By Dumisani Sibanda
The death of Father Zimbabwe, Joshua Nkomo, on July 1 1999 hogged the limelight in both the local and international media. Condolence messages flowed from all over the world as people from all walks of life paid homage to the larger-than-life character but humble Man of the People.
There was no doubt that Nkomo, was a true son of the soil and his name was firmly pasted on Africa’s Hall of Fame. But 11 years later — save for an exhibition mounted in Matobo, the home area of the legend by young people going by the name the Friends of Joshua Nkomo — the anniversary of this icon largely passed unnoticed even in Bulawayo, where he had assumed demi-god status.
The lofty slogans portraying him as an “immortal” based on the assumption that his “legacy would live on” well after his death were chanted as he was buried but judging by the lack of activity on his anniversary last week, those eulogies have probably followed him to his grave and are now dead and buried.
In a statement responding to inquiries on the issue, Zapu spokesman, Methuseli Moyo, blamed the inclusive government for failing to take the lead in celebrating the life of the icon.
“Zapu notes with concern the continued failure by the government to honour meaningfully, the legacy of Father Zimbabwe,” Moyo said. “Zapu notes that no state-organised activities were held to mark the day. Our party holds all the three parties in the inclusive government equally guilty of this serious omission.”
Naming a “bush airport” and a technical college after Nkomo is an insult to his stature he said.
“It is ironic that some not-so-celebrated heroes have streets named after them in every urban centre in Zimbabwe, yet none is named after Father Zimbabwe,’’ he said. The road leading to Harare International Airport is also named after him.
Zapu called on government to consider setting aside July 1 as a national holiday to meaningfully honour Nkomo’s legacy. Efforts to get a comment from the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, on the absence of state organised events to mark Nkomo’s anniversary were fruitless. However, Zapu’s position on the issue is shared by Dumisani Nkomo, the nephew of the late nationalist, who is a firebrand civic activist.
“Of course, the airport in Bulawayo was named after him but still the upgrading exercise of that facility is lagging behind and that is not honourable,’’ Dumisani said.
The thread of unfinished business runs through projects inspired by Nkomo, that are supposed to stand out as concrete translations of his gigantic economic empowerment vision predicated on equal opportunities for all regardless of tribe and race.
Under the Development Trust of Zimbabwe — which owns the massive Nuanetsi Ranch in Masvingo province — Nkomo had sourced canning equipment for factories in Esigodini near Bulawayo and Norton near Harare to demonstrate the economic importance of value addition.
The Norton factory is up and running and operated by a business concern, Zagrinda, but the Esigodini factory remains a pie in the sky. Equipment meant for the Esigodini factory is rusting away at the Agricultural Rural Development Authority’s Balu Estate, in Umguza, more than 40 km from Bulawayo, where it has been kept for 15 years now.
Wellington Chando, a DTZ official, said they needed US$3 million to finance the Esigodini project and part of the money would come from the Norton venture. Timber logging equipment that was again sourced by Nkomo was auctioned by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority a few years ago, after failure to raise customs duty required for the imported machinery.
Asked if DTZ had organised any event to celebrate the life of the late vice-president who is one of the founders of the organisation, Chando said nothing of the sort had been done.
“He (Nkomo) did not belong to DTZ only but to people from all walks of life. If we were to do it obviously the government and Zanu PF party would ask if we consulted them. We can chip in if they take the lead,’’ he said.
Another initiative which is at a standstill is the Ekusileni Hospital in Bulawayo. The institution was once opened but closed due to some logistical problems. It is meant to be a specialist hospital and Nkomo came up with the idea when he had to be flown to South Africa and Egypt — because of lack of specialised treatment facilities at home as he battled with ill health.
Again, when those in charge of the project are asked about its status one gets the same old tune that is now sounding like a broken record on a gramophone: lack of funds. Daudi Dube, the spokesperson for the Ekusileni Board of Trustees was non-committal when asked about the re-opening of the hospital. He said it needed re-capitalisation first.
The state-of-the-art institution that was built using funds from the National Social Security Authority is fast turning into a white elephant. But Nkomo’s nephew says there is “no orderly way to honour him” and the storm that erupted over the erection of a statue at Karigamombe Centre in Harare proves him true.
The issue of the proposed statue arose during a full council meeting in Harare last week, where it became a source of disquiet among City Fathers who said they feared a tribal backlash. Karigamombe means, “one who takes the bull by the horns” and is associated with President Mugabe’s family.
Mugabe used the cockerel as his party’s symbol while Nkomo used a charging bull as his pictogram. Following publication of a story on the issue, political activists, civil society leaders and residents expressed outrage over the proposed location of the statue of the icon saying the move was provocative as it had negative political connotations.
Another statue of Nkomo is supposed to be erected in Bulawayo and the city’s mayor, Thaba Moyo says the local authority long made a resolution to put the statue on Main Street in the city’s central business district at the point where that of Cecil John Rhodes once stood.
He said council wants the statue to be in place by the time the country holds its Heroes’ Day commemorations next month. But again that glimmer of hope might just fade away as already those plans have been dogged by logistical problems.
“I was in Harare last week to discuss with government officials on the issue but the meeting could not take place and has been postponed to next week (this week),” Moyo said.
Dumisani, believes the good name of his late uncle is used by political vultures for political expediency. Even when Nkomo is honoured there has largely been attempts to “regionalise ’’ this national figure, argues Jastone Masilu Mazhale from Gwanda, the capital of Matabeleland South, Nkomo’s home province.
He said the few institutions named after Nkomo like the Joshua Mqabuko Airport, Joshua Nkomo Secondary School in Matobo and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic were all in Matabeleland and this was meant to ensure that the status of General Josh — as he was also known — did not go beyond Matabeleland.- Zimbabwe Standard