Cde Johanna Nkomo, popularly known as Mama MaFuyana, wife of the late Vice President Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo, was born on September 18, 1927 and died on June 3, 2003, after complaining of severe stomach pain. She was aged 76. She was buried at the National Heroes Acre on June 7, 2003.
Mama MaFuyana was born to Paul Silwalume Fuyana and Maria Sithunzesibi Mbambo in Mbembeswane (eMaphandeni) in the Matobo District, and was the second of three children.
Born within Nguni royalty, MaFuyana’s upbringing was richly grounded in African culture and values, both of which prepared her for her future role as wife to a leading founder and maker of our nation, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo.
Even then, her firm grounding in African culture did not stop her from embracing Christianity and Western education.
She attended St Joseph’s Primary School and Emphandeni before proceeding to work for the Dominican Sisters’ Convent in Bulawayo as a girls hostel matron for two years.
It was at the Convent that an encounter that was to change her life took place: “One morning (1949) at the Dominican Sisters’ Convent when someone came to call me, I was introduced to a handsome young man in his early thirties.
“When I met Joshua, he pleaded with me to marry him. At first I didn’t take his proposal seriously. I thought he wanted to fool around with me since my sister was married to his father and I was from another clan.”
After initial difficulties, the two tied the knot on October 1, 1949, and moved to start a new home at the Railway Compound, close to the present-day Bulawayo Railway Station.
Sadly, the young couple lost their first child, Themba, who died in infancy in 1951. The second child, Thandiwe Barbara, arrived on June 1, 1954, to be followed by Ernest Thuthani (now late) on November 11, 1955. Three years later on September 29, 1958, came Michael Sibangilizwe. The family’s last born, Lousie Sehlule, arrived on August 24, 1964.
Behind the illustrious revolutionary commitment and leadership of the late Vice President Nkomo was this steadfast granddaughter of Mdilizelwa who scoffed at risks and made enormous sacrifices which have hitherto remained untold.
With the husband’s life oscillating between long spells of detention and onerous and risky missions of the struggle, the burden of raising the family was hers.
Single-handedly, she fended for the family, ensuring that all the children secured a decent upbringing and education. Her strength and resourcefulness as a mother released her husband from family chores, giving him the precious time to focus on leading and prosecuting the struggle for Independence.
Because she was, in fact, married to the struggle, her motherly love was national, as it went beyond her immediate family to embrace many young cadres to and from various guerrilla training camps, refugee centres and educational institutions earning her the appellation “Mother of the Nation”.
In a society as disfigured and as paranoid as white-ruled settler colonial Southern Rhodesia, even mothers were regarded as threats to white domination.
Mama MaFuyana’s matrimonial association with a figure who nagged the colonial authorities made her a prime target of successive colonial regimes.
But the aggressive nationalist that lay beneath her quiet dignity was quick to show and express itself in defence of her family and the African cause. Hardly a week after giving birth to Sehlule, Mama MaFuyana was raided at her Pelandaba home by a unit of the Southern Rhodesia Special Branch. In self-defence and much to the astonishment of the unsuspecting intruding colonial agents, she hurled a can of lactogen meant for little Sehlule at them. For that, she earned herself detention at Western Commonage. All the same, a point had been made emphatically.
This was not to be the last of such confrontations. In March 1977, Ian Smith’s rabid and racist regime hatched a sinister plan to kidnap the 13-year old Sehlule, as a way of avenging the death of one Father Possenti whose death at Regina Mundi in Gwaai, the regime blamed on freedom fighters.
Describing her travail at the hands of successive racist regimes, Cde Mugabe noted: “She came under enormous pressure from the occupying racist colonial Rhodesian regime. But she would not crack; she would not betray the cause of her husband which was the cause of her people.”
Sensing that her family was in danger, she was left with no option but to leave the country for her safety and that of her children. She briefly stayed in England the same year before proceeding to the then German Democratic Republic, itself socialist and strong supporter of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence.
The post-independence conflict between the two sister liberation movements never diminished her vision of, and commitment to working for a united and peaceful Zimbabwe.
Characteristically, she would chide men for exaggerating their differences, thus threatening the peace for children who were her first love. Up to her death, she worked for unity of all Zimbabweans, indeed for the welfare of the underprivileged children through the Child Survival and Development Foundation.
It is such given-ness to the poor and the underprivileged, her steadfast commitment to the cause of the Zimbabwean people, which make her departure a sad loss to all.
- Source: A Guide To The Heroes Acre