Msika: Visionary, fearless founding nationalist
Cde Joseph Wilfred Msika, the former Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and ZANU-PF’s Vice President and second secretary, was a visionary leader and fearless founding nationalist who held firm and strong to the bitter end. He died on 5 August, 2009 at West End Hospital in Harare after a long battle against hypertension. He was 85.
Zimbabwe will forever cherish memories of the late Cde Msika as a man of principle and integrity who demonstrated commitment to the nation by getting involved in active nationalist politics at a tender age of 19. He sacrificed his own life to extricate Zimbabwe from the yoke of colonialism. Cde Msika was at various stages of his life nicknamed “BRUNO,” firstly as a fearless trade unionist and then during his long stay in detention as a fearless and consistent fighter for Zimbabwe’s total emancipation. He will be remembered as an icon of frankness, candid talk and defender of justice, who remained determined to upholding the ideals of liberation principles and honest leadership.
Cde Joseph Msika was born on December 6, 1923, at Nyariri Village, under Chief Negomo, Chiweshe, Mazowe District, in Mashonaland Central Province. He attended Howard Institute, a Salvation Army Mission School as a day scholar and later, as a boarder for his primary education from 1937 until he completed Standard 6. His father was a polygamist whose first wife bore him several daughters. Joseph was the first born son to the second wife, and therefore to the family as a whole. Like so many African boys of his time, he wanted to become a teacher and his father sent him to Mount Selinda School in Chipinge, Manicaland. This school was run by the American Board Mission and he went there to train as a carpenter teacher.
While pursuing the teacher training course, he also studied and passed the Junior Certificate Examination by correspondence. This spoke loudly of young Joseph’s adventitiousness. Showing early signs of responsibility and love, the young Joseph believed that it was his duty to contribute to the upkeep of his father’s family. For this reason, during the school holiday, he took up a part time job with a transport firm in Bulawayo so as to help with the payment of school fees for the younger members of his family.
After training, he taught Woodwork at Usher Institute in Matabeleland from 1944 to 1949, a period when he also became very actively inv:olved in nationalist politics. In 1950, he joined Bauden and Striver, a Bulawayo furniture making company as a cabinet maker. Here, he rose to the post of supervisor before he was finally promoted to become a leading hand. Later, he joined Orkin Lingerie, a clothes selling concern. He remained with this firm until 1953 when he was offered a better paying job with a new clothing firm whose headquarters was in Johannesburg. He later became a Clerk at the Consolidated Textile Mills, still in BuJawayo and was elevated to the post of Chief Clerk before becoming an Administrative officer.
Cde Msika was an excellent football player. At Mount Selinda, he played for the school team. Then later from Usher Institute, he used to go to Bulawayo to play football initially for Usher Institute and then for Mashonaland United now known as Zimbabwe Saints. He was so good at the game that he ended up being selected to play for the Matabeleland regional select team which was known as the “Red Army”. Cde Msika’s soccer skills improved such that in between 1960 and 1963, he played for the Rhodesia Pick (National Football Team) with the likes of Freddy “Dusty King” Gotora and Barnes “Chiwareware” Pfupajena. Football was so much in his blood that he only gave it up because of his serious involvement in nationalistic politics.
His experience at the various places where he worked, and the general injustice and oppression in the country influenced him to take up trade unionism, especially with the Textile and Allied Workers’ Union (TAWU), 1954. On the whole, Cde Msika and others used Bulawayo as a place where various trade unionists would interface. As a leader of TAWU, he was instrumental in the formation of a semi-federation of unions at a local level in Bulawayo. This was called the Federation of Bulawayo African Workers Union (FBAWU), whose leaders had been behind the organization of the crippling 1948 national strike. Later, FBAWU was replaced by the Federation of Southern Rhodesia and Cde Msika was its President.
It was during his trade union days that he met other founders of early liberation protest movements like the late Cdes Masotsha Ndlovu, Benjamin Burombo and Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo. Cde Msika also received a lot of inspiration from the ideas of Pan Africanists like Chief Albert Luthuli and Clement Kadali, and more importantly, the first generation of African nationalists such as Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah.
Cde Msika used his influence in trade unionism to launch the early African National Congress (ANC) firstly as a Branch Chairman then founding Chairman for Bulawayo in early 1957. This Bulawayo based ANC later attracted the Salisbury Youth League to form the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) on 12 September, 1957 at Mai Musodzi Hall then, Harare Township (Mbare) with Cde Joshua Nkomo as its president and Cde Msika elected Treasurer.
