Nkala a controversial nationalist giant
By Ibbo Mandaza
Enos Mzombi (actually Muzomubi in Ndebele) Nkala will be remembered most as one of the founders of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), as a break-away from the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu) on August 8 1963.
In this regard, his role was also significant for two reasons: coming as he did from the Western part of Zimbabwe (he was born in Insiza), Nkala might have helped to dispel the widely-held perception, in those heady days of factional nationalist politics, that Zanu was entirely Shona in both motivation and composition; and, against the backdrop of the bloody Gukurahundi two decades later, his identity as a Ndebele made him appear glaringly complicit in a campaign in which thousands (some say as many as 20 000!) of his “home” people perished at the hands of the state.
However, some of his contemporaries believe it was his personal and family-related fall-out with Joshua Nkomo that made him a ready and willing founder member of Zanu formed in his house — at 4449 Highfields Township — for, it is alleged that the Zapu leader had a child (the late Lloyd Nkala) out of wedlock with Enos Nkala’s sister, Ivy.
So, not surprisingly, such personal relationships — including differences and altercations — are so integral to politics, not least in our Zimbabwe, and with respect to Nkala’s own political career. No doubt, too, the 12 years of detention/prison will have had a lasting impact on his character, personality and, above all, health.
And likewise for the other Zanu leaders with whom Nkala shared those years in incarceration: Ndabaningi Sithole, Leopold Takawira (who died in prison on June 15 1970), Robert Mugabe, Edgar Tekere, Maurice Nyagumbo and Morton Malianga.
So, it is too, that the political careers of all seven of these giants of Zimbabwean nationalism will also have been influenced, for better or for worse, by their inter-personal relationships, tensions, alliances and fall-outs, as Tekere’s autobiography testifies.
As in the case of Tekere and Nyagumbo, Nkala’s political fortunes and misfortunes hinged as much on his character and personality as on the relationship with Mugabe. All three nationalists variously claimed to have been responsible for not only Mugabe’s elevation over Sithole as the president of Zanu during a political debacle in detention; but also, by implication at least, his ascent to Zimbabwe’s throne.
But so strong and intense was the comradeship and friendship between the four, that the political and personal fall-outs between each one of the three and Mugabe were so tumultuous and even tragic, as was the case of Nyagumbo.
In his case, Nkala believed sincerely that the Willowgate vehicle issue was merely a smokescreen or a pretext, used by the emergent securocracy, to weed out those, like Nkala and Dzingai Mutumbuka, then considered to be either powerful or a potential constraint to an unassailable executive president-in-the-making.
Whatever the case, Nkala’s departure from government in 1989 marked the end of an illustrious political career: as treasurer-general of Zanu, a position he held ever since the formation of the party in 1963; as Minister of Finance at independence in 1980 until 1983 when he was moved to the Ministry of National Supplies; then a brief stint at Home Affairs in 1985; and, finally, as Minister of Defence after the 1985 elections.
Thus, also marked the beginning of a feud with Mugabe: it had been simmering ever since Nkala had been moved from the Ministry of Finance in deference to Bernard Chidzero who thereby combined the latter with Economic Planning and Development; and now, in league with an equally bitter and twisted Tekere, Nkala led the futile but vitriolic campaign against the former comrade and friend, Mugabe.
Even as recent as Tekere’s funeral (which he was unable to attend due to ill-health), Nkala could not conceal his bitterness against Mugabe; and it was with immense persuasion that he conceded and accepted that Tekere could be buried at the national shrine, the Heroes Acre.
(I explained, to his chagrin and protestations, on the occasion that he, too, would have no choice but deservedly land up at Heroes Acre one day!)
It is still not clear as to the context and circumstances that prompted the belated rapprochement between Nkala and Mugabe in 2012, but it has turned out to have been opportune since, unlike in the case of Tekere whose hero status took days to confirm (not to mention the burial which took place in Mugabe’s absence), the president virtually declared Nkala a candidate for Heroes Acre within minutes of his death at the Avenues Clinic in Harare.
“I am sure he will be buried at the National Heroes Acre. If a person like him is not buried there, then no one else qualifies,” said Mugabe last week.
Therefore, if it is so obvious and appropriate that nationalists like Nkala should be acknowledged and honoured for the immense sacrifice and contribution to the struggle for national independence. Why then the occasional, but most significant departures from the norm over the last three decades?
Here, we are reminded of the cases of Ndabaningi Sithole, James Chikerema, Lookout Masuku, Welshman Mabhena and Thenjiwe Lesabe, to name only some of the landmarks in the history of the struggle for national liberation of Zimbabwe, but who were denied national hero status by Mugabe and his politburo.
The departure of Nkala last week, and that of Kumbirai Kangai this week, should prompt the nation towards a more consistent policy on the subject of heroes and heroines of our struggle; in the hope that those so recklessly ignored and sacrificed on the altar of political expediency or self-indulgent partisanship, will one day be re-buried at the national shrine.