For the generation that lived through the liberation struggle the late nationalist Joshua Nkomo had a demi-god status as they only fell short of worshipping the soil he walked on.
However, the generation, mostly born after December 22 1987, which has lived through the vast emptiness of Zimbabwean nationalism and the marginalisation of Matabeleland, is an angry generation that treats Nkomo with ambivalence.
The exciting, underground writer mostly confined to the medium of the Internet, Dinuzulu Macaphulana in September 2010 spoke for an entire generation when he noted:
“The tragedy or else the comedy, depending on where the observer stands, of Joshua Nkomo’s political leadership and historical legacy lies squarely on the criminal falsehood of the title ‘Father Zimbabwe’”.
“In fact, dear reader, there is a stubborn possibility that future generations of Joshua Nkomo’s followers will view him, not as the colossal hero whose name we commemorate and whose life we celebrate today, but a cowardly traitor,” he wrote.
Twelve years after the death of Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, as Zimbabwe pretends to reflect on the great life of the man fondly called uSaThandi; his legacy is in a crisis.
The young people’s estimation of him is more of sympathy than genuine appreciation, and for the older generation, it is betrayal, pure and simple as his dreams are rotting in storehouses and white hospital walls, yet his name is always dusted from the archives for political expediency.
Nkomo himself saw a glimpse of this betrayal on the eve of Independence Day in April 1980 an on page 215 of his autobiography, The Story of My Life, he puts it well:
“Behind the saluting base, were the benches for junior ministers, the party officials and the supporting cast. At the back of those rows, in the dark by the radio commentator’s box, where the television cameras could not see us and our supporters in the crowd could not single us out for their applause, places were reserved for MaFuyana and myself.
“In the stadiums of Zimbabwe I had so often stood up to address the crowds and found the words to express what they wished to say but had not yet articulated. Now I was hidden away like something to be scared of. My wife could scarcely restrain her tears at this symbolic humiliation,” he wrote.
The symbolic humiliation was to lay the ground for the symbolic annihilation that has followed his death.
Gaye Tuchman, who did research on the representation of women in the media noted that the absence of representation, or underrepresentation, of some group of people is a means of maintaining social inequality, and divided the concept of symbolic annihilation into three aspects: omission, trivialisation and condemnation.
Right from that night of independence Nkomo suffered all aspects of annihilation, and with the skillful manipulation of social levers, Zanu PF succeeded in ensuring that he is there yet not there.
In the days of Gukurahundi he was demonized as the head of “a cobra in the house” and “the father of the dissidents”.
Today he is celebrated as the peace-loving architect of unity, and not the man who suffered insults and threats to his life with the Ndebele people during Gukurahundi.
It is the silence on that aspect of his history, on his long letter in exile to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe that has succeeded in turning the young people of Matabeleland against a great man who tried in vain to fight so that they could also be regarded as legitimate citizens of Zimbabwe.
Launched last year, and campaigning on a secessionist pedestal, the Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) has become the epitome of the disillusionment and anger of Matabeleland youth about Zimbabwean nationalism.
MLF secretary for legal affairs Sabelo Ngwenya notes that Joshua Nkomo, “remains a subject of controversy within our movement”.
“Although the general view is that he was a true Zimbabwean nationalist who was betrayed by Shona supremacists, most people tend to sympathise with him on the grounds that he tried to be a Zimbabwean but was failed by the Zanu system.
“Personally speaking, Nkomo’s failure to create a rainbow nation out of Zimbabwe is one of the reasons why we should revert to our status as a sovereign state of Mthwakazi,” he said.
American community organiser and writer Saul Alinsky notes: “Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future.”
For Ngwenya, the frustration and feeling of defeat, symbolized in the name of the beautiful Karigamombe building, is enough reason to rethink, if not entirely depart, from the footsteps of Nkomo.
However, Zapu spokesperson Methuseli Moyo believes that something must be done to ensure that Nkomo’s legacy is preserved for the young generation.
“Nkomo’s legacy needs to be preserved. He was a pioneer fighter in the armed phase of the liberation struggle. The people of Matabeleland need to know and appreciate that Nkomo saved our lives by joining Zanu PF in the so-called Unity Accord.
“The youths who were fortunate enough not to be molested by Gukurahundi should know that we would all have been killed. Nothing and no one could have stopped Zanu then. It (Zanu) was taking advantage of the Cold War and South Africa was yet to be independent. The West viewed Nkomo as an ultra communist and Zanu’s operation was legitimate to them.
“The relief that I had when Gukurahundi ended, I have never experienced that relief. To me and other comrades in Zapu, he (Nkomo) was a hero. What we do now is all up to us. Nkomo always had a way out of a situation,” he said.
Zanu PF central committee member Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said it is not true to say his former colleagues are a letdown.
“When Ekusileni Hospital was built I was the deputy chairman of the board and sold my property in Harare to raise collateral for the fund that built the hospital. What is remaining is to equip the hospital. It (hospital) is there as a landmark in his honour. Let us use the commemoration of his death to open debate and get ideas on what we should do to preserve his legacy. His ideas should be remembered. We have the National University of Science and Technology which was his idea. We have the land issue.
“All people should be empowered, not only one part of the country, including the people of Matabeleland should be empowered,” he said.