HomeAnalysisWhy should we remember Nkomo

Why should we remember Nkomo

IN this two-part series, the Zimbabwe Independent reproduces the 2019 Annual Joshua Nkomo Memorial Lecture delivered by Professor Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, organised by Joshua Nkomo Legacy Foundation at the Midlands State University on June 7, under the theme “In memory of Umdala Wethu: African Intellectuals, African Developmental University and African Futures.

Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni,Academic

Kwame Nkrumah once said “I was not born in Africa. Africa was born in me.” Joshua Nkomo was not born in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was born in him. This means that under whatever level of provocation, he could not betray what was born in him. Destroying Zimbabwe in whatever for is an attack on Nkomo’s legacy. He was called “Father Zimbabwe” because Zimbabwe was born in him.

South African scholar Xolela Mangcu edited a book entitled Becoming Worthy Ancestors (2011) and the concept of “worthy ancestors” captured my interest because it insinuated that there are “worthless ancestors” of which we are better off forgetting them quickly and as fast as possible.

Not Nkomo, he is a worthy ancestor who did not sit idle when colonialism and racism were running amok in his country of birth, exploiting, oppressing, dominating and dehumanising his people.

Nkomo’s life of struggle and legacy embodied the finest of the liberation tradition characterised by deep love for the oppressed, formulation of transethnic nationalism and imagination of a liberated and united and prosperous Zimbabwe.

The other veteran of the Zimbabwean nationalist struggle Eddison Zvobgo had this to say about Nkomo when he passed on in 1999: “While we all die. Josh will never die” because his political life is so intertwined with the very idea of Zimbabwe and the very history of Zimbabwe.

Thus, if one reads Nkomo’s autobiography Nkomo: The Story of My Life (1984), is it not a tale of a political figure that consistently raised his voice in order to be witness to people’s suffering and a dedication to fight for a better world?

In a book I edited titled Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo of Zimbabwe: Politics, Power and Memory (2017), Nkomo emerges as a nationalist diplomat, a philosopher of liberation and an advocate for land reclamation.

The black American scholar Cornel West in his book titled The Black Prophetic Fire (2014), introduced the concept of “being on fire for justice” with specific reference to such figures as Martin Luther Jr and Malcolm X.
I wonder how else can we understand Nkomo’s sacrifices, struggles and compromises except as a person who was on fire for justice.

“Being on fire for justice” is predicated on “a we-consciousness” as opposed to “an I-consciousness”.

Colonial invasion

We cannot fully appreciate the value of a leader unless we take into account the broader context of his world and terrain of operation — not only local, but global dynamics which impinged on his worldview, world-sensing as well as careful negotiations.

Nkomo was born into the colonial world, which was set on destroying the previous African world as it set out to produce powerless colonial subjects.

Colonial invasion of African mental universe: removal of the hard disk of previous African memory and knowledge and insertion of software of European memory and knowledge (Ngugi wa Thiong’o 2009).

Colonisation of the mind: epistemicides (killing of existing knowledge), linguicides (killing of existing languages), culturecides (killing of existing cultures), alienation (exiling of self from history, culture, language and even from self) and cultural imperialism (imposition of alien cultures).

Colonial cultural bomb: “The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than their own.

“It makes them identify with that which is decadent and reactionary, all those forces which would stop their own springs of life. It even plants serious doubts about the moral rightness of struggle. Possibilities of triumph or victory are seen as remote, ridiculous dreams. The intended results are despair, despondency and a collective death-wish.

“Amidst this wasteland which it created, imperialism presents itself as the cure” (Ngugi wa Thiong’o 1986). It is from the world that Nkomo emerged from characterised by fading African world and emergence of the colonial world.

African consciousness

Colonialism invented what became known as “transcultural elites”: a people exiled from their communities, dislocated and suffering from deep alienation: cultural schizophrenia.

Liminality (third space of enunciation): African elites caught between two worlds — one world undergoing destruction and the other ring-fenced by race (seduction): in a limbo.

Racial melancholia: ego is shattered as assimilation was limited if not impossible — feeling betrayed — suffering from double-consciousness: William EB DuBois: “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideas in one dark body”.

Two extremes: radical assimilation/radical dependence vs. radical difference/radical alterity in search of personhood.

Thandika Mkandawire: three generations: (a) studied abroad — self-consciously anti-colonial considered decolonisation of institutions and knowledge as key tasks; (b) trained abroad and largely stayed abroad; (c) born free and locally trained under context of crisis and are less ideological and very critical of their own governments.

African educated

Ali A Mazrui in his book titled Political Values and the Educated Class in Africa (1978) gave us details on how the educated elite was produced, the crisis of consciousness they suffered and how they became the leading lights in the African nationalism struggles for political independence.

Mazrui posited that class formation in colonial Africa was profoundly shaped by access to Western education — “The colonial impact transformed the natural basis of stratification on Africa. Instead of status based on, say, age, there emerged status based on literacy. Instead of classes emerging from the question “who owns what?”, class formation now responded to the question “who knows what?”

