Nkomo’s legacy: Who is he to you, me?

It is that time of the year again when we remember and celebrate the life of Zimbabwe’s founding father, nationalist and former vice-president of Zimbabwe, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo.

Opinion by Mlamuli M Nkomo

In life and death, Nkomo’s name has dominated political discourse in the country with everyone claiming a share of this larger-than-life figure.

This year’s commemorations come at a time when the nation is preparing for elections due at the end of the month.

To fully understand Nkomo, one has to look at the amount of energy different sectors of society are putting to honour his legacy.

In Nkomo, one gets a figure that is respected across the political spectrum. Ibhetshu likaZulu, Mthwakazi Youth Resolutions, Friends of Zapu, Zanu PF, MDC, MDC-T, Zapu and Mthwakazi Liberation Front are all now singing from the same song book! Such is the nature of society’s contradictions. Friend and foe find each other in honouring the legacy of this man.

Who is Nkomo to me and you?
 He is a fighter, comrade, revolutionary, father of the nation, peacemaker, uSeka Thandi (father of Thandi) and many other things.

At times he was also a humourous man. Legend has it that in 1987, responding to critics that he had sold out by uniting with Zanu PF, he asked the people of Kezi: “Bantu beKezi, ngingalithengisa ngemalini licake kangaka? (People of Kezi, how much would I sell you for when you are so thin?”

However, Zanu PF wants to use Nkomo’s legacy to blackmail people into believing that a vote against the party is unpatriotic and goes against the spirit of Father Zimbabwe. There are some among us who still believe that they are obliged to vote for Zanu PF because “uMdala wasitshiya khonapha (the old man left us here)”. To them voting for another party will be an ultimate betrayal of the values of Nkomo.

On the other side of “nationalist” Zanu PF, we have secessionist movements like Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF) and Mthwakazi National Party (MNP) who hold divergent views on the future of Zimbabwe. While Zanu PF was commemorating Nkomo in Bulawayo, MLF was holding its own commemorations in Johannesburg, South Africa. Imagine US President Barack Obama and the Taliban sharing a hero or mentor.

Colleagues in the MDC formations are always at pains to argue that their movements are actually inspired by the values of the late vice-president. They go on to argue that the name of their party is superfluous; they are actually Zapu, the organisation synonymous with uMdala.

Then we have the revived Zapu led by Dumiso Dabengwa. This outfit has gone an extra mile in having a slice of Nkomo. Their branding is around Father Zimbabwe, their membership card and party documents have the image of Nkomo prominently displayed. Zapu claims its legitimacy on protests of failure by Mugabe to honour an agreement he made with Nkomo in the Unity Accord of 1987.

Surely, Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/ Kusile/ Dawn has some nice words for Nkomo as well.
What is Nkomo to you and me? I think Nkomo is a mirror. We all see ourselves through him and in him. Nkomo serves to renew that humane spirit that all of us have.

Thirty-three years after Independence the nation has not yet tasted freedom. The majority of the people still live in poverty. Many more people have lost their lives in political violence.

In Nkomo, everyone gets a chance to renew their faith in a just, fair and free country. We long for freedom that Nkomo fought for. Nkomo suffered before and after Independence — this fact gives us courage to soldier on in spite of the difficulties.

The figure of Nkomo reminds us that we cannot fight a struggle based not on racial, tribal or any other prejudice. The struggle should be fought on the basis of values and principles.

In Nkomo, we see our own capacity to lead fairly and to lead with a vision. In him we see the human qualities of love, compassion and humility that we can renew.

Sadly, these values are lacking among the five candidates vying for the top position during this year’s election.

Nkomo is a civil society and political activist based in Johannesburg. He studied at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of the Witwatersrand. He can be contacted on mlamulin@yahoo.co.uk

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