Dr John Nkomo: A life dedicated to justice, liberation of Zimbabwe Late Vice President Dr Landa Nkomo

VETERAN nationalist and Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr John Landa Nkomo passed away in the early hours of Thursday, 17 January 2013, at St Anne’s Hospital in Harare, following a long battle with cancer. 

He was 79.

Dr Nkomo was born in the then Gwayi Reserve (present day Tsholotsho) District of Matabeleland North Province, on 22 August 1934. He was the third born and eldest son of Lufele and Macichi (maDube) Nkomo in a family of four girls (Edna, Esther, Jester and Constance) and five boys (Philip, Samuel, Jacob and Caleb). Tradition says that Mbowane, the late Cde Nkomo’s great grandfather, was honoured as the custodian of some of the children of the legendary King Mzilikazi. 

The late VP Mr Simon Muzenda

Cde Nkomo attended Manqe Primary School where he did his Standard One and Two, St Nanian’s Primary School for Standard Three and Four and then Solusi Mission School for Standard Five and Six .

In 1953, he moved to Bulawayo, where he did private studies for the Junior Certificate in Education, which he attained in 1955 while working as a stores assistant at a clothing factory. He then trained as a teacher in Lower Gweru, qualifying in 1958, the same year he started his political career by joining the African National Congress (ANC). 

Enrolling for a Certificate in Teacher Education in Lower Gweru put him in good stead to appreciate the inequities embedded in colonial Southern Rhodesia’s socio-economic milieu. As a young boy, he had noticed the socio-economic challenges faced by his people as a result of racial segregation. He observed how many native Africans fought for the Queen during the Second World War, but soon to be abused at the end of the war, despite their sacrifices. 

Young Landa Nkomo witnessed how the Rhodesian regime mercilessly evicted the Nyamandlovu community from their fertile land, creating a new settlement for them in Tsholotsho, which was dry, arid and infested with umkhawuzane, a highly poisonous shrub to both humans and animals. 

The relocation to Tsholotsho resulted in the suffering of many people and loss of livestock, with Lufele, Landa Nkomo’s father having to borrow some survival skills from the adaptive local San community, to manage the situation.

The late VP John Nkomo

 In 1961, the young Landa Nkomo got married to Georgina Ngwenya and the couple was blessed with six children, Jabulani, Mzamo, Samkeliso, Sikhumbuzo (deceased), Zamile and Thabo (deceased).

His disaffection with the Rhodesian oppressive system spurred him into organised politics and resistance, including civic and trade union activism at local, national and international levels, early in his working career. His political consciousness made his stay as a young newly qualified teacher at Tshitatshawa School in Tsholotsho short-lived, as he got into conflict with the missionaries. 

He then moved to teach at Nkulumane Government Primary School in Mpopoma Bulawayo, where he joined the African Teacher’s Association. 

His zeal for equality and civil justice saw him become one of the founder members and first secretary of the radical Bulawayo Residents Association (Bura,  in 1963. Cde Nkomo also played a pivotal role in the Clothing and Garments Workers Union. Thus, he began his political career, starting at the bottom rung of the political ladder and rising through the ranks to the upper echelons of the liberation movement. 

Dr Nkomo never sought easy options or self-aggrandisement but, through commitment to the liberation struggle and persons sacrifice, he became one of the leading torch-bearers in the fight for Zimbabwe’s freedom and independence from colonial Britain. 

For this revolutionary zeal, he had to pay a price: imprisonment, detention and restriction in various penal institutions, such as the notorious Gonakudzingwa Detention Camp. Without being deterred, while in detention, Cde Landa Nkomo studied for the Ordinary and Advanced Levels of the General Certificate of Education.

Cde Nkomo was a founding member of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (1958 and 1959). Following its banning in 1959, he remained very active in the youth wings of successor political parties — the National Democratic Party (NDP), which pre-dated the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and the People’s Caretaker Council (PCC). 


In 1965, he was sent to Khami Prison for two weeks, after being involved in a dispute with the Native Commissioner for Tsholotsho. The following year, he was arrested again for political activism and was held in various prisons for a whole month before being sent to Gonakudzingwa, where he was detained for two and a half years.

In 1971, he joined the newly launched African National Council,  where he was appointed Secretary for Education before becoming Deputy Secretary-General in 1973. The veteran nationalist was also involved in the formation of the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe in 1976, which incorporated the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and its military wing Zpra: the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), and its military wing Zanla and became a member of Zapu’s Central Committee and that of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Council. 

Cde Nkomo served as Zapu’s Secretary for Administration at the Party’s headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, from 1975 to Independence in 1980 and continued in that post up to 1985. At the height of the liberation struggle in 1977, Cde Nkomo survived a parcel bomb, which claimed the life of Cde Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Zapu’s Second Vice President and sustained injuries that were to affect his health the rest of his life. 

On the diplomatic front, he actively participated as a member of PF Zapu’s delegation, led by the late Vice President, Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo to the Geneva Conference in 1976, and the Malta Conference in 1977. With his contemporaries, the late Landa Nkomo championed and articulated the intricacies of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle at various diplomatic forums such as the United Nations Committee of Twenty-Four (24), the UN’s De-colonisation Sub-Committee, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Non-Aligned Movement and the Frontline States. He mastered the art of diplomacy, which he deployed skilfully throughout his political career to resolve political stand-offs.

With the advent of Independence in 1980, Cde Landa Nkomo turned his attention to nation building and development. He was elected to the First Parliament of Zimbabwe in 1980 and served Government in various Ministerial portfolios. From 1981 to 1982, he served as Deputy Minister of Industry and Energy, followed by a stint in the Prime Minister’s Office as Minister of State from 1982 to 1984.