In 1959, the ANC leadership including Cde Msika faced arrest and persecution. In February of the same year, he and others were detained at Khami Maximum Security Prison where he met nationalists from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It was here where he was to more deeply know people like Orton Chirwa from Nyasaland and Daudi Yamba from Selukwe (Shurugwi). Later he was detained at Selukwe (Shurugwi) and ultimately Marandellas (Maraondera) Prison. It was during this period that Cde Msika first met a young Zimbabwean African teacher who had returned from his teaching job in Ghana in 1959 to help lead the fight for Zimbabwe’s liberation.
That young teacher was called Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe. When Cde Msika first saw Cde Mugabe, he did not know him and was therefore surprised when he greeted him by his name saying, “Makadii vaMsika?” (“How are you Mr Msika?”) This was the beginning of a long term relationship between the two, as colleagues and comrades in struggle. This relationship was physically terminated by Cde Msika’s untimely death but, spiritually it lives on.
Chronicling his experience to his biographer, Professor Sam Moyo, Cde Msika said that in the detention camps, they were often locked up in solitary confinement as a form of punishment at the whims of the colonialist jailers. They were also subjected to electric shock treatment, indiscriminate beatings, denial of medical care and many other forms of torture. Cde Msika further said although his initial reaction to a prison sentence was one of shock, he gave deep thought to his situation and soon adjusted to it. He reflected that the struggle in the early stages of nationalism had been to obtain justice and equal rights for Africans in a series of individual battles but realized that with independence coming rapidly to other African countries, the real battle was now for the political control of Zimbabwe through the demand for one man one vote.
Upon his release in 1961, he was elected Councilor in the newly formed National Democratic Party (NDP), a party that had been formed whilst he was still in prison. On the formation of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) on 19 December, 1961 to replace the banned NDP, Cde Msika was elected founding Secretary for Youth Affairs. This was at a time when 365 nationalist leaders had been forbidden from entering or remaining in any African Reserve, including their own homes. Political rallies and meetings were still banned and their operations were to be under severe surveillance with threats of arrest from the police. Cde Msika’s courage and decision to take up leadership under these circumstances attested to exceptional leadership qualities.
The colonial regime banned ZAPU in September 1962 under the provision of the unlawful Organization Amendment Act. It arrested Cde Msika and all the leadership except Cde Joshua Nkomo who was out of the country at the time. With pressure from the far right white electorate, the government went out of its way to look for reasons to ban ZAPU. Indeed, Cde Msika had been one of the major schemers of the militant protests in 1962 and this provided the regime with a reason to ban ZAPU and arrest Cde Msika and other nationalists. The regime compiled a report which blamed Cde Msika and other nationalists for all the violence in the country. The report claimed that between January and December 1962, there were 33 petrol bombings, the burning of 18 schools and 10 churches plus 27 attacks on communications infrastructure, a clear indication that the struggle was hotting up.
After ZAPU was banned, Cde Msika and others took a decision to adopt more aggressive forms of resisting the cruel and tyrannical white regime. As a result, the People’s Caretaker Council (PCC) was formed as ZAPU’s immediate replacement and not surprisingly, Cde Msika became its Secretary for External Affairs. Cde Msika and others reasoned that judging from the succession of the banning of the parties, it was futile to keep on forming these parties especially as the colonial regime followed each ban with massive detention of the leadership and confiscation of Party property. What was needed was to simply declare the people of Zimbabwe a Party and create a Council to take care of the people’s struggle. That left the regime with no formal organisation to ban unless it was foolish as to attempt to ban people. This logic led to the formation of the PCC.
Unfortunately for the nationalist cause during this period, differences emerged within ZAPU leading to the split and the subsequent formation of the Zimbabwe National African Union (ZANU) in August 1963 under the leadership of Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole. During the split, Cde Msika was in Oar es Salaam, Tanzania, with other members of the ZAPU executive where they were trying to strengthen the idea of formalising the formation of a Government in Exile as a way of re-strategising in the wake of intensified harassment, arrest and detention of nationalist leaders at home. When Reverend Sithole, Morton Malianga and Leopold Takawira proposed a resolution to depose Dr. Joshua Nkomo from the leadership, Cde Msika protested by walking out of the meeting. His loyalty and allegiance to Cde Joshua Nkomo was definitely unquestionable.
From late 1963, Cde Msika organised several successful rural meeting although there had been a ban on this. They held them far from the towns usually in a cluster of trees surrounded by open ground so that they could see policeman coming from afar and either disperse or turn the discussion into cultural topics. Cde Msika was also instrumental in the creation of the Madiro party (later to be called Pungwe) which was a PCC/ZAPU innovation which took the form of a funeral gathering and was used an occasion to play, sing and dance for about three days while political organisations went on behind this cover. Cde Msika used these gatherings as effective means of political education and to raise funds for the nationalist cause. At the same time he was involved in spearheading the scheming of more violent forms of resistance involving mainly sabotage missions.
