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Sunday, July 1, 2007

How Joshua Nkomo was forced to flee Zimbabwe!!!

sundayview by Judith Todd


ON the bright Tuesday morning of 8 March 1983, I flew to Bulawayo from Harare with Joseph Lelyveld of the New York Times. He wanted to see something of our work. Lelyveld, who would later become the same newspaper’s foreign editor and then editor in chief, was based in Johannesburg, where he wrote his book Move Your Shadow: South Africa Black and White, a clinical account of the horrors of apartheid.

The shadow in question was that of a black caddy employed by a white golfer. Susa lo-mtunzi gawena. Move your shadow. Hayikona shukumisa lo saka. Don’t rattle the bag.

Albert Ngwena fetched us at the airport and drove us to town, where, quite by chance, we saw Makhatini Guduza standing on a corner, frantically waving us down. We stopped, and Guduza, trembling like a leaf and grey with exhaustion, fear or both, said he would meet us at our nearby office a few minutes later.

Guduza was one of Joshua Nkomo’s closest aides. Born near Plumtree in 1927, he had worked in Johannesburg from 1944 to 1964, becoming a chef for the Chamber of Mines. He married Poppy Lotter from Soweto and joined the South Africa’s African National Congress in 1950, delighting in knowing such luminaries as Walter Sisulu, Alfred Nzo, Thomas Nkobi, Dr James Moroka, Chief Albert Luthuli and Bram Fischer. He was also quietly proud of having participated in the crucially important build-up to the Congress of the People at Kliptown in Soweto, as well as in the congress itself, where the Freedom Charter was adopted on 26 June 1955.

Some time after that, he was arrested on a pass offence and defended in court by the attorney Nelson Mandela.

In January 1964, Guduza returned home for a short visit, but on a tip-off from South Africa, was detained by the Rhodesians at Gonakudzingwa (Where the banished ones sleep). There he met Nkomo and became a loyal lieutenant.

I excused myself from Lelyveld and Ngwenya and saw Guduza privately. He told me of terrible events. The previous Saturday evening, police had sealed off Bulawayo’s high-density townships in one of which, Pelandaba, Nkomo had built his home.

Dr Herbert Ushewokunze, TG Silundika’s "brilliant delinquent", was now Minister of Home Affairs, in charge of the police. Within the police cordon, soldiers of 5 Brigade had searched for Nkomo, but had been unable to find him, as he was staying elsewhere.

Nkomo was well aware that his life was in grave danger after verbal threats of violence from Prime Minister Mugabe: "Zapu and its leader, Dr Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in the house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head."

Shortly after eight that night, Nkomo received a message that his driver and two others had been shot dead in cold blood at his house. The killers then rampaged through his home, destroying all they could, smashing the windscreens of three cars with their rifle butts and slashing the upholstery.

Nkomo’s wife MaFuyana was with him and implored him to flee Zimbabwe. He had done so on Sunday night.

It had been past midnight when Guduza, with five other men in two vehicles, escorted Nkomo from Bulawayo to Plumtree and then a further ten kilometres south along the Empandeni road to an unguarded section of the Botswana border.

They walked across the dry bed of the Ramakwabane River, and then the enormous Nkomo had to climb two fences on the Botswana side, his companions desperately helping to push him over. At 6.20 that Monday morning he had safely stepped onto the soil of Botswana.

Guduza knew that once it was discovered that Nkomo had gone, the authorities would be hunting for Guduza himself. He had returned to Bulawayo to hide his wife Poppy and family, and now it was Tuesday and he had to make a dash for it. I emptied my pockets and gave him all the money I had on me, which wasn’t much, and he walked out of our lives. I was careful not to use even one cent of Zimbabwe Project money.

After Guduza left, Lelyveld asked me to go and have a cup of coffee with him. "I can see that something terrible has happened," he said. "I think you should tell me about it."

"I can’t", I replied, my mind filled with Guduza, who had yet to hide his family and get to Botswana. "Something too awful for Zimbabwe has happened and I haven’t the right to tell anyone yet."

Lelyveld was quiet and thoughtful, and then he said, "I think for your own sake you should tell me. I give you my word that whatever it is, I will not report it until the story has been broken by someone else."

"Joshua Nkomo has fled Zimbabwe," I said. "Yesterday he crossed the border to Botswana."

Joseph Lelyveld kept his word.

While the work of the Zimbabwe Project appeared to be going well and was attracting a great deal of favourable comment both at home and abroad, my life behind the scenes was increasingly fraught. People were suffering dreadfully, and some seemed to believe I could help more than I actually could.

In July 1982, six young tourists had been abducted on the Victoria Falls-Bulawayo road. Two were America, and their fathers came to Harare. The American Ambassador Robert Keeley and his wife Louise had become dear friends of my family. They invited me to dinner to meet the tourists’ fathers, who were desperately seeking ideas about how to find their boys.

They had hired a British firm, Control Risk, to assist in the hunt. Hundreds of people were fleeing Zimbabwe for Botswana, and it was thought that among these refugees, many of them ex-Zipra combatants, some might have information. Control Risk wanted to consult Nkomo, and I provided a letter of introduction for them to carry to him. As far as I knew, he was still in Botswana.

I had last seen Nkomo at his Pelandaba home a few days before he fled. When I telephoned to make an appointment, he told me to get into a taxi outside any hotel in Bulawayo and instruct the driver to take me to him. "They all know my house."

When his bodyguards allowed me into his home, it was like walking into a nightmare. There were about fifty supplicants in the huge lounge, many of them evidently bruised and with broken bones, some in bloodied bandages. Nkomo was on the telephone trying to raise help and money for them all. "Even just ten dollars," I heard him saying to someone he was calling.

Now it was my turn to ask for help from him . .


On the afternoon of 11 March, when I wrote the letter Michael Behr unexpectedly called on me at my office in Harare . . .

When he left I was so distressed, shocked, almost winded, that I made notes of what he had said. He spoke about a meeting that had been held at 4PM on Thursday 24 February by our informal steering committee . . . Michael said it was now known that I had offered to give evidence for the defence in the trial of Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku, Isaac Nyathi and others who were charged with enlisting the help of foreign powers and plotting to overthrow the government by violent means. The fact that I was going to testify on their behalf in the treason trial was a serious matter that I should have referred to the steering committee, Michael said.

I was overwhelmed by his words. It was quite true that I had been approached by Bryant Elliot of Scanlen & Holderness a few days earlier with a request to be a defence witness. Elliot was looking after the Zapu defendants in that trial (just as in later years he would look after Morgan Tsvangirai and others of the Movement for Democratic Change when it was their turn to face trumped-up treason charges). But I wondered how Michael could possibly know about this, since the names of witnesses had not yet been published…

*Excerpt from Judith Todd’s latest book, Through the Darkness: A life in Zimbabwe, available from

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