Perspective on Nkala’s political history

AT the beginning of February 1986, I went to enrol for Lower Six at Founders High School in Bulawayo. The coverage of political events in and around Zimbabwe by the media at that time stay etched in my memory to this day.

By Tjenesani Ntungakwa, Researcher

The topical subject then was the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. It was such a huge story that also touched on many issues including that Marcos’ wife Imelda Romualdez had accumulated vast wealth during the reign of her husband. Of interest were the endless racks of shoes that the former first lady had bought for herself during her husband’s tenure marred by political repression, human rights violations and corruption.

On the local scene, newspapers highlighted the climax of a standoff between the leader of PF Zapu Joshua Nkomo and his trenchant critic, Zanu PF bigwig Enos Mzomubi Nkala. One story in the Chronicle that time had the headline “Nkala slams Nkomo”, another had “I will crush Zapu in seven days — Nkala” and so the deadly confrontation persisted.

At the time, Nkomo was also quoted in the press giving a characteristic response, “My size and shape are un-crushable”. The conflict pitting PF Zapu and Zanu PF inflicted serious casualties on the political as well as the socio-economic life of Zimbabwe, especially after the Midlands and Matabeleland regions became heavily militarised zones. One was left to conclude that the provinces saw a massive deployment of both lawfully and unlawfully armed personnel. It was a confused state of affairs, conducive to neither peace nor stability.

Over two decades later I found myself involved with the conceptual stages of the Revolutionary Research Institute, an initiative whose objective has been to document the hidden as well as forgotten contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe by PF Zapu and inevitably Zipra. However, documenting the exploits of Zapu had in every way something to do with the history of Zanu PF as well although the latter was formed in August 1963, two years after the former emerged.

Nkala became critical in that regard. My search for Nkala was not complicated. The first hint of how to interview Nkala came from the late Amos “Jack” Ngwenya who lived in Mpopoma in Bulawayo. Ngwenya had worked closely with Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo (JZ) in establishing Zapu’s military wing, initially the Department of Special Affairs which was later formalised into Zipra in the early 70s.

Ngwenya was based in Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia, from around 1962. Jack was among those who saw JZ, then Zapu’s second vice-president and national treasurer, blown up by a parcel bomb in Lusaka, Zambia, on January 22 1977. JZ opened an envelope addressed to him in the presence of Dumiso Dabengwa, John Nkomo, Jane Ngwenya, Aaron Ndlovu and one of Zapu’s intelligence operatives named Rueben Dingane Mlilo, but widely known as “Cici”. In Ndebele, “cici” refers to an earring which Mlilo had always been known to wear.

So Ngwenya phoned Nkala and spoke to him briefly. I was told that Nkala was willing to meet me on condition that I had a satisfactory explanation concerning the research project. It became clear that former nationalists from PF Zapu and Zanu PF in Bulawayo had finally come together after years of political clashes and acrimony.

After all the contacts, I met Nkala at his home in Woodlands, Bulawayo, on July 17 2011. It was the first opportunity in my life to meet him, which was also going to be the last. I had an extensive recorded audio interview with Nkala that has been well preserved until today. Nkala began on a cautious note, but subsequently opened up.

My interest to talk to Nkala was motivated by the need to have an appreciation on the circumstances surrounding the split in Zapu which led to the formation of Zanu in his house at Highfield, Salisbury, on August 8 1963. The subject of the breakup as well Nkala’s acrimonious relationship with Joshua Nkomo had been presented in a variety of versions, some of which never sounded serious. Ever since the breakaway of 1963, Zanu and Zapu always conducted their operations as either apprehensive or cosmetic allies.

At the first Zanu congress held at Gwelo from May 21 to 23 1964, the party leader Ndabaningi Sithole delivered a speech entitled We are our own liberators. Just after the introductory remarks, Sithole made reference to the Peoples’ Caretaker Council (PCC) in that it was bent on working against the newly created Zanu. Sithole indicated that Zanu had to walk the thin line between the PCC and the Rhodesian government.

The PCC existed between 1963 and 1964, as a temporary formation meant to prepare for the resuscitation of Zapu after it had been banned towards the end of 1962. In fact, Zanu was formed two days before the congress of the PCC scheduled for August 10 to 12 1963 at the Cold Comfort Farm in Salisbury. The animosity between the two even spilled into the countries that hosted Zimbabwean and other nationalist organisations.

For instance, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda expressed his disappointment concerning the lack of will for a united front. Kaunda was quoted in the Rhodesia Herald of August 17 1971 threatening to expel Zanu and Zapu from Zambian soil: “They have to choose between getting together or defeating Zambia’s willingness to accommodate them,”

It was in that background that Zapu and Zanu supporters engaged in acts of violence against each other. For instance, Willie Musarurwa was said to have had what he referred to as the “Book of Life”. It was simply a euphemism for directing violent attacks at those who were known to be outside the membership of Zapu.

