TAONA BLESSING DENHERE
THE 1st of July 2022 marks 23 years since the passing away of Zimbabwe’s former Vice-President of Zimbabwe, Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, after a long battle with cancer.
Nkomo was a towering and formidable figure in the struggle against white colonial rule in Zimbabwe. He distinguished himself as an uncompromising and radical anti-colonial stalwart and a fearless guerilla leader during the struggle for the Independence of Zimbabwe. Additionally, upon the attainment of Independence on 18 April 1980, Nkomo did not rest on his laurels and believe that the battle has been fully won; he resolutely continued with his unrelenting quest and fight for freedom, equality, justice and democracy into post-independence Zimbabwe.
Accordingly, his devotion and selfless commitment to the pursuit and advancement of democracy, justice and fairness in a post-independence Zimbabwe had devastating consequences to his personal life, the life of his supporters and his political party, PF Zapu. The late Robert Mugabe and his cabal of genocidal ethnocrats in Zanu unleashed a reign of Gukurahundi genocidal terror and ethnocidal brutality aganist Nkomo and his supporters in an attempt to force through and institutionalise a one-party dictatorship.
Needless to say, Nkomo occupies a very unique and envious place in the struggle for democracy, human rights and justice in Zimbabwe. Nkomo is arguably one of the very rare, if not only, older members of anti-colonial struggle stalwarts who served in the post-independence government of Zimbabwe who have managed to have a profound transcendental effect and intergenerational influence on the political imagination and public consciousness of young generations of Zimbabweans.
Thus, in our deeply divisive and polarised polity, where there is partisan entrenchment of divisions and hatred between the ruling party and the opposition and civil society, it is very rare to find a former senior Zanu PF government official being very much embraced, lionised and valorised by the opposition constituency. Accordingly, Nkomo has managed this remarkable and unprecedented feat.
In this opinion piece, therefore, I will attempt to relocate and deconstruct the transcendental influence and effect of Nkomo within our contested and polarised political ecosystem. Thus, in my deconstructive analysis of the philosophy of Nkomo, I will integrate it with the Fanonism approach as I recontextualise two significant quotations from Nkomo`s speeches. I will argue, inter alia, why Nkomoism has become such an immortal and prophetic philosophy within opposition movements, human rights organisations and civil society organisations.
Essentialism of Nkomoism
The first quotation from Nkomo which is going to become the reference point of my re-articulation of the transcendentalism of Nkomoism is this one in which he said: “The hardest lesson of my life has come to me late. It is that a nation can win freedom without its people becoming free.” This excerpt statement has become very prophetic and immortal and has had a far-reaching effect in the present-day political and human rights contestations in Zimbabwe.
This quotation is religiously invoked and cited like a biblical verse by the present-day generations of young politicians, civil society activists and human rights defenders. Crucially, Nkomo made this statement at a time when PF Zapu, the party’s key leaders as well as rank and file party supporters were undergoing a systematic pattern of state-sanctioned brutality, terror and violence by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government. Thus, it was the period when the genocidal and apocalyptic violence of Gukurahundi was in full unrelenting throttle.
Accordingly, Nkomo was encapsulating what is known as dispossessed by independence. Thus, despite the official end of colonial rule in April 1980, Nkomo, PF Zapu and their supporters found themselves being politically, economically, socially and culturally dispossessed, ostracised and subjugated. The promises and rewards of Independence remakned elusive, courtesy of the Zanu PF government which was using the same modus operandi of the repressive and fascist gangsterish tactics of the erstwhile coloniser, the rightwing fascist Rhodesian Front government.
Therefore, the current generation of opposition politicians, civil society activists and human rights defenders find themselves confronted by the similar repressive and authoritarian tactics that faced Nkomo and PF Zanu during the Gukurahundi genocide. That is, there is a great deal of the dictatorial betrayal of the decolonisation project. Notwithstanding the fact that it is 42 years since Zimbabwe attained Independence, the dispossession by independence continues insofar as upholding and respecting human rights, civil liberties, democracy and freedom is concerned.
The immortal and prophetic words of Joshua Nkomo come into context in the present-day scenarios in the sense that, despite officially defeating colonialism and imperialism in 1980, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe do not enjoy substantive freedoms and human rights. The Zanu PF government continues to a greater extent to apply the same fascist gangsterish and authoritarian tactics employed by the Rhodesian Front government in stifling freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom to petition the government. For instance, civil society activists, opposition political figures, human rights defenders and as well as ordinary citizens continue to be routinely and periodically extrajudicially arrested, detained and terrorised, whenever they attempt to exercise their constitutionally enshrined rights.
Therefore, when the present generation of opposition politicians, civil society leaders and human rights defenders supplicate and embrace this particular quote from Joshua Nkomo, they are in essence retracing a chequered history of systematic failure of the post-colonial Zanu PF government to enshrine and consolidate the virtues of the liberation struggle, insofar as upholding fundamental freedoms and human rights is concerned.
The other second important aspect of Nkomo`s immortal philosophy which has become transgenerational comes from his prophetic assertion that: “The country will never die; young people will save it.” This statemenr of Nkomoism has a Fanonian element in its political meaning and persuasion. Thus, it is constructed with similar philosophical and prophetical underpinnings as Frantz Fanon’s observation that: “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.”