Nkomo is one of the early African educated elite and actively involved in pedagogical nationalism (teaching about how to be a nation — sacrifice, patriotism, culture, unity, and dedication — that we must work for Zimbabwe to succeed, we are our own liberators).

It is interesting that it was the “African educated elite” (created by colonialism) who turned out to challenge colonialism.

However, it was Frantz Fanon that offered the most penetrating critique of the consciousness of the African early educated elite:

a) The first problem was that this social class had “totally assimilated colonialist thought in its most corrupt form”;
(b) The second problem was that this social class which is not engaged in production, has no intention to transform the nation—it just needed to be part of the racket; and
(c) The third problem was that this social class had captured the struggles for self-determination and in the process prevented the formation of authentic national consciousness.

African nationalism

Historian Michael West correctly noted that: “The emergence of an African identity specific to Southern Rhodesia, which is to say a Zimbabwean African consciousness, as evidenced by the rise of anti-colonial nationalism in the late 1950s, had been a long time in making. The ‘na
tionalising’ of the African elite took an important turn in the mid-1930s, culminating in the establishment of the Bantu Congress, the first political formation that could claim to represent Africans throughout the colony, albeit largely in the urban centres.”

While the boundaries were created by colonialists, the idea of an African nation is a creation of African nationalism.

Nkomo actively engaged in mobilising and deploying both African cultural resources as well as modernist resources in the making of African nationalism.

What is memorable is how in the 1950s Nkomo led his team of nationalists to the Matopos religious heritage shrine of Dula with its “voices from the rocks” to seek guidance in liberating the country.

What is also memorable is how the nationalists harked back to the Great Zimbabwe monument as they searched for an appropriate African name for the imagined liberated country.

Nkomo is remembered for presiding over the making of inclusive nationalism in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

It is this undisputed role in the making of inclusive nationalism that he earned the title of “Father Zimbabwe” (Zimbabwe was born in him): “From my earliest youth, I thirsted for freedom. When I became a man, I understood that I could not be free while my country and its people were subject to a government in which they had no say. In middle life, I fought for national independence.” (the very introduction to his book).

Let me underscore that African nationalism and liberation struggle as embodied and represented by Nkomo is one of our most cherished heritage and our proudest moment as a people.

Even though ideals of progressive African nationalism have been betrayed, we continue to struggle to fulfil the liberation struggle aspirations.

Mkandawire openly stated that: “In recent years, both nationalism and its main projects have fallen on hard times — betrayed by some of its heroes, undercut by international institutions and the forces of globalisation, reviled and caricatured by academics and alien to a whole generation of Africans born after independence … And yet in defiance of its death foretold, nationalism in Africa and elsewhere has displayed a remarkably enduring resonance.”
African intellectuals, universities

African ideological productions and orientations:

Negritude: uniqueness of African personality and its recovery;

Garveyism: black consciousness and self-improvement;

Pan-Africanism: rootlessness and unity of black people;

Nationalism: self-determination, de-racialisation, Africanisation, catching-up, indigenisation, and nativism;
African humanism: recovery and restoration of human dignity;

African socialism: anti-capitalist exploitation;

Black Consciousness Movement: inferiority and self-definition; and

African Renaissance: rebirth of Africa and African solutions to African problems.

Terrence Ranger once depicted Nkomo as a cultural nationalist because he always harked back to African people’s history prior to colonisation and was never shy to invoke African traditional religion and its value.

African national project

In my book entitled Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Post-colonial State (2009,) I distilled six fundament constitutive elements of the African national project:

l the forging of pan-ethnic national consciousness out of a multiplicity of racial and ethnic groups enclosed within the imposed colonial state boundaries;

l how to fashion a suitable model of governance relevant to societies emerging from colonialism (one-party states or multi-partyism, unitary states or federations?);

l what models of economic development were to be adopted for promotion of rapid economic growth that had the effect of extricating postcolonial societies from underdevelopment (socialism or capitalism, or African socialism?);

l what role was the independent state and such institutions as universities to play in the economy and society (interventionist state or one that allowed market forces to reign; academic or intellectual?);

l how might the new African leaders promote participation of the citizens in governance as this participation was denied under colonialism (questions of popular democracy and role of civil society); and

l Always the question of how to deliver pan-Africanism sat at the centre of the African national projects —Nkomo defined himself as “I am a Zimbabwean patriot and an African patriot too.”

Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni is the acting executive director of Change Management Unit (CMU), vice-chancellor’s office at the University of South Africa. He has published extensively in African history, African politics, and development. His major publications include The Ndebele Nation: Reflections on Hegemony, Memory and Historiography (2009); Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Post-colonial State (2009); and Redemptive or Grotesque Nationalism? Rethinking Contemporary Politics in Zimbabwe (2011), among others.

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