Zimbabwe marked Unity Day Sunday with President Robert Mugabe unveiling the long-awaited statue in honour of the late vice President Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in Bulawayo.
The President, who blamed the so-called targeted sanctions imposed on him and members of his inner circle and companies connected to them for delaying the completion of the statue and related projects, also commissioned the Bulawayo International Airport and Main Street, which have been renamed after the late Father Zimbabwe.
The activities were part of the country’s 26th Unity Day celebrations.
“The project to honour Joshua Nkomo was meant to be completed in a space of two years but regrettably it took a decade because of the economic problem which the country faced,” said Mr. Mugabe “More so because of western sanctions after we took back our land.”
"As we join the Nkomo family here today, we do so partly in sorrow because we lost out father but also in the joy as finally the nation has fully recognised Father Zimbabwe who sacrificed his life for the good of all of us."
He challenged Zimbabwean youth to follow in the late Nkomo’s footsteps saying the older generation of former freedom fighters had played their part in liberating the country, adding it was now up to the young ones to protect that legacy.
“Boast about your country, its leaders and its historical struggles. Don't be shy even when you go to Britain where they don't like your leader,” he told thousands gathered at one of the ceremonies to honour the late vice president.
President Mugabe also urged the youth to listen to the late Nkomo’s speeches and learn about nationalism and the struggle that he said was fought on their behalf, adding the statue will stand as a reminder of all the sacrifices he made for his country.
He said the three-part ceremony Sunday was meant to serve 'as a reminder now and in the future of the great work done by those who have gone. We now own our resources, every part of it because people like Mdala Nkomo fought'.
Mr. Mugabe, who most of the time dwelt on anecdotes from his past, said the land issue was the driving force behind the country’s liberation struggle.
“The completion of the J.M Nkomo International airport is one of our quick wins under the ZimAsset blue print,” he said to applause from some at the commissioning ceremony.
Speaking at the same ceremony, Transport Minister Obert Mpofu said the late Nkomo deserves the honour of having the airport named after him. The challenge, he said, is now for the tourism and transport sectors to put it to good use.
Minister Mpofu at one stage deviated from his speech to literally sing praises to President Robert Mugabe, calling him a servant leader and selfless unifier.
The new airport has been upgraded to handle 1.5 million passengers annually up from 500.000. Construction on the site began in 2002. The new airport opened its doors to passengers on November 30.
Bulawayo resident Michael Hlongwane, speaking at the site of Mr Nkomo’s statue on what used to be Main Street, expressed relief that the late Father Zimbabwe has finally been honoured after years of promises.
The late vice president died on July 1st in 1999. His party PF Zapu and Zanu PF signed a unity accord on December 22 in 1987 to end disturbances which had left thousands of people in Matabeleland and part of the Midlands, dead.
Sunday’s celebrations were attended by government officials, Zanu PF politburo and central committee members and members of the public. Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa was also present as was Bulawayo Mayor Martin Moyo of the MDC-T, former Water Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, MDC spokesman Nhlanhla Dube and others.