PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday officially unveiled the statue of late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo and commissioned the long-awaited refurbished Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo.
SILAS NKALA/ NQOBILE BHEBHE
He also officially renamed Main Street after the late veteran nationalist.
At the airport, Mugabe said despite being one of the highly educated black Zimbabweans of his time, Nkomo had abandoned the pleasures of earning money from the whiteman to fight for land and freedom of his fellow blacks.
The commissioning of the airport comes 10 years since the upgrade started.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe succumbed to pressure to open the terminal that it said was 95% complete, as Mugabe was believed to be losing patience.
The project was initially meant to be completed in 2004, but was delayed by a lack of resources.
There are an estimated 15 contractors working on the project that includes the refurbishment of the international arrivals hall, a variety of shops, a car park and a separate State pavilion.
Mugabe had to wait for about five minutes before he could speak after there was a power cut.
“As we celebrate Unity Day, we are also commissioning today this airport which marks the honour of the great man,” he said.
“It is not only this, but it’s a threesome as after this we will unveil his statue which will remind us for many years that here was the father of the nation who sacrificed his life for the good of the country and the renaming of the street after him.
“The commissioning of these projects is a reminder of which way to follow. There was a time when politics was dangerous to undertake. You go and suffer for what? It was regarded as for the poorly educated who did not go to university, the educated ones no,” he added.
He said Nkomo sometimes said to be educated did not mean you were more intelligent than those people you called uneducated as they were better since they realised the tricks of the whites.
“You can have the degree, but what does it help if you are going to be a coward. Nkomo had attained a degree at Fort Hare (University, SA). He came to fight and led the likes of the late George Nyandoro, Maurice Nyagumbo and James Chikerema who had not gone to university. Nkomo is the one who made the land grievances marking the parameters on which the struggle was fought,” Mugabe said.
He added that the commissioning of the projects was part of Zanu PF’s new economic blueprint (Zim Asset).”
He said the airport was expected to boost business in Bulawayo and enable the second largest city to revive industry. Later in the day, Mugabe unveiled Nkomo’s statue at the middle of the intersection of Main Street (now Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street) and 8th Avenue amid cheering and ululations.
The initial statue was pulled down under the cover of darkness in 2010 shortly after it had been mounted after the Nkomo family described it as too small for a man of his stature.
The family alleged that they had not been formally consulted over the type of statue, its characteristics and proposed location.
Bulawayo-based civic society groups also joined in the protest and criticised the fact that the statue was made by North Koreans, linked to training the notorious 5 Brigade that massacred more than 20 000 civilians in Matabeleland and the Midlands during the Gukurahundi genocide.
The government has often come under fire for taking too long to complete projects being built in Nkomo’s honour. Mugabe acknowledged that the initial statue “had not satisfied us”, but said statues cannot accurately capture all features. The unveiling of the statue, commissioning of the airport and renaming of Main Street coincided with Unity Day celebrations.