Accordingly, even though Nkomo and PF Zapu were increasingly politically, economically and socially emasculated and repressed by Mugabe`s Zanu PF government during the Gukurahundi period, Father Zimbabwe fully understood that the post-colonial project was being desecrated and turned into a disaster through the fascist gangestrish repressive tactics of Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF. Zanu PF was in clear violation and betrayal of the goals, principles and values that underpinned the anti-colonial struggle and war of Independence. Nonetheless, the future generations will never betray their generational mandate and obligation. They will rescue the country from the claws of the Zanu PF dictarshop.
Nkomo believed that, although Mugabe and Zanu PF might succeed in decimating and neutralising PF Zapu, from its ashes and ruins would rise a fearless and committed generation that will rescue the country from the jaws of one-party ethnocentric and ethnonationalistic dictatorship, which Mugabe intended to institutionalise in perpetuity. Thus, Nkomo believed that history has proven that repression will invariably breed resistance.
Ironically, Nkomo`s prophetic and revolutionary seeds germinated and sprouted in 1989, when Fatger Zimbabwe was just two years into his position as the Vice-President of Zimbabwe. University of Zimbabwe students, under the capable leadership of self-styled radicals and revolutionaries such as Authur Mutambara and Munyaradzi Gwisai, organised student protests against the Zanu PF government’s attempt to constitutionalise and institutionalise a de jure one-party state dictatorship. Ultimately, the students’ radical action and protests had the domino effect of rescuing the country’s fledgling and fragile democracy from being swallowed by the one-party state totalitarian monster.
Moreover, by the end of 1999, when the signs were clear that the socio-economic and political fabric of Zimbabwe were in dire straits and heading for disaster, a young crop of leaders from the trade union, student movement and civil society answered their generational mandate and attempted to save the country. The raison d’etre of the Movement for Democratic Change, which was formed in September 1999 and led by the late firebrand Morgan Tsvangirai, was to provide a progressive alternative to the disastrous consequences of Zanu PF misgovernance and corruption.
Therefore, the self-identification and religious embrace of this immortal and prophetic excerpt by the current young generations of opposition leaders, civic society and human rights defenders is a clear demonstration of how Nkomo has provided an ideological and political compass for the younger generations. Thus, these words are acting as a source of inspiration and a guiding principle for the current generation of civic and political leaders as they continue to fight to reclaim the country from the clutches of the Zanu PF kleptocratic dictatorship. Thus, the younger generation, through invoking these words of Nkomo, believe they have a generational mandate to restore the country back to the founding principles and values that inspired the liberation struggle and anti-colonial struggle.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa tried to reinvent the wheel by attempting to reconstructing a de-facto one-party dictatorship, when the judiciary was weaponised to destroy the then MDC-Alliance as led by Nelson Chamisa and create a puppet pseudo-opposition, the MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora. Consequently, the re-emergence of the now formidable opposition party, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change led by Chamisa to a great extent illustrates the enduring doctrine of Nkomoism. That is, notwithstanding state-sanctioned shenanigans to destroy and cripple the progressive opposition movement, young people will always find ways of defying and circumventing authoritarianism in their quest to reclaim and save their country. Consequently, Nkomo was cognizant of the fact that, historically and traditionally, youths are the vanguards of the revolution and change agents.
Suffice to say that if Nkomo is to wake up today from his grave, he will be impressed by the current crop of opposition leaders, civil society activists and human rights defenders, who are resolutely providing effective counterweights and pushbacks against the authoritarian shenanigans of the Zanu PF government. However, Nkomo will be equally not surprised by the extreme level of Zanu PF repression and oppression against opposition movements and pro-democratic forces, considering the fact that one of the chief architects of Gukurahundi, President Mnangagwa, is one in full charge of the country. Coupled with the fact that Nkomo and PF Zapu experienced similar repressive tactics during the height of Gukurahundi.
Notwithstanding, the fact that Nkomo saved a combined 14 years in the government of Zimbabwe, first as an minister of Home Affairs before his unceremonious expulsion in 1982 and later as a Vice-President of Zimbabwe and Zanu PF from 1987 to 1999. Nevertheless, his enduring legacy as a transcendental figure still resonates to the present moment. Thus, on the 23rd anniversary of his death, various civil society organisations have been referencing and posting some of the prophetic and immortal excerpts of his speeches on social media platforms, particularly the two who have just formed the thesis of this opinion piece.
Nkomo is arguably one of the most rare senior government and Zanu PF officials, outside those who died during the liberation struggle, who has managed to be universally and widely accepted by the opposition movement, civil society organisations and the younger generation. Thus, his legacy and philosophy has been equally embraced and appropriated by the opposition movements and civil society. Despite the fact that the current Zanu PF government begrudgingly wants to also claim and monopolise Nkomo’s legacy as their own.
The cross-social, cultural, political and intergenerational transcendental influence and effect of the philosophy of Nkomoism is unprecedented on our deeply polarised and contested political landscape. Thus Nkomo was a philosophical and prophetical fountain of wisdom whose philosophical and prophetic words continue to play a far-reaching role and positive influence in our polity.
About the writer: Taona Blessing Denhere is a human rights and international development lawyer based in the United Kingdom.