THOUSANDS of people from Matabeleland yesterday braved the heavy rains to pay their last respects to Vice President Landa John Nkomo whose body viewing had to be moved from White City Stadium to the Large City Hall because of the rains. In Tsholotsho, the VP's rural home, a sombre atmosphere engulfed the area as hundreds of mourners from across the district thronged Landa J High School to bid farewell to the veteran politician.
Cde Nkomo succumbed to cancer at St Anne's Hospital last Thursday.
People, including politicians from across the political divide, thronged his home in Worringham along Bulawayo- Beitbridge Road as early as 9am to bid him farewell.
These included Matabeleland South Governor Angeline Masuku and her acting provincial administrator Mr Mildard Khumalo, Zanu-PF Politburo members Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and Cde Molly Mpofu, Senate deputy president Cde Naison Kutshwekhaya Ndlovu, the party's secretary for Youth Cde Absolom Sikhosana, Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, prominent Bulawayo businessman Mr Raj Modi and Zanu-PF youths.
The church service and body viewing that was supposed to have been held at 10am was done at midday because the body arrived late from Tsholotsho due to bad weather.
Addressing mourners at Cde Nkomo's Worringham home, Zanu-PF national chairman Cde Simon Khaya Moyo said not only the people of Tsholotsho had lost a torch bearer, but the country at large.
"We left his mother Gogo MaDube in Tsholotsho and our hearts are broken because the light, which was not only for Tsholotsho but for the whole of Zimbabwe has been put out.
"When the sad incident occurred, His Excellency, the President said his left hand is no longer there because his vice had passed on."
Cde Moyo said President Mugabe tasked Politburo members to accompany Cde Nkomo's body to his rural home in Tsholotsho before burial at the National Heroes Acre today.
"He chose comrades (Didymus) Mutasa, (Emmerson) Mnangagwa, (Sydney) Sekeramayi, (Rugare) Gumbo, (Kembo) Mohadi, (Oppah) Muchinguri and (Absolom) Sikhosana. He sent us to accompany his vice to Tsholotsho.
"We got there yesterday and were welcomed so gratefully. We presented his body to Gogo MaDube and all the other relatives," Cde Moyo said.
Water Resources Management and Development Minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, a brother to the deceased, thanked President Mugabe for the honour he bestowed upon his brother.
"Thank you President for the honour bestowed on my brother. My colleagues in Cabinet thank you for the greatest honour in the land bestowed on my brother.
"He has rested, we were observing in the last days that he was unwell. We thank God for letting him sleep.
"No one can dodge death. It is something that God has designed," said Minister Nkomo.
He said his brother was nicknamed "Bomber" because he did not tolerate nonsense.
"Those who grew up with him did not become fools because he did not tolerate nonsense that is why his nickname was Bomber," he said.
From Worringham, the funeral procession proceeded to Large City Hall where thousands of residents, including party members and youths chanted slogans and revolutionary songs.
The body arrived at the hall at about 3pm.
Bulawayo Metropolitan provincial Governor Cain Mathema said: "Bulawayo is mourning together with the Nkomo family, but we also take this opportunity to look back and cherish his political career, where he was ill-treated by colonialists and struggled to liberate the people of Zimbabwe.
"We promise him that whatever he left behind will forever be appreciated and his legacy will live forever."
Cde Khaya Moyo said; "This wonderful man, our dear departed VP and second Zanu-PF secretary was a teacher by profession, a trade unionist by circumstance and a politician by design. He was a great father who should be emulated by all.
"His Excellency, President Mugabe sent us to accompany this great man, and his family has allowed us to bury him at the National Heroes Acre in Harare. He will be buried tomorrow where President Mugabe will speak."
He said VP Nkomo was a unifier, which is why people from all walks of life had gathered to bid him farewell, regardless of their political affiliations.
"People from all walks of life are gathered here today because VP Nkomo was a unifier, a reconciler and a man of vision.
"It is therefore important for the nation to uphold his values and follow his footsteps, if we are to have a better nation," he said.
Minister Sipepa Nkomo thanked the nation for supporting the family during this time of grief and sorrow.
"As the Nkomo family we have agreed that VP Nkomo be buried at the national shrine and we want to thank the people of Zimbabwe for supporting us during this difficult time.
"VP Nkomo was my brother and it is sad that we have lost a unifier, who never cared where people belonged, but wanted to see development in the country. We never discussed politics at home and we respected each others' choices. We will dearly miss him," he said.
In Tsholotsho villagers braced the incessant rains that pounded the district in the early hours of the day to pay their last respects to their son, a brother and a father.
The VP Nkomo's body arrived at his rural home in Manqe area aboard an Airforce of Zimbabwe plane on Saturday and lay in state until yesterday morning.
An emotional funeral service for the late National Hero was held at 7am at his home, about 10km west of Tsholotsho Business Centre, before his body was taken to Landa John High where a body viewing was done.
It was a heart rending moment when VP Nkomo's mother, Gogo MaDube (110), feebly struggled to bid farewell to her son.
She could not travel to Harare to witness the burial of her son because of old age.
Speaker after speaker described the late VP as a selfless man who always sought to unite people and foster development.
The mourners said Tsholotsho district, the region and the nation at large, would never be the same without him.
Pupils from Landa J High could not hold back their tears as they mourned the passing away of their hero who built a school for them.
Senator Chief Gampu gave an emotional speech where he paid tribute to the late National Hero saying the district was poorer without him.
He urged the villagers to guard jealously the legacy that VP Nkomo left and implored President Mugabe to ensure that development projects that the late VP initiated were not abandoned.
"Silahlekelwe njengeZhwane. He was a national leader, but his death is a great loss for Tsholotsho. Ubebutha wonke umuntu (He was a unifier) whose legacy must survive beyond his death.
"The projects he left must not die. Children are crying because they think his school will now die. President Mugabe should ensure all the projects started by VP Nkomo are completed," said Chief Gampu.
VP Nkomo's body, which was meant to be in Bulawayo at 10am, was airlifted from Tsholotsho stadium at around 12pm as the helicopters could not fly to the district because of the bad weather.
A decision was finally made to transport his body by road.
However, when the funeral cortege reached Tsholotsho Business Centre, the helicopters arrived and the pall bears from the Zimbabwe National Amy (ZNA) quickly transferred the casket into the helicopter.
As the helicopters took off, hundreds of villagers and residents from Tsholotsho urban who had swarmed the stadium, cheered and whistled and could be seen waving in unison to bid VP Nkomo farewell.
Cde Khaya Moyo who was accompanied by senior Government officials and Cabinet Ministers led the proceedings and escorted VP Nkomo's body to Bulawayo.
Also present were close family members who included his son, Jabulani.
Cde Nkomo's body returned to Harare last evening ahead of the burial scheduled