In the early years of independence from British rule, then Zapu leader, Joshua Nkomo, was accused of trying to overthrow the government, after an arms cache was allegedly found at one of the properties owned by his party.
The then Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe, deployed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to allegedly deal with the internal disturbances in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions. Nkomo’s life and that of the top Zapu leadership was in danger. Thousands of people died in the internal political strife.
Nkomo fled the country and said that was the darkest hour of his life.
But despite all the persecution and suffering at the hands of Mr. Mugabe, Nkomo returned home from exile in Britain and subsequently signed a Unity Accord with him in 1987.
The unity agreement, which came after several failed attempts to unite the two main liberation movements, is largely credited for the relative peace in the country over the past 24 years.
According to project advisor of the Revolutionary Research Institute of Zimbabwe, Tjenesani Ntungakwa, Nkomo played a key role in the unity talks.
He says the major benefit of the Unity Accord was the removal of armed people in Zimbabwe.
Renowned human rights activist and nephew to Nkomo, Dumisani Nkomo, says while some may question Nkomo’s decision to sign the unity agreement now, the late nationalist had to sign it to stop the slaughter of people by fellow blacks.
The late Zapu leader was furious over accusations that he harbored ambitions of toppling Mr. Mugabe.
For some like former Zanla combatant, Benard Manyadza, the late Father Zimbabwe, was a true nationalist and the signing of the Unity Accord was a clear display of his exemplary and visionary leadership.
“Nkomo left us a legacy of true reconciliation, where people have to be truly reconciled despite their political backgrounds, besides their ethnic and religious backgrounds. He was the only true leader who had the national at heart. All the others were pretenders … This is why they revolted away from him to build their own which by the way is now the vehicle of their looting and corruption."
Political commentator, Takura Zhangazha, adds that Nkomo took the right decision when he signed the unity agreement with his rival, Mr. Mugabe.
He says the immediate benefits were that the atrocities in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces stopped though there are still outstanding issues of human rights violations and bringing people that were responsible to justice.
“Beyond that immediate benefit of stability and the stopping of human rights violations ... There are outstanding issues around atrocities committed during the Gukurahundi because no one is looking at the country holistically. There is still provincialized development, they still neglect some of the southern parts of the country in relation to government resources, and essentially there is no democratization of the state beyond that unity accord."
DID NKOMO SELL OUT
But amid all the praise for Nkomo, there are others who felt that he sold out by going into bed with someone who committed atrocities against his opponents, mostly Ndebele-speaking people.
But Reverend Sikhalo Cele begs to differ. The Unity Accord merged Zanu PF and PF Zapu into one party, Zanu PF led by Mr. Mugabe. Critics of the accord say Mr. Mugabe emerged stronger with the creation of an executive presidency with Nkomo as one of his two deputies.
But whatever people may say about the Unity Accord, Zhangazha believes that even Nkomo and other Zapu leaders, who have passed on, were convinced that the late vice president made the right decision of uniting people and bringing stability in the country.