Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo (19 June 1917 – 1 July 1999) was the leader and founder of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and a member of the Ndebele (Kalanga) people.
He was a trades-union leader, who became president of the banned National Democratic Party, and was jailed for ten years by Rhodesia's white minority government. After his release, ZAPU contributed to the fall of that government, but then feuded with the rival ZANU group led by Robert Mugabe. Fearing for his life, Nkomo fled the country, before controversially allowing ZAPU to merge with ZANU.
Nkomo had many nicknames, including "Umafukufuku", "Father Zimbabwe", and "Chibwechitedza" (the slippery rock).
Nkomo was born in Bukalanga or Bulilima, now referred to as Semokwe Reserve, Matabeleland South and was one of eight children. His father (Thomas Nyongolo Letswansto Nkomo) worked as a preacher and a cattle rancher and worked for the London Missionary Society. After completing his primary education in Southern Rhodesia, Nkomo took a carpentry course at the Tsholotsho Government Industrial School and studied there for a year before becoming a driver. He later tried animal husbandry, then became a schoolteacher specialising in carpentry at Manyame School in Kezi. In 1942, at the age of 25, during his career as a teacher, he decided that he should go to South Africa to further his education, do carpentry and qualify to a higher level. He attended Adams College and the Jan H. Hofmeyr School of Social Work in South Africa. There he met Nelson Mandela and other regional nationalist leaders at the University of Fort Hare, though he did not attend that university. It was at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work that he was awarded a B.A. Degree in Social Science in 1952. Nkomo married his wife Johanna MaFuyana on 1 October 1949.
After returning to Bulawayo in 1947, he became a trade unionist for black railway workers and rose to the leadership of the Railway Workers Union and then to leadership of the Southern Rhodesian chapter of the African National Congress in 1952 (later the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress). In 1960 he became president of the National Democratic Party, which was later banned by the Rhodesian government.
Nkomo was detained at Gonakudzingwa Restriction Camp by Ian Smith's government in 1964, with fellow rebels Ndabaningi Sithole, Edgar Tekere, Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo and Robert Mugabe, until 1974, when they were released due to pressure from South African prime minister B.J. Vorster. Following Nkomo's release, he went to Zambia to continue opposing the Rhodesian government through the dual processes of armed resistance and negotiation. Unlike ZANU's armed wing – the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army –, ZAPU's armed wing – the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army – was dedicated to both guerrilla warfare and conventional warfare. At the time of independence ZIPRA had a modern military, stationed in Zambia and Angola, consisting of Soviet-made Mikoyan fighters, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as well trained artillery units.
Joshua Nkomo was the target of two attempted assassinations. The first one, in Zambia, by the Selous Scouts, a pseudo-team. But the mission was finally aborted and attempted again, unsuccessfully, by the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS). In August 2011 it was reported by the BBC that Nkomo had been tipped off by the British government.
ZAPU forces strategically weakened the Rhodesian government during the bush war. The most widely reported and possibly the most effective of these attacks which had an impact in the Rhodesian's social life was the downing of two Air Rhodesia Vickers Viscount civilian passenger planes with surface-to-air missiles. The first, on 3 September 1978, killed 38 out of 56 in the crash, with a further ten survivors (including children) shot dead by ZIPRA cadres, sent to inspect the burnt wreckage. Nkomo later dismissed the massacre as false allegations perpetrated by the Rhodesian media and expressed his regret at the downing of a civilian plane, but defended the act by citing that the Rhodesian government was known to transport military personnel aboard civilian liners. The eight remaining survivors are said to have managed to elude the guerrillas and walked 20 km into Kariba from where the flight had taken off (it was heading for Salisbury, Rhodesia's capital, now renamed Harare). Some of the passengers had serious injuries and they were picked up by local police and debriefed by the Rhodesian army.
The second shooting down, on 12 February 1979, killed all 59 on board. The real target of the second attack was General Peter Walls, head of the COMOPS (Commander, Combined Operations), in charge of the Special Forces, including the SAS and the Selous Scouts. Due to the large number of tourists returning to Salisbury a second flight had been dispatched. General Walls received a boarding card for the second flight, which departed Kariba 15 minutes after the doomed aircraft. No one has been brought to trial or charged with shooting down the aircraft due to amnesty laws passed by both Smith and Mugabe. In a television interview not long after the attack on the first aircraft, Nkomo joked about the incident while admitting ZAPU had indeed been responsible. In his memoirs, Story of My Life, published in 1985, Nkomo later said, "during that interview, the interviewee had asked about what we used to down the planes and I said stones, jokingly in an attempt to avoid answering the question due to military intelligence which demanded secrecy regarding what type of weapons we had acquired from the Soviet Union. They remembered the laugh and not the regret for the shooting down of both aircraft."]
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