Heighten Nkomo turned ‘little girls’ into fearless soldiers The late Highten Nkomo

Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter

FEMALE ex-freedom fighters have showered praises on late National Hero, Cde Heighten Nkomo, describing him as a true revolutionary who transformed ‘little girls’ into fearless soldiers with skills that go beyond the battlefield.

The veteran struggle stalwart, commonly known as Billy Mzamo, was the first commander of the Mkushi Women’s Camp in Zambia and died two weeks ago aged 70 at his rural home in Bengo, Gwanda, Matabeleland South.

He will be buried today at the National Heroes Acre in Harare.

Mkushi Women’s Camp was the first ZIPRA training camp for women. Cde Nkomo belongs to an elite group of commanders who trained some of the high-profile figures including Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Valerio Sibanda and Zanu-PF Vice President Cde Kembo Mohadi, among others.

He also trained the first woman in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) to lead a military formation, Colonel Ossie Oli Mhandu, who is Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) Bulawayo district commander.

Cde Nkomo was responsible for politically-orienting pupils from Manama High School who had abandoned school to join the liberation struggle.

Women freedom fighters have commended President Mnangagwa for declaring Cde Nkomo a National Hero, saying the status is befitting given his contribution to the liberation struggle.

One of the female freedom fighters Mrs Cecilia Bhebhe described Cde Nkomo as a firm commander who imparted life skills to girls on joining the liberation struggle.

She said while there were many male commanders, Cde Nkomo was selected because he understood women better.

“The reason why he understood us is that he also joined the liberation struggle when he was still a young boy, maybe he was 16. When I analysed his character later in life, I realised he understood what it meant for children to be part of the armed struggle,” she said. 

Cde Bhebhe said Cde Nkomo was responsible for political orientation and also military training.

“I want to commend President Mnangagwa for declaring Cde Nkomo a national hero because he deserves it,” she said.

Mrs Bhebhe said Cde Nkomo imparted life skills that enabled them to be successful even post-independence.

She said some of the women became engineers, doctors and marketers hence the recognition.

Mrs Bhebhe said more women could have died when the Smith regime bombed Mkushi Training Camp but many of them survived as they followed Cde Nkomo’s instructions.

Another ex-combatant Mrs Moratiwa Valentine Gazi, whose guerrilla name was Abigirl Mabetha said Cde Nkomo was an honest man who treated them like his children.

“He taught us to survive anywhere in the world. He taught us life skills and we can survive anywhere in the world. He had a commanding voice,” she said. 

Cde Gazi said Cde Nkomo was a principled man who could not be swayed by anything. 

“He taught us that we were going to experience hardships and made us focus on our future,” she said.

Cde Gazi said while she appreciates the Government’s decision to declare Cde Nkomo a national hero, it was important to honour heroes while they are still alive.

“Cde Mzamo was struggling, I wish more can be done to honour some of these people when they are still alive,” said Mrs Gazi.

Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Deputy Minister, Cde Ruth Maboyi, said Cde Nkomo made young girls understand why the freedom fighters took arms to liberate their country.

Deputy Minister Ruth Maboyi

She said most of them had joined the struggle without appreciating how oppressive the Smith regime was.

“So, as our trainer and camp commander he made us understand why the liberation struggle was necessary. We were short-sighted then. We didn’t have a political understanding of the liberation struggle, how our parents were being oppressed and why we had to liberate the country,” she said.

Cde Maboyi said they knew Cde Nkomo as Billy Mzamo, a quiet man they feared but he was a father figure.

She said through the training from Cde Nkomo, some of them were able to escape when Mkushi Training Camp was bombed by the Rhodesian Forces.

She said as female ex-freedom fighters they wanted to visit him while he was still alive and honour him but it was not to be. 

Cde Nkomo is one of the pioneer liberation fighters after he joined the armed struggle in late 1960s from Zambia where his family had been deported to.

He was one of the early Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) cadres that included the likes of the late Major General (Rtd) Jevan Maseko, Brigadier General (Rtd) Abel Mazinyane, the late Colonel (Rtd) Masala Sibanda and others who trained at Morogoro in Tanzania between 1969 and 1970.

Cde Nkomo later trained as a military engineer in the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In 1976, he was sent to Mgagao as a Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) instructor where ZPRA and Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) cadres jointly trained and worked with the likes of national heroes, Chief Air Marshal (Rtd) Perrance Shiri, Lieutenant General (Rtd) Amoth Chin’ombe and Cde Gagisa Nleya.

Cde Nkomo is survived by a wife, three children and a grandson. Mourners are gathered at his homestead in Bengo. – @nqotshili

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