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Zimbabwe turns 40: Joshua Nkomo and the Liberation Footpath Part 1



Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo

Zimbabwe turns 40: Joshua Nkomo and the Liberation Footpath Part 1. Once again, I should reiterate the late Father Zimbabwe, Dr Joshua Nkomo’s profound role to my political path and what his contribution to my life means 40 years after independence. This is a continuation of the instalment published last week in this paper.

This reflection comes against the background of the impending 40th Independence Day Celebrations to be held in Bulawayo.

In connecting the redemptive role of Father Zimbabwe to the significance of the Uhuru celebrations in Bulawayo, I should emphasise that this is the time to remember our shared role in defending the wealth of our nation. Our land had been looted, mineral wealth plundered and our humanity desecrated to ensure that we only looked at ourselves as objects of labour for colonial capital.

We were also reduced to subjects of colonial cultures and beliefs systems at the expense of our God-given norms and cultural values. Therefore, when Dr Nkomo conceptualised the roadmap to African colonial resistance his status of fatherhood to our right to be free was established.

At the level of Black rehumanisation agenda, Nkomo’s Zapu and ZPRA became ideological proxies of deracialising humanity and breaking the barriers of man-made prejudices. Therefore, Dr Nkomo’s epoch-making contribution to the struggle for liberation signified the re-ordering of society towards equality. He challenged the racially defined terms of power and being.

The creed of the struggle as defined by Dr Nkomo and his imaginations for a free Zimbabwe entailed the elimination of the racial degeneracies and the privileges of the colonial regime. At the same time, Zapu’s nationwide mobilisation capacity became the conduit to dismantle ethnic essentialism which the colonialist regime effectively deployed in the interest of the divide and rule strategy.

Beyond my emotive and ideological connection to Dr Nkomo’s cause, I met him for the first time in August 1975 during the Victoria-Falls Peace Talks. Meeting Dr Nkomo in person in 1975 at this most decisive point of our struggle was quite fulfilling to my political journey which had begun in 1967. I was among the cadres who met Dr Nkomo in 1975 in August. This critical point of peace negotiation was the initial roadmap to the détente period. Zapu, Zanu, Frolizi and Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Congress (UANC) were represented at this conference. The Late Rhodesian leader Ian Smith was the head of this political dialogue.

The conference aimed at soliciting a middle ground for the nationalists the Smith regime to end the war. No logical consensus was reached at this conference, but for me, the most important thing was getting the direct opportunity to meet with this man whose fatherhood to the struggle motivated us in the trenches. Therefore, seeing him for the first time in Victoria-Falls was quite fulfilling. The platform marked a historic turn in the history of our fight for liberation. It signalled how much the colonialists were conceding to our determined fight for freedom.

Geneva Conference: Nkomo’s Militant Diplomacy Exposed

A year after the Victoria-Falls Talks Dr Nkomo’s next dialogue venture was the Geneva Conference of October 1976. The main objective of the Geneva Conference was to set the transitional modalities from the Smith regime towards a nationalist-led government. The issue of constitutional reform was of higher priority in the agenda of this conference. During the Geneva Conference, Dr Nkomo was the principal representative of the nationalist demands and submissions. This conference earned him a high diplomatic standing as it marked a critical point in the internationalisation of Zimbabwe’s liberation from colonialism.

Other key delegates at the conference included the late former President Robert Mugabe of Zanu, James Chikerema of Frolizi, and Abel Muzorewa of UANC. These nationalist political leaders shared common ground on their demand for independence, but this doesn’t erase the fact that each one of them had competing interests to secure the respective relevance of their political organisations. The platform offered an opportunity for the nationalists to market their contested interests and market their respective approaches to the decolonisation question.

This platform also aided the devising of imperialist machinations to create acute divisions within the nationalists. Regardless of their already existent points of dissent, Zapu and Zanu formed the “Patriotic Front” (PF). Through the Patriotic Front, Dr Nkomo and Cde Mugabe resolved to suspend their differences in advancing a single and solid approach to making transitional demands to Britain which was brokering the negotiations.