As part of his unique contribution to nation-building and national unity in the post-independence era, Dr Nkomo was in the PF Zapu delegation appointed by its then President, Dr Joshua Nkomo, to the unity negotiations with Zanu-PF. The delegation was led by the late Vice President Dr Joseph Msika, who was then PF Zapu’s Vice President. Cde Landa Nkomo distinguished himself in the negotiations as the voice of reason that was instrumental in striking the deal between the two liberation parties that culminated in the Unity Accord of 22 December 1987 and the formation of the new Zanu-PF. 

He was selected to serve in the Central Committee and Politburo of Zanu-PF from 1988 to 1999. In December 1999, Cde Landa John Nkomo was elected Zanu-PF National Chairman for a five-year term, at the end of which he was re-elected by the Fourth National People’s Congress of December 2004, to serve yet another five-year term. 

During his tenure as National Chairman, Cde Nkomo played a pivotal role in shaping the ruling party into the effective machinery to ably defend Zimbabwe’s hard-won independence and sovereignty during the crucial phase of the Third Chimurenga. As National Chairman, he instilled a sense of discipline in the conduct of Zanu- PF affairs as provided for in Article 10 of the party’s constitution.

From 1988 to 1995, he served as Minister of Labour, Manpower Planning and Social Welfare, where he worked diligently and successfully for the fostering of harmonious tripartite relations embracing employers, employees and Government. The crowning moment of his tenure was the introduction of the country’s National Social Security Scheme under the auspices of the National Social Security Authority (NSSA). It was during this time that Cde Nkomo spearheaded the founding of the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association and the Zimbabwe Political Ex-Detainees and Restrictees Association (Zipedra).

In 1993, Cde Nkomo was elected to the Presidency of the 80th Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC), which served as the tripartite international parliament on labour issues involving member states of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In 1994, he was also elected Chairman of the ILO’S executive organ, the Governing Body, which made decisions on ILO policy; deciding the agenda of the ILC, adopting the draft work programme and budget for submission to the ILC, as well as electing the Director General of the ILO. 

As chairman of the ILO’s executive organ, Dr Landa successfully superintended the activities of the following committees: Committee on Freedom of Association, Committee on Finance and Administration, Committee on Legal Issues and International Labour Standards, Committee on Employment and Social Policy, Committee on Sectoral and Technical meetings and related issues, Committee on Technical Cooperation Working Party on the Social Dimensions of Globalisation and the Sub Committee on Multi-National Enterprises. A man of honour, integrity and great humility, Dr Nkomo further spearheaded the ILO’s contribution to the preparatory work for the World Social Summit, which was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1995.

Between 1995 and 1997, Cde Nkomo served as the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development. He continued to lead the same Ministry, which had been restructured to that of Local Government and National Housing until 1999. 

The late Dr Joshua Nkomo, RG Mugabe and Muzenda

In that capacity, he was instrumental in the introduction of both the Rural District Councils Act and the Urban Councils Act, a task which entailed the widening of democratic space through the de-centralisation of local governance structures. 

The introduction of executive mayorship in the country to manage urban centres, marked a new and effective approach to local governance. This innovative reform process brought people closer to their local governance leadership, as they were now responsible for their election thus, eliminating the alienation and mystification of local governance structures reminiscent of the old colonial order. 

In recognition of the importance of traditional leaders, as Local Government Minister, Cde Landa Nkomo spearheaded the enactment of the Traditional Leaders Act,  which resulted in the active participation of chiefs and other traditional leaders in civic matters.

From 2000 to 2002, Dr Landa Nkomo served as Minister of Home Affairs. From 2002 to 2005, he was Minister of Special Affairs in the Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for Lands, Land and Resettlement from 2003 up to April 2005 when he was elected Speaker of Parliament, a post he held until 2008. Following the harmonised elections of March 2008, he was appointed non-constituency Senator in August 2008 and in February 2009, he was appointed Minister of State in the Office of the President and Cabinet responsible for the Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration. 

Following the death of Vice President Dr Msika in August 2009, Cde Landa Nkomo was elected to become the Second Secretary and Vice President of Zanu-PF at the Party’s Fifth National People’s Congress. He was thereafter sworn into office as the Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe in December 2009 and continued to chair the Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration.

Among other assignments, Dr Landa Nkomo chaired the Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ), which was founded by the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo, as a vehicle for economically empowering the majority of Zimbabwean citizens. He also chaired the Zimbabwe Health Care Trust, which was established to oversee the operations of Ekusileni Medical Centre (EMC) in Bulawayo. He was a founder member and patron of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust. 

In his quest to empower the rural child, he single-handedly sponsored the construction of the Landa John Nkomo Secondary School in Manqe, Tsholotsho, which was officially opened in July 2012. Speaking at the official opening of the school, the late former President RG Mugabe applauded Dr Nkomo for establishing the school, the first of its kind in the remote district of Tsholotsho. President Mugabe said that Cde Nkomo’s desire for establishing a state-of-the-art rural secondary school was inspired by the goals of the liberation struggle and a desire to uplift the livelihoods of the people.

In recognition of his sterling commitment and contribution to the development of Zimbabwe, Solusi University awarded Cde Nkomo an Honourary Doctorate Degree in Business Administration and Development in 2007.

In his condolence message, President Mugabe described Cde Nkomo as a real revolutionary fighter for freedom, a friend of the people and lover of children who would be sorely missed by the nation.

λ Taken from “A Guide to Heroes Acre”


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