The Sunday News
A lot has been said and written about the late Vice-President, Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo who died on 1 July 1999. On Wednesday last week, the country marked the 21st anniversary of the iconic nationalist’s demise. While a lot has been said about Dr Nkomo, what has been missing is the military side of his illustrious history.
As a former Zipra intelligence officer, I first came into close contact with Dr Nkomo in 1974 when he came to Zambia after the release of the nationalists at Gonakudzingwa which housed Zapu cadres and Sikombela from those from the Zanu side. On his arrival in Zambia Dr Nkomo and his small delegation which, if my memory still serves me right, had Cdes Joseph Msika and Lazarus “Mavava” Nkala. They came to the Zimbabwe House, which is where Zapu was headquartered in Lusaka.
When they arrived, we were made to line-up and shake hands with him. Just shaking the hand of this colossal man made it a great day for us. Great in the sense that I had heard a lot about him. Dr Nkomo was in Zambia to assess the situation and meet the now late, Cde Jason Ziyapapa Moyo who was leading the struggle in exile following the fall-out with James Dambaza Chikerema.
Dr Nkomo was to return to Zambia in 1975 and this time I was deployed to lead a security unit that was providing protection for the leaders.
This time the nationalists who also included the Zanu delegation, with those in its ranks including the late former State President Robert Mugabe, was booked into the Government Guest House, just close to where our Zimbabwe Embassy is located. The meeting the nationalists had culminated in the Geneva Talks of 1975. As someone who had been tasked to provide security arrangements that meant getting closer to Dr Nkomo and other nationalists.
Dr Nkomo was to return to Zambia in early January 1977 for the funeral of JZ Moyo, who was killed by a parcel bomb in Lusaka and then later on the same year he came to base in Zambia, which saw him taking over the driving seat in leading the armed struggle.
When Dr Nkomo took over the reins of the armed struggle it meant him being in charge of the Zipra forces as the Commander-In-Chief.
What struck us as the militants was his high regard for the unity of the people of Zimbabwe and the nationalist forces.
When he came to Zambia, the amalgamation of the ZPRA and Zanla forces under the flagship of the Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa) had collapsed, but Dr Nkomo still insisted that we use the name Zipa. As ZPRA we spent some time using the name Zipa and some pamphlets even carried both names. That illustrated how Dr Nkomo tried by all means necessary to keep the unity of nationalistic forces alive.
However, what some writers and scholars have failed to capture is that the coming in of Dr Nkomo to Zambia meant some changes had to happen. Here was the President of the party, Zapu now in exile, a fact that meant it was no longer business as usual. Dr Nkomo’s first major military event was to chair the Conference of Militants.
For the uninitiated the Conference of Militants was established at the Mboroma Conference together with the Revolutionary Council. What should be noted is that the Revolutionary Council was the main driver of the armed struggle externally. The ZPRA High Command was the main planning body of the armed struggle.
The Conference of Militants was therefore like a minor congress outside Zimbabwe. Delegates to the conference were all members of the National Executive, all members of the ZPRA High Command (as ordered by the commander), heads of departments of the party and delegates from various ZPRA camps.
It spelt out the policy which was interpreted to a liberation strategy by the Revolutionary Council and converted to military planning by the ZPRA High Command and executed tactically by the ZPRA forces during its operations.
The first Conference of Militants had been held in 1973 at Mwembeshi and delegates came from as far as Morogoro in Tanzania. So, Dr Nkomo chaired the second one in 1977 at Freedom Camp (FC). When he did that, people were already impatient following the death of JZ as the programme had been delayed.
Under such conditions, that is when the delegates felt Dr Nkomo’s thrust and leadership, as he managed to steer the ship through the storm despite the fact that there were a lot of tensions during that event. He single-handedly managed to douse the flames.
While JZ Moyo had, during the 1973 conference, moved from his seat at the top to join in the plenary sessions and put in sections, it was not so with Dr Nkomo. He had to lead.
Dr Nkomo’s coming to Zambia also saw radical changes on the diplomatic front, it now became easier for him to go straight to the State House in Lusaka and have meetings with Dr Kenneth Kaunda.
He could ask for things while in face to face conversations with Dr Kaunda. The same applied to the then Angolan President, Dr Augustino Neto. So his presence in Zambia brought a lot of opportunities for the party and relations with Zambian government officials improved a lot.
The other development is that even Dr Kaunda took our armed struggle to his heart as he started visiting our camps dotted around his country. There are a number of photographs showing Dr Kaunda visiting our camps in the company of Dr Nkomo. I still remember Dr Kaunda breaking down after listening to a horrific story of a young girl during a visit to Victory Camp (VC) that housed our girls. One of the girls related to the leaders how she escaped death by a whisker by jumping into an empty open drum when the Rhodesian forces slayed members of her family and set on fire the homestead. That heart-rending episode brought the softer side of Dr Kaunda to the fore. It is not everyday that one witnesses a State President weeping.
Such developments resulted in Dr Kaunda taking the Zimbabwean struggle as his own. This was as a result of the diplomatic initiatives of Father Zimbabwe.
While Dr Nkomo is usually presented as someone who was very soft, he had the other side of him when it came to military matters. There was a time when a business delegation from Rhodesia came to Zambia to persuade him to return home. Up to now I still don’t understand what their motive or reasoning was. Instead of restricting the meeting to the boardroom, Dr Nkomo cunningly invited them to the military camps and they visited Camp of General Training (CGT) where they saw the strength of 2 000 plus guerillas who were about to complete their training.
I remember among that delegation there was a man from Nyore Nyore who in his address jokingly said he was not following those who had defaulted in servicing their accounts and an educationist from Ntabazinduna. However, when the delegation got to the CGT, the commanders had camouflaged the troops.
When the delegation had settled, a signal was given to the troops and when the guerillas emerged from their positions, the bush shook. That sent shivers down the spines of the delegation. They had never seen something like that, heavily armed guerillas and properly camouflaged with tree branches and so on. The delegation was then afforded the opportunity to shout slogans and among them was one man who failed to utter a single word. Shock had paralysed him.
Dr Nkomo had arm twisted the delegation, he wanted to show them that he could not return to Rhodesia when the armed struggle had reached that stage.
He could not abandon that mean ZPRA machine that was ready to take over the country through the barrel of the gun.
Dr Nkomo was also not afraid to attend military events such as passout parades despite the imminent dangers associated with the Rhodesian’s army attacks on such facilities.
In going to such events, he would be dressed in military fatigues, a departure from his colleagues in other liberation movements like Neto who preferred safari suits.
Retired Brigadier-General Mazinyane spoke to Assistant Editor Mkhululi Sibanda.