomo, Harare, Radiant Publishing, 1913. 244 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7974-4824-7 (Paperback)

Last week, Zimbabweans remembered the passing on of one of Zimbabwe’s most illustrious sons — Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo — who passed away on July 1 1999.

It would have been befitting had this article been published last Monday, which was more appropriate in terms of the timing.

Joshua Nkomo “Father Zimbabwe”: The Life and Times of an African Legend by Fortune Senamile Nkomo promises to be a book that will be referenced widely because of its quality and detail on the life of one of the major architects of the independence Zimbabwe enjoys today.

However, this article will focus mainly on the historical aspects of Nkomo’s life before delving into the finer details of Fortune Nkomo’s book next week.

The name Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo will forever be etched in any serious account of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence. Some versions will deliberately want to look at him as a villain for obvious personal reasons.

But for most innocent neutral observers, Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, known by his legion of admirers as Chibwe Chitedza, Shumba YeZimbabwe, Mafukufuku, Mahlafuna and “Father Zimbabwe” continuously endeared himself to many peace-loving Zimbabweans because of his love for dialogue in solving any differences.

A number of activities have to date been held in honour of the life and contribution he made to the independence of the country, although some, notably a public discussion that had been scheduled for Bulawayo last year, were banned by the authorities, this does not in any way remove his name from the list of the most prominent leaders of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.

His death in 1999 was greeted with mixed feelings, including causing very emotional moments throughout the country. The elaborate and unprecedented preparations for his funeral and having his body driven around the country were signs of the acknowledgement that Joshua Nkomo was indeed the father of his country, Zimbabwe.

For a man who had very humble beginnings as a shy “mother’s boy” having been born in a small Sotho clan, the Kololo, which moved north from South Africa in the wake of King Mzilikazi’s migration away from Tshaka’s kingdom in Zululand, Joshua Nkomo’s illustrious political career would surprise many.

Having attended schools and colleges in Matabeleland and South Africa, his entry into politics was marked with his active involvement in the Rhodesia African Railway Workers Association.

The Youth League, the African National Congress, the National Democratic Party and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union were to become his destinations later on in his political career.

At those various points in his political life, Joshua Nkomo remained the undisputed leader of the African majority in the country.

These political parties were successively banned by the Rhodesian colonial authorities.

Curiously, most of these bans occurred while Nkomo himself was outside the country, leading to speculation that he may have deliberately evaded arrest. It was such accusations that led to the disgruntlement that culminated in a revolt against him and the subsequent formation of the Zimbabwe African National Union in 1963.

Of note in the history of his life are the various attempts to have the crisis in the then Rhodesia solved through dialogue. At the time of the discussion over the establishment of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Joshua Nkomo travelled to the United Kingdom to participate in the talks.

Because they had decided to dialogue, they were, together with a colleague, labelled “stooges” especially because Africans in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland had boycotted the talks.

When the federation broke up, Joshua Nkomo was again involved in discussions on a new constitution for Rhodesia, leading to the accusation that he had appended his signature to the document which became known as the Southern Rhodesia Constitution, but this he denied until the end of his life.

There were further talks that followed with the British, his fellow Rhodesian Africans of different

Shades of political orientation, the apartheid regime in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and the Americans, including talks about possible settlements in which father Zimbabwe was involved but sadly, these did not succeed in averting an all-out war in the make of the liberation war in Zimbabwe. This war led to serious loss of life but perhaps all the attempts at dialogue are testimony that the last thing Joshua Nkomo wanted was war.

It was more a consequence of Rhodesian and Ian Smith’s intransigence and refusal to change the situation peacefully that war became unavoidable but Joshua Nkomo’s tolerance and preparedness for dialogue and negotiations had long been established.

It is the life of this kind of character that Fortune Senamile Nkomo writes about. The life of a man who himself suffered restrictions and lengthy detentions that never seemed to impress his detractors.

Despite all accusations against him, Joshua Nkomo remained resolute and did not cease to honour and live his values of democracy, love, human rights, humility, patriotism, and the abundance mentality — the belief that there was enough for everyone.

When the Zimbabwean readership goes through Joshua Nkomo’s book, they will remember sadly how he also championed equitable distribution of wealth, the land and other natural resources the country is endowed with. They will find the current state of affairs regarding national wealth unacceptable, especially because individuals have gone on to sloganeer and amass wealth against a background of a poor citizenry, whose interests they claim to be concerned with.

Perhaps it is important to point out that there is an abundance of material on the life of Joshua Nkomo. His own book has detailed a lot about the early years of his life up to his five-month exile in Britain in 1983.

In other words Fortune Nkomo’s book may not bring anything new about his life except lay the ground for a strategic analysis of the life of one of Zimbabwe’s most illustrious sons — Chibwe Chitedza.

The life of Umdala Wethu, Father Zimbabwe, whichever you may choose to call him will remain an inspiration to many in Zimbabwe who may want to emulate him. When we remember him, we must also remember not only his exploits but the principles that made him such a revered individual even after his death.

It goes without say that if he had been around to this date, the political as well as social history of Zimbabwe might have been very different and as such the future of this country was necessarily going to be different.

I suspect Umdala Wethu is very angry with us all for not taking up his spirit and principle of tolerance. If the legacy he left behind had been followed religiously…..Read next week’s instalment of Inside the Book Inn for a more detailed exploration of Fortune Senamile Nkomo’s Joshua Nkomo, Father Zimbabwe: The Life and Times of An African Legend.

Comments are closed.