New Zimbabwe (London)

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Honours Man He 'Tried to Kill'

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Sunday lavished effusive praise on the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, a man who fled the country in 1983, accusing the Zanu PF leader of trying to assassinate him.

Mugabe was in Bulawayo commissioning the refurbished local airport which was named after the late vice president, a statue in his honour and a local road which also renamed after the PF Zanu PF leader.

The events were organised to coincide with the anniversary of the 1987 unity accord between Mugabe's Zanu PF party and Nkomo's PF Zapu which ended a bitter rivalry that saw an estimated 20,000 civilians killed in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions.

Mugabe said Nkomo was a humble man, adding this was typified by his decision to decline overtures to take over as president in 1980.

"That was the humility of the man we celebrate today," said Mugabe, not pointing out that the position was ceremonial and, therefore, largely ineffectual.

The post was then assumed by Canaan Banana with Mugabe retaining executive authority as Prime Minister until 1987 when the premiership was abandoned and he became executive president.

Mugabe and Nkomo came together to establish the Patriotic Front in the later years of the liberation struggle and worked together in the Lancaster House negotiations that led to the independence elections in 1980.

But there would be a spectacular falling out between the leaders after independence as a crack army unit was deployed in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions to put down what Mugabe described as a dissident menace.

Mugabe struck, accusing Nkomo of plotting a coup, after a cache of arms was discovered at a property associated with Zapu in February 1982.

Explaining his actions, the then Prime Minister would later say: "Zapu and its leader, Dr Joshua Nkomo, were like a cobra in a house; the only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head".

Nkomo fled the country to the United Kingdom in 1983 saying soldiers had been sent to assassinate him. He also claimed that the North Korean-trained "Gukurahundi" troops had killed his chauffeur and ransacked his home.

Addressing the Zapu's first post-independence congress a year later, Nkomo was critical of Mugabe's rule saying: "In less than five years, the promise of independence has turned into a reality of suspicion, terror and failure."

The clashes would however end in 1987 with the Unity Accord which saw Nkomo named as one of the country's vice presidents along with Simon Muzenda.

Mugabe made no reference to this sensitive aspect of the country's chequered history Sunday as he described the statue and the renamed street as fitting tributes to a man who represented the "aspirations of Zimbabweans".

"The statue and the renamed street allow us to continuously reflect on where we stand as a nation, also to introspect on what we are doing, as a people, vis-à-vis what Dr Joshua Nkomo stood for," he said.

"It is my expectation that we all view the two events as sources of inspiration, courage, unity of purpose and a national reference point for Zimbabweans for present and future generations.

"Both the statue and the renamed street commemorate, and are a tribute to Dr Nkomo, for his leadership, his dedication and his ability to understand and translate the aspirations of Zimbabweans.

"During his life, he pursued many national roles, before and after independence. The statue and the renamed street reconnect us with Umdala Wethu. They are a collective reminder that this country was not given on a silver platter."

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