The Sunday News
ON Sunday night at about 10pm the armed liberation struggle stalwart and leading light Misheck Ntunduzakovelaphi Velaphi Ncube passed on at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) following a long bravely fought fight with both hypertension and diabetes.
Velaphi’s life epitomised the essence of nationalist struggle and its transformation into a fully fledged armed liberation struggle in 1962. At the same time he symbolised the radicalism of the youths in Bulawayo’s townships who were to become the initiators and torch bearers in the enduring armed liberation struggle. Here we include the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Abel Siwela, Thomas Ngwenya, Ethan Dube and Akim Ngwenya.
Some people took part in the struggle for independence following political influences that were brought to bear on them in their lives. While this was equally true of Velaphi, he however, was naturally a combative individual with resistance flowing together with the blood in his veins. Born on 25 July 1937, Velaphi was the first son of Mfihlo Ncube and Matsheku Nyathi the daughter of Nsewula Nyathi of Mambale in the Matobo District. His paternal grandfather was Phondo, also known in TjiKalanga as N’ombe. Apparently Velaphi, son of N’ombe took part in the 1893 Anglo-Ndebele war. As the Malabas, his ancestors were associated and are indeed credited with introducing the Mwali Shrine into present day Zimbabwe from South Africa.
There were incidents when Velaphi resisted the domineering, repressive and racial arrogance of white colonists who included the notorious native commissioner Noel Robertson, uNkom’iyahlaba/Kgom’earaha. His father Mfihlo, educated at the LMS’s Tiger Kloof Institution worked closely with the native commissioners who doubled up as magistrates, built some accommodation for the white colonial officials at his home in Nswewula (Seula). One day uNkom’iyahlaba arrived at the Mfihlo homestead and ordered Velaphi’s mother to lead the horse with whites riding on them. Velaphi rejected the idea, “MaNyathi, kawuzalanga wabola amathumbu,” screamed the disgruntled Ndebele speaking district commissioner.
Another recorded incident was when the veterinary officer wanted unregistered calves to be culled because they had not been registered in the stock book. At the time Velaphi was away from home attending school. When he came back he vehemently objected to the culling of the unregistered calves arguing that had happened due to the fact that he was at school while the cattle were at the cattle post, emlageni. There were several rural grievances that invited reaction from the rural folk in conjunction with the urban counterparts, notably some trade unions such as those led by the likes of Masotsha Ndlovu’s ICU and Benjamin Burombo’s Voice Association.
The Land Husbandry Act of 1951 translated to culling of cattle. Identified cattle had their tails cut and sold for a song. Further there was the policy of centralisation (amalayini) which led to village relocations. There was introduced in the crop field contour ridges which were unpopular with the rural folk. These and other interventions deemed repressive generated resistance and political consciousness.
The other source of politicisation on Velaphi was at the Salvation Army’s Howard Institute where Velaphi did teacher training in 1955 and 1956. He went there after completing Standard 6 at the Anglican Church’s Cyrene Mission where he had gone after attending Seula, Manama and Zamanyoni.
Going to Howard Institute was linking up with the Salvation Army once again. There he undertook a two-year course though he did not become a teacher. At Howard he was to experience further politicisation through the influence of workers who had come after the influence of the Kenyan Mau Mau resistance. At Howard there was Tendere, Munjaranji, (farm manager and boarding master respectively) and the better known Solomon Mutsvairo who is famed for coining Zimbabwe’s national anthem. The trio deepened Velaphi’s political consciousness. At the same time the nearby practicing school, Nyachuru, was headed by Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa later to become Zapu vice-president.
There was rampant student activism at the time. Strikes were common and taking place when there were bus boycotts in Salisbury (now Harare) championed by the City Youth League led by James Chikerema and George Bodzo Nyandoro. Ghana had attained independence from Britain under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah who in 1963 provided guerrilla training facilities for Zimbabweans.
While at Howard undertaking teacher training Velaphi was encouraged by one of the missionaries to do book-keeping. Indeed he registered and sat bookkeeping examinations with Pitman. That is what led to Velaphi not practising as a teacher after completing the course. Instead, he entered the job market as a book keeper where he was further to come under political influences. He worked for Amos Mazibisa and were friends with his son Charles. It was at the time he served at Mazibisa’s that he got in touch with Joshua Nkomo who had been leader of the moribund African National Congress (ANC). Nkomo had been chosen to lead the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) which had brought together the old ANC and the Salisbury City Youth League.
Velaphi recorded an incident when he eaves-dropped conversations between Nkomo and Mazibisa. He leaned on the door while the duo was engaged in serious political discussions. Suddenly the door flung open and the culprit was exposed. That went to show the extent to which Velaphi was steeped into the unfolding politics of the nationalist movement. His natural political orientation was soon buttressed by the external influences that came to bear on him. For him, involvement was on two fronts. He was in Bulawayo the hotbed of political activism which in July 1960 culminated in the Zhi-I Campaign during the tenure of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The youth, Velaphi included were in the forefront in the campaign characterised by arson and infrastructural sabotage.
In Bulawayo Velaphi was a member of the SRANC and later the NDP. He however, did not hold office in the youth movement where the likes of Dumiso Dabengwa, Ethan Dube, Abel Siwela, Akim Ndlovu, Stephen Jeqe Nkomo, Findo Mpofu, Clark Mpofu, Edward Silunde Mbahwa Ndlovu, Bernard Mutuma and Dauti Mabusa, inter alia were active. Velaphi maintained links with his rural roots. There he held office as the secretary of the Semokwe Division.
Semokwe Division was politically active as Nkomo hailed from the same place. It stretched from Matobo Hills up to the Shashe River, the border with Botswana. To the west of the Shashane River there was the Shashane District. Semokwe District had political activists such as Peter Njini Sibanda, its chairperson who was a teacher, Zhindoga Nyathi the chairman of the Nsewula Branch, Tayima Ndlovu (Tshelanyemba).
The youth were equally active and led the Sabotage Campaign. Sports activities were organised by Sydney Joseph, son of Yedwa when in actual fact these were disguised political gatherings. Some of the active members of the youth movement were David Mongwa “Sharpshoot” Moyo, who when repression accelerated fled the country to do military training in North Korea alongside the likes of Tinaye Chigudu, one time Governor for Manicaland. There was also Roger Matshimini Ncube who was to flee and do military training in the Soviet Union in 1964. Moyo infiltrated Southern Rhodesia in 1966 as a reconnaissance party paving the way the joint military campaign (Luthuli Detachment) between MK and Zapu the following year, led by Algerian-trained John Dube(JD). Moyo was later to take part in the Moffat Hadebe-led Pyramid Detachment, once again a joint MK and Zapu joint operation, also generally referred to as the Sipolilo Campaign.
Roger Matshimini Ncube was the leader of that reconnaissance party which also included Tshinga Dube, John Ntemba Moyo. Ncube was also to achieve a first for themselves when in September they, under Moffat Hadebe attacked Zidube Ranch where the first shots in Zimbabwe’s armed liberation struggle were fired. Other members of the historic attack were Israel Maduma, Elliot Ngwabi, Keyi Nkala, Roger Matshimini Ncube and Rhodes Malaba. Velaphi had initiated the risky campaign of smuggling arms of war into Southern Rhodesia.