The PF also acquired its legitimacy from the OAU by July 1977 following the 14th OAU Ordinary Session of Heads of State. The resolve to have the Patriotic Front as an anti-colonial organ of transitional negotiation is also noted after independence in response to the neo-colonial influences to the post-independence violence which threatened the foundational premise of national unity which the PF was established upon.

Therefore, the philosophy of national unity which framed the personality of Dr Nkomo’s leadership style is not only noted in 1987, but it is a common feature of his leadership character which can be traced throughout the liberation struggle. To a greater extent, the establishment of the PF and its role as a negotiation vehicle for Zapu and Zanu depict how Dr Nkomo’s leadership was not primarily, pan-Africanist, instead, Nkomo acquitted himself as an internationalist.


During the Geneva Conference Dr Nkomo’s consistency on the One Man, One Vote principle became the central agenda of the negotiation. This transitional requisite which he mainly called for was in sync with the anticipated goal of the disenfranchised masses. This proves that even though at a military level the nationalists had outmanoeuvred the Rhodesian Front (RF) there was room for diplomatic engagement.

Again, this evidences beyond measure that Dr Nkomo was both a militant and diplomatic forerunner of the struggle. Beyond military acumen, Dr Nkomo also used diplomacy as an agent for political engagement. At this point, he was willing to engage in a colonially set dialogue space and negotiate peace though he had the means to pursue robust military action.

The period between 1975 and 1979 was reflective of Dr Nkomo and other nationalists’ tilting towards diplomacy. However, he was vocal in dismissing the idea of propositional representation which was being mainly advanced in favour of the imperialists. This explains why Dr Nkomo and Cde Mugabe emerged united through the Geneva talks didn’t yield the anticipated political transitional result. Also noteworthy is that the PF was short-lived as a result of the manifestation of the long concerted efforts to divide the focus of the nationalists.

In 1979, Dr Nkomo’s Zapu and Cde Mugabe’s Zanu delegations under the PF banner took part in the final push for diplomatic transition at the Lancaster Conference held in London.

This roadmap towards the election which brought Zimbabwe’s majority rule followed a ceasefire proposal by Ian Smith’s government between 10 September and 21 December 1979. Britain, the USA, and the Frontline States took part in this conference. The conference’s proceedings were chaired by Lord Carrington who at the time was a trusted British foreign policy strategist.

While Dr Nkomo was the centre of attraction in the Geneva negotiation, Cde Mugabe seemed to have attracted inconceivable popularity during the Lancaster Conference. Cde Mugabe’s fame at the Lancaster Conference was a culmination of the divisive tactics deployed by the imperialist forces since the Geneva negotiations.

However, the proposal for equal and universal suffrage was at the centre of the conference’s deliberations. Britain’s preference for Cde Mugabe was mainly caused by Dr Nkomo’s proximity to Russia which had aided ZPRA’s military triumph.

Consequently, on the part of the British and the US, it was strategic to make Cde Mugabe the heir of the post-independent state. Marginalising Dr Nkomo was strategic in ensuring the obliteration of Russia’s political influence in Southern-Africa. Zapu’s post-Lancaster triumph entailed victory of Soviet hegemony in independence Zimbabwe and the region at large.

The peripheral placing of Dr Nkomo during the Lancaster negotiation became the major starting point of his short-lived political demise. Dr Nkomo’s diplomatic purging was working in the interest of the Cold-War situation at the time in favour of British interests.

The diplomatic decapitation of Dr Nkomo was engineered by the British in a bid to lock out Russia out of the post-independence transitional process. The British had direct economic interests to secure in post-independence Zimbabwe. Therefore, a sustainable political environment needed to be created to preserve the West’s economic interests in independent Zimbabwe. They imagined having Dr Nkomo in power threatened the West’s neo-colonial ambitions because his loyalties were more inclined to Russia — a direct enemy of Britain at the time.

A Zapu political takeover meant an absolute erosion of the West’s capitalist security. Resultantly, the PF had to be tactically split leading to create a colonially determined outcome of the road to Zimbabwe’s independence.

During the preparations for the Lancaster negotiations, it is said that Dr Nkomo ignored the guidance from ZPRA’s command structure to take part in the Lancaster Conference. It was our view in the military that ZPRA had outdone Smith’s forces and it was only logical for war to be continued with no retreat as this was the only justified means to seize power.

Source – Sunday News

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