From Freedom Mutanda in Chipinge
THE journey for the man regarded as militant by the settler regime began on July 21,1920 in Nyamandlovu in colonial Rhodesia, a product of a Ndau father and a Ndebele mother. His entry into politics as a founding president of ZANU was recognised by the President Mnangagwa, and the whole nation is agog with the inclusivity mantra championed by the Second Republic where Cde James Dambaza Chikerema was equally given the accolade he richly deserved.
A minister of religion and educationist, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole wrote his seminal work, “African Nationalism,’’ in 1958 and that political treatise earned him wide acclaim with the result that he joined the National Democratic Party, Zimbabwe African People’s Union and later became the founding president of the Zimbabwe African National Union.
“He was called Chifambausiku because we would suddenly hear of his presence in our area and we would go to meet him as he spread the gospel of the black man being his own liberator,’’ said Tsukuma Chijokwe, 93, a resident of Mutema village in Chipinge.
In his weekly column for The Sunday Mail, President Mnangagwa, said his Government would bestow hero status to the late politicians namely Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema, men whom many observers felt were the late president Robert Mugabe’s erstwhile enemies. By this proclamation, there was a buzz within and outside political circles with some saying it was long overdue.
Mr Wilson Khumbula, the man who received the baton from Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, had tears in his eyes as he narrated how the family waited for days before they buried him thinking that they would receive a call from the Government which would have made Sithole to be buried at the national shrine.
“At the time of his death, Cde Nathan Shamuyarira visited the Reverend’s Waterfalls home in Harare. He went away and promised that the Politburo would meet to decide his fate. Alas, when he phoned later, we were at Freedom Farm and he told us that the Reverend could not be accorded hero status, I broke down,’’ said Mr Khumbula.
At a time when the whites scared Africans in the wake of the 1896/7 crashing defeat of both the Shona and the Ndebele, Ndabaningi Sithole’s mantra of ‘the white man understands the language of the gun’ proved to be a rallying point for the nationalists as they entered a new phase of resistance in the 1960’s which would culminate in independence in 1980. They say a great leader is defined by how he or she responds to a rival’s death. Some would hammer the point home that the two were nemesis and would remain thus even in death. Others would say let bygones be bygone.
Therefore, some war veterans said they felt proud that the history of the liberation struggle is being given a fresh perspective with the announcement of the conferment of hero status to the two, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema.
“I applaud the President for taking this bold step to accord hero status to the founding president of ZANU. Inclusivity is the hallmark of a great leader. The man was a firebrand politician who wanted to see the emancipation of his people,’’ Alderman Phibeon Machuwaire said.
This is the man who spent 10 years of his life in a prison for daring to lead a movement meant to topple white hegemony. It was during his incarceration that he was removed from power.
“Finally, in 1977 at the Chimoio ZANU congress, Cde Robert Mugabe formally assumed leadership of the party which alongside ZAPU was waging a protracted war against the settler regime.
His fate had been sealed by that time. From there, Reverand Sithole was part of the Internal Settlement which birthed Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. To date, there are conflicting conclusions on whether the Internal Settlement was good or bad with some saying it was betrayal on the part of those who signed the agreement and others saying the settlement created the path for a soft landing for the whites in the negotiating process for a free Zimbabwe.
Sailas Chawira, the Founder of Friends of Ndabaningi Sithole, said he was elated with the pronouncement and said he looked forward to the process of making the late academic and politician to truly take his place among those who fought for the freedom of this country.
“His was a life time of struggle. He never stopped loving his people. Look at the Churu Farm act of mercy for the marginalised people and as Friends of Ndabaningi Sithole, we look forward to the process being led to its fruition,’’ he said.
He went on to say, “I liked President Mnangagwa’s acknowledgement that ‘African Nationalism’ was the Bible that ought to be read by a true patriot. We hope that Freedom Farm will be made a national heritage site. Those who knew Chihambausiku Chakandiwana Magigwana would attest to the fact that he was a hero.’’
His surviving children are Siphikelelo and Sifiso.
Sifiso Sithole said her father engaged in nationalist politics not to be honoured as a hero but it is obvious that he fought a good fight and his militancy led to the formation of ZANU. She said the family is waiting to hear from the powers that be.
Crucially, after the leading nationalists were jailed, Ndabaningi Sithole directed the late ZANU chairman, Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo, to carry out the armed struggle from outside the country culminating in the famed Chinhoyi Battle carried out in 1966.
Joan of Arc was labelled a witch by the French yet she had led French forces against the British but was later canonized to be Saint Joan. Similarly, it was never too late for Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole to be conferred with hero status after his demise in 2000.
Reverend Sithole is buried at Freedom Farm at Chako near Mount Selinda.