Home » Governance » Umdala Wethu’s Triumphant, Uniting Entry [opinion]

Following the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979, the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo came back to Zimbabwe to the reception of thousands of his countrymen and he immediately set out to unite the nation: black and white and former military foes. He was up to the task, and this excerpt from his autobiography, Story of My life, shows the typical statesman in Umdala Wethu . . .

“I HAD flown in often to Salisbury airport, sometimes in danger, sometimes in triumph. I had been greeted there by all sorts of receptions, from throngs of thousands to teams from the police Special Branch. This time was unlike all the others. After almost a century the signatures on that agreement at Lancaster House had brought in a constitution which, if operated in good faith, would protect the liberty of all the people — of the snakes and the lions of Zimbabwe, even the frogs, everything that moves in that country.

“The season of Christmas and the New Year, the height of the summer rains, had since my childhood been the time for celebrations and for friendship. There was never such a celebration in people’s hearts as now, and I was thankful to have played my part in bringing it about. The British were in charge of security for the transitional period of the elections, and they were playing it safe. At the airport itself the crowd was strictly limited. In the airport building I saw the tense faces of the immigration men, the customs officials and the police, who had turned out not to examine our bags and our passports, but to stare nervously at this unknown figure whom they had been taught to hate for so long, and who now might be preparing a terrible revenge. At my press conference they lined up at the back of the room, powerless and fearful of what I might say.

“I spoke of reconciliation, of the war that was over, of the need to forget the past and start to build a nation in peace, where the people would not be divided by artificial barriers. I warned against the spirit of revenge: we were all citizens now, and must work together.

“I could see the relief on the faces of those white officials, and when the press conference was over the fear had dropped away from them. That was the start I had wanted. The meeting with the people was planned for Highfields, near my home — not in the stadium, which was far too small, but on a vast patch of open ground beside it.

“The British military helicopter lifted off and swung round in a wide arc out of the city limits, and back into Highfields from the wrong direction. I realised that they were not leaving my safety to chance: anyone waiting along the predictable route would not have seen us pass over, or been able to take a shot if he had planned one.

“Then I was down in from of the crowd, a mass of Zimbabwean humanity united in the confidence that at last freedom was on its way. I spoke to them as I had so often spoken, but now with a message not of hope but of achievement, of thanks to the neighbouring countries who had made our struggle possible, of the need to forget hatred and start afresh. I felt that the people were speaking with my voice: there was no difference between us: we were one.

“The official estimate of the crowd that greeted me was over 150 000 people. When Robert Mugabe returned to the same airport two weeks later he was greeted by a similar gathering.

“I have no doubt that many of the same people turned out to see both of us come back: that was the mood of unity in the nation at the time. Of course the work that followed was hard.

“The cease-fire arrangements contained obvious dangers and difficulties for our soldiers, and for our clandestine party workers, who had to come out of their secrecy and expose themselves to public view. Our people were fearful of treachery, of sudden air-strikes on the assembly points by the beaten defenders of the Smith-Muzorewa regime, even of an attack with South African backing on our people who were now out in the open. The discussions in our Zapu central committee were heated — who could we trust, how should we proceed? Some of our units were too well hidden in the bush to be rapidly informed that the fighting was over, and radio messages might be taken by them as decoys set by the enemy.

“For their own sake and for the peace of the country we had to find them and convince them that they were no longer hunted men. As we located our people and gave them their new orders it was remarkable how they accepted discipline, took up their posts as soldiers in an organised army and rejoiced that peace was coming.”

Source : The Herald