The long-drawn conflict between Zapu and Zanu is also thought to have culminated in Gukurahundi after Independence. The Fifth Brigade hunted down former Zapu/Zipra members in their strongholds. During our discussions, Nkala did not want to discuss the Gukurahundi issue as he simply dismissed it as “rubbish”.

He felt that Nkomo was very good at propaganda (something Zapu would also dismiss), more so when it came to the incident in which a group of tourists were abducted by unknown gunmen in Zimbabwe around the early 1980s.

On the one hand, the government, under the then prime minister Robert Mugabe insisted that the tourists had been kidnapped by dissidents, primarily ex-Zipra combatants who had deserted the Zimbabwe National Army. On the other hand, Nkomo stood his ground saying Mugabe knew the truth and was the one to answer any questions relating to the matter.

Such a situation also seemed to have largely influenced the re-writing of the history of the armed struggle in Zimbabwe. In his address at the Zanu PF congress held from August 8 to 13 1984, Mugabe made strong indications that the armed struggle had been pioneered by the Zanu cadres at a battle in Sinoia at the end of April 1966.

However, from a Zapu perspective, guerrilla activity had begun with the attack on Sidube ranch in September of 1962 before the existence of Zanu. It was against this background that my discussion with Nkala took place.

As part of our discussion, it was inevitable that we also delved into Nkala’s personal history in order to understand the situation in detail. Nkala gave a narration of his family history, partly pointing out that his father, Mzomubi, was born in 1903 to a man called Mathafeni.

Mathafeni, Nkala’s grandfather, had been a soldier among King Lobengula’s army after he came to power in 1868. While Nkala’s mother, in other words Mzomubi’s wife, was a Dube, Mathafeni’s mother was a Mkandla.

Nkala indicated that his grandfather had predicted and pointed out that he would be a future leader. It was possibly such sort of social upbringing that made Nkala to join the liberation struggle and become the kind of a person he eventually turn out to be.

Nkala was quite knowledgeable of how the settler pioneer column made its way right up to Fort Salisbury. He spoke of Enkeldorn, one of the forts set up by Rhodes’ men and he said Enkeldorn was an Afrikaans name that had been brought in by the Boer element of Rhodes’ settlers. He gave much about the various pieces of legislation that curtailed the freedom of blacks and reflected upon the developments related to nationalism.

In his own words, he later said “a revolution is made, it never makes itself”. Having gone through the ranks of the first nationalist movement, the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC), then the National Democratic Party (NDP) and Zapu, Nkala took time to focus on the basis of his disagreements with Nkomo. At its inaugural congress at the end of October 1960, the NDP voted Nkomo as its president.

Having come into Rhodesia in June 1960, Mugabe was elected as NDP’s publicity secretary.

Nkala seemed to have analysed the nationalist politics of the day based upon the fact that there had also emerged an educated class of black elites that had acquired some university education. Although he was instrumental in recruiting Mugabe to the nationalist movement, Nkala felt such educated elites were the sort of personalities who were not courageous revolutionaries at the inception of the SRANC.

From his point of view, the cohort of schooled Africans spent a lot of time pontificating on theories and never engaged in organising the masses and structures. Thus in his assessment, Mugabe and Nkomo fell into that category.

Prior to that, Nkala had in the 1940s attended Mzinyathi Mission School established by the Methodist Church in Esigodini. He then went to Bulawayo before he left for Salisbury towards 1954. The political atmosphere of that time saw him interacting with such individuals as JZ, Edward Ndlovu, George Nyandoro, Paul Mushonga, James Chikerema who had studied in Cape Town, Benjamin Madlela who remained in Zapu after 1963 and his own cousin called Lazurus Nkala.

Unlike Enos, Lazurus was in Zapu under the leadership of Nkomo. Compared to Enos, the likes of Enoch Dumbutshena, Stanlake Samkange, Nkomo and one Mwamuka who was an entrepreneur were relatively older compatriots. In the 1950s, Nkala became a member of a protest outfit which went by the name City Youth League based in Salisbury and led by Chikerema.

Nkala did not want us to spend some time on several issues concerning his relationship with Nkomo. But he was very much keen to highlight the developments that related to the Southern Rhodesia constitutional conference of 1961 that was chaired by the British Commonwealth Secretary, Duncan Sandys.

To be continued next week.

Ntungakwa is the national projects advisor of the Revolutionary Research Institute which documents the forgotten as well as the hidden contributions made by PF Zapu and Zipra to Zimbabwe’s liberation and development.

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