Veteran nationalist and distinguished revolutionary, Cde Stephen Jeqe Nyongolo Nkomo was born on October 3, 1926 and died on April 20, 2003.
At the time of his death, he was Matabeleland South Governor and a senior member of the Central Committee and Politburo of the ruling party, Zanu-PF.
He was buried at the Heroes Acre on April 25, 2003. Cde Nkomo was born in Antelope, Matobo District. He received his education at St Joseph’s Mission School in Kezi, Empandeni and Mzingwani Schools.
He was the younger brother of the late Vice President, Umdala Wethu, Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo.
He had a passion for education and had to work for various firms to raise his school fees.
In 1944, he left the country for South Africa. While in Johannesburg, Cde Nkomo joined hands with South African nationalists in the African National Congress in the 1950s to fight apartheid. He teamed up with the likes of Robert Resha, Duma Nokwe and Alfred Nzo who were from the Communist component of the South African National Congress. He was also a founder member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions.
While a member of both the ANC and SACTU, Cde Nkomo was actively involved in the campaign and organisation for the People’s Congress that produced the historic Freedom Charter at Cliptown in 1955, and campaigned against the Bantu Education Bill and other oppressive apartheid laws.
Besides his political involvement in the ANC (SA), Cde Nkomo played a key role in looking after the welfare of Zimbabweans resident in South Africa. For this cause he, together with the late Albert Nxele and others, formed a social and cultural organisation called the Sons of Mzilikazi Society. Even at this early stage of organised liberation activism, Cde Nkomo distinguished himself as a fearless fighter and patriot.
Initially, he was elected chairman of Impi Branch of NDP and subsequently, was elevated to the post of chairman of the party for Bulawayo District.
With the formation of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) in December 1961, Cde Nkomo was elected to the executive committee of the Bulawayo District, then chaired by the late Lazarus Nkala.
In response to the political exigencies of the day and growing militancy within the nationalist ranks, Cde Nkomo was, in 1962, co-opted into Zapu’s underground committee headed by Major Findo Mpofu.
When brought before court to answer to the charge, he denied the allegations, but admitted that the CID had found something in the outside toilet. When the magistrate asked him to confirm that it was indeed a firearm that had been found in the outside toilet, he replied that what was found was “umbankwa”. The magistrate was startled and asked what kind of a firearm an “umbankwa” was, to which Cde Nkomo replied: “It is a lizard”.
Typically, the late Stephen was so brave that he did not hesitate to mock at destiny.
When the Rhodesian regime banned Zapu, Cde Nkomo and his colleagues intensified their underground activities. It was during this period that Comrades Boblock Manyonga, Solomon Mabika, Amon Ndukwana Ncube and Misheck Ntundu Velaphi were arrested for allegedly possessing arms of war. As these brave cadres had been recruited by Cde Nkomo, he knew that it would be a question of time before the Rhodesians came for him.
He escaped into exile in Zambia in 1964. From political activism at home, he ably transformed into a diplomat, representing Zapu in Egypt. As an acknowledgement of his unflagging diplomatic efforts, he was appointed Zapu representative to Algeria, the Maghreb States and the Francophone States in 1967. During his assignment as a diplomat-cum-freedom fighter, Cde Nkomo, who was fluent in French and Arabic, interacted with other African political heavyweights of the era such as Presidents Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Houari Boumedienne of Algeria and Habib Bourghiba of Tunisia.
He was also pivotal in championing Zimbabwe’s cause in regional and international fora such as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union, and the Arab-African People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO). During this period, he helped with the opening of training camps for liberation fighters in Egypt, Algeria, Libya and even Palestine. In the first democratic elections of 1980, Cde Nkomo was elected PF Zapu legislator for Matobo.
He served the constituency for the next 10 years, promoting self-reliance projects to raise the people’s living standards.
As an MP, Cde Nkomo served in various committees where he distinguished himself as an incisive legislator.
At PF Zapu’s National Congress of 1984, he was elected to the Central Committee and appointed Secretary for External Affairs.
Cde Stephen Jeqe Nyongolo Nkomo left an indelible mark as a member of Government. As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1992, and as Governor and Resident Minister of Matabeleland South in 1992 he, together with rural communities in the province, initiated and promoted innumerable projects and saw to the establishment of educational institutions and colleges in Gwanda.
He also fostered close economic links with the sister Northern Province of South Africa with a view to uplifting the lot of the Zimbabwean people. The Trans-Limpopo Frontier Initiative is living testimony to that effort.
Cde Nkomo’s yearning for unity, peace and economic development saw him play an instrumental leadership role during the period leading to the signing of the historic 1987 Unity Accord between ZANU PF and PF-ZAPU. His election as member of the Central Committee and appointment to the Politburo at the united PF ZAPU-ZANU PF Congress in December 1989 (which ratified the historic 1987 Unity Accord) was a fitting tribute to his contribution towards national solidarity.
The recognition saw him assume the office of Secretary for External Relations in the ruling Party.
Cde Nkomo was survived by two daughters, three grandchildren and one great grandchild. — A Guide to the Heroes Acre