Joshua Nkomo

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Early Life

Joshua Nkomo (1918 (date uncertain) – July 1, 1999) was a Zimbabwean nationalist leader, a Ndebele, and the leader and founder of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU).

He was born to black missionary teachers in Matabeleland and educated in South Africa, where he met Nelson Mandela and other regional nationalist leaders at Fort Hare University.

After returning to Bulawayo in 1948, he became a trade unionist for black railway workers.

Politics

Nkomo founded the National Democratic Party (NDP), and in 1960, the year British prime minister Harold MacMillan spoke of the "wind of change" blowing through Africa, Robert Mugabe joined him.

The NDP was banned by Ian Smith's white minority government, and it was subsequently replaced by the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), also founded by Nkomo and Mugabe, in 1962, itself immediately banned. ZAPU split along ethnic grounds a year after its formation, with Robert Mugabe breaking away with the Shona majority, forming, with Ndabaningi Sithole and Herbert Chitepo, the Zimbabwe African National Union, leaving ZAPU as a mostly Ndebele organisation.

A majority rule government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia led by Abel Muzorewa was formed in 1979 between Ian Smith and Ndabaningi Sithole's ZANU, which by now had also split from Robert Mugabe's more military ZANU faction. However, the civil war waged by Nkomo and Mugabe continued unabated, and Britain and the USA did not lift sanctions on the country. Britain persuaded all parties to come to Lancaster House in September 1979 to work out a constitution and the basis for fresh elections. Mugabe and Nkomo shared a delegation, called the Patriotic Front (PF), at the negotiations chaired by Lord Carrington. Elections were held in 1980, and to most observers' surprise Nkomo's ZAPU lost in a landslide to Mugabe's ZANU. Nkomo was offered the ceremonial post of President, but declined. He was appointed to the cabinet, but in 1982 was accused of plotting a coup. Mugabe unleashed the notorious Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo's Matabeleland homeland, in an operation termed Gukurahundi.

After the Gukurahundi, in 1987 Nkomo was reconciled with Mugabe and two parties merged into Zanu-PF, leaving Zimbabwe as effectively a one-party state, and leading some Ndebeles to accuse Nkomo of selling out. In a powerless post, and with his health failing, his influence declined.

Warfare

It has to be said that it was Nkomo's ZAPU forces that committed two ultimate acts of terrorism, that in this day in age would cause huge outcry and international trials. His troops shot down two Air Rhodesia Vickers Viscount civilian passenger planes with surface-to-air missiles. The first, on September 3, 1978, killed 38 out of 56 in the crash, with a further ten survivors executed by Nkomo's ground troops. The eight remaining survivors managed to elude the guerrillas and walked 20km into Kariba (where the flight had originated; it was headed for Salisbury), some with serious injuries, where they were picked up by local police and debriefed by the Rhodesian army. The second shootdown, on February 12, 1979, killed all 59 on board. Still no one has been brought to trial or charged for these crimes. In a televised interview not long after the first shootdown, Nkomo laughed and joked about the incident while claiming ZAPU had indeed been responsible.

Nkomo was detained by Smith's government in 1964, with fellow revolutionaries Mugabe and Sithole, until 1974, when they were released due to pressure from South African president B.J. Vorster. Following Nkomo's release, he went to Zambia to fight for Zimbabwean independence, which continued by means of his own personal guerrilla army even after independence had been achieved. It was only after the ZAPU merger with Mugabe's ZANU in 1987 that he felt guerilla tactics were no longer necessary.

After merging with ZANU in the late 80s, Nkomo's militaristic bent was subdued, and he became a more-or-less respectable member of the Zimbabwean government. Indeed, former South African president Nelson Mandela eulogised Nkomo at his funeral in July 1999.

Joshua Nkomo died of old age and obesity in 1999, at the age of 81.

External Links

nl:Joshua Nkomo

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