The death of Vice-President John Landa Nkomo has robbed Zimbabwe of one leader who, much as he was, like his peers, a political animal who would go to great lengths to protect their political fortunes, one of the very few leaders who was committed to peace.
Granted, he had his grey patches during his lifetime, something that no leader can escape given the scrutiny national leaders are given every step they make, but it can not be denied that John Nkomo was a friendly fellow, good humoured, a wise leader and a great family man.
Those that knew him well will testify Nkomo was a relatively reserved character who was not known to fight for positions — someone who was not power hungry or materially greedy. He stayed for many years as Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, where he personally dealt with countless labour issues and paid attention to national welfare concerns in a way that made Zimbabwe a proud nation.
Although he was one of the most senior politicians, Nkomo did not seem to complain when President Robert Mugabe retained him in that portfolio year in and year out. He would, in his trademark humourous ways respond to greetings like “How are you minister?” with the answer “Still in labour”.
That was John Nkomo, ever smiling, except of course when called upon to make decisions that may have appeared unpopular – including his reaction to the Churu Farm saga when he ordered the demolition of thousands of shacks that the late nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole had encouraged on his farm on the outskirts of the capital.
When he rose to become Vice-President, John Nkomo remained the same humble John who did not see the wisdom of taking the Presidential Motorcade to the streets of Gwabalanda and Magwegwe when he was left to act as President. He continued to live in the humble Milton Park home in the capital when he could have easily put up mountains in Glen Lorne while much junior colleagues boasted of being the richest in his Matabeleland home area. John Nkomo did not have any personal riches worth a kombi discussion.
But most of all, he was a peaceful man who wished this country harmony.
Addressing a meeting in preparation for the conference on national healing three years ago Vice-President Nkomo said: “We are happy that there are people who are thinking seriously about this (National healing) process. We cannot wish each other away as we are coming from different political fields, but we need to recognise each other and have a totality of input from all Zimbabweans.”
Yes, Nkomo sometimes found himself spewing what could have easily be judged as hate speech, especially against the former opposition party and Zimbabwe’s former colonisers — but many times he would either be parroting what others in his league were expected to say — even though it may not be coming from his own heart.
Nkomo was a man who withstood all sorts of provocation from all sorts of quarters over matters either official or personal. He handled such provocation with the maturity of a Statesman, when he could have easily used the powers of his office to bring his foes to silence. Nkomo was not that type. He was a gentleman.
Rest in Peace our national pride. A hero among heroes.