Dr Nkomo: From humble beginnings to a national leader

01 Jul, 2022 - 00:07 0 Views
Dr Nkomo: From humble beginnings to a national leader The late Dr Joshua Nkomo

The Chronicle

THE late Vice-President, Dr Joshua Nkomo was born on 19 June 1917 in the then Semukwe Reserve in Matabeleland South province.

He was born into a family of eight. His father, Thomas Nyongolo Letswana Nkomo, was a community leader and preacher for the London Missionary Society.

After completing his primary school education, the late Vice-President took a carpentry course at the Tsholotsho Government Industrial School. He studied there for a year and later became a driver.

Shortly after that, he worked as a teacher, specialising in carpentry at a school in Kezi.

Fort Hare University

In 1942, he left the country to further his education in South Africa where he attended Adams College and Jan Hofmeyer School of Social Work.

It was while studying in South Africa that Dr Nkomo met the icon of South Africa’s liberation struggle, Nelson Mandela and other nationalists of African liberation, most of whom were studying at Fort Hare University.  The contact he had with fellow nationalists provided the foundation for his future political career.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Work.

After returning to Bulawayo in 1948 armed with his degree, he got a job at the Rhodesia Railways (now National Railways of Zimbabwe) as a social worker, becoming the first African to be appointed to the position that was regarded as prestigious for blacks then. He then studied for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and Sociology with the University of South Africa (Unisa).


As a trade unionist, Dr Nkomo was a leading figure in the 1948 general strike by blacks, which grounded commerce and industry in the country.

He married his wife, Johanna Fuyana on October 1, 1949.

Three years later, he became leader of the African National Congress of Rhodesia.  But the minority white regime of the day banned ANC. The banning of the party did not extinguish his nationalism and that of his peers as in 1960, at the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP); he was elected its president.

Like its predecessor, the NDP was banned.

In 1962, Dr Nkomo and other political figures formed the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu).  Again Zapu was banned on September 20, 1962.

Frustrated with the suppression of political expression in the country, Dr Nkomo decided to form a government in exile.  However, the move did not go down well with his fellow comrades.

Johanna Fuyana-Nkomo

Zapu split in 1963 and Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) was formed.

On 16 April 1964, Dr Nkomo was arrested, detained and spent the next 10 years at the notorious Gonakudzingwa Detention Camp, in the inhospitable south-eastern Lowveld.

On his release in 1974, Dr Nkomo left the country to lead the armed liberation war, using Zambia as the base of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, which he led as its commander-in-chief.

Zipra and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) defeated the Rhodesian army of Ian Smith, forcing the recalcitrant minority leader to the negotiating table.

This led to a series of talks at Malta, Geneva and Lancaster and the attainment of Independence on 18 April 1980. Prior to Independence, Dr Nkomo had led his party, Zapu to the country’s first democratic election, and came second after Zanu.

He became the country’s first Minister of Home Affairs.

On December 22, 1987, he and his former comrade, the then Prime Minister, Cde Robert Mugabe signed the Unity Accord that ended civil disturbances in Matabeleland and parts of Midlands. Dr Nkomo took up the post of Vice-President of the country while Cde Mugabe became President.

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