Beginning 1961, ZAPU sent people for guerilla training to Ghana, Algeria and China for military and sabotage training. Cde Msika was involved in organising a group numbering about 100 to plan and carry out acts of sabotage around the country. He believed that the only way to remove the evil system was to be through an armed struggle. He had been one of the master minds behind the changes in the strategies of the struggle’s execution from urban and rural unrest to the burning of buildings and vehicles and pelting police with stones and bottles. e started recruiting young people, the majority of whom were already members of ZAPU, for military training. He tasked James Chikerema, who was Head of Department of Special Affairs to deal with this recruitment. The Department of Special Affairs was established to deal with issues of the armed struggle. This particular group of cadres went through Zambia and Tanzania to the Eastern block countries. Of particular significance is the fact that on more than one occasion Cde Msika sacrificed his very life by personally being in charge of operations that smuggled in arms of war for the liberation fighters across the border from Zambia.
The PCC was banned in August 1964 and ZAPU resurfaced with Cde Msika still as part of the leadership. He was however re-arrested at the late Cde Josiah Chinamano’s house in Highfield, Harare and taken to Buffalo Range Prison before being detained at Gonakudzingwa Detention Camp for one year. On his release in 1965, he enjoyed only two weeks of relative freedom in Salisbury and was arrested again. He was re-admitted at Gonakudzingwa Detention Camp for another three more years and at some point shared the same cell with Cde Joshua Nkomo. He was later transferred to Buffalo Range Prison in 1974, the same year he would be released.
All in all, after his arrest and detention in 1964, he was to spend most of the next decade in prisons and detention camps around the country. Throughout his incarceration, what kept Cde Msika’s spirit strong was his belief not only in his innocence but in the need to free Zimbabwe from colonial rule. Indeed he would recall that period of abuse, torture and incarceration by asserting his innocence and conviction saying, “As an innocent man, I had not committed any crime. My conscience was clear. I had been imprisoned for my political views. Our party was not fighting the white man, but we were fighting the very unjust and inhuman racist system”.
To show that he was preparing for a productive role in a free Zimbabwe, which he believed would one day be realized, Cde Msika utilized his period of detention wisely by furthering his education. This enabled him to attain his Ordinary and Advanced Level qualifications. He later registered with the University of South Africa (UNISA) where he studied Political Science, Public Administration, Constitutional Law and Economics among other disciplines. This formed the basis for his belief in the importance of education as a major tool in the development of Zimbabwe.
As Central Committee Member, Cde Msika together with other ANC leaders flew to meet Front Line States’ leaders in Zambia to participate in the ill-fated Victoria Falls Bridge Conference in 1974. This conference ended in a deadlock and as such, the liberation war had to continue. Following the breakdown of another attempt to find a solution through the Smith-Nkomo talks in March 1976, Cde Msika went to London to release the contents of what had transpired. He told reporters’ that; ”The ANC might consider whether there is anything to be gained by sitting down with Ian Smith again. But this will not be negotiation. The time for that is long past. It would be to discuss only mechanics of the immediate transfer of power to majority”. Through Cde Msika’s statement, the ANC was signaling its resolve to resort to more militant forms in the struggle.
Disagreements in the ANC however, led to the formation of the United African National Council (UANC) led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa and when Muzorewa and others refused to attend the Unification Congress among other things, ZAPU went ahead and held its own Congress at which Cde Msika was elected Secretary General of the Party. With a greater focus on intensifying the prosecution of the struggle, Cde Msika was instrumental in the formation of the Patriotic Front in 1976 and was a delegate to the subsequent conferences that were held in Geneva, Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, Malta and the last one at Lancaster house, London, formally leading to Zimbabwe’s Independence.
At Independence in 1980, Cde Msika was elected Senator and in the same year, he was appointed Minister of Natural Resources and Water Development, a post he held until differences arose in the fledging united government. The 1978 ZAPU Congress saw him being elected The Vice President of the Party following the death of Cde Josiah Chinamano. During this period, Cde Msika, who still believed in the importance of national unity and was a member of the four-man Unity Committee, devoted his time and energy towards the creation of unity among Zimbabwean people, a dream that was realised on 22 December 1987 with the signing of the Unity Accord that gave birth to the unified ZANU-PF.
On the back of the Unity Agreement, Cde Msika was appointed Senior Minister of Public Construction and National Housing in January 1988 and in April of the same year became Minister of Local Government and Urban Development, a post he held until 1995. During this period, he was ZANU-PF National Chairman and also a member of the Politburo, Central Committee and National Consultative Assembly. After the 1995 general Elections, he was appointed a full time worker at the ZANU-PF Headquarters where he was tasked with the re-structuring and re-organisation of the Party.
Following the death of Vice President Joshua Nkomo, Cde Msika was unanimously elected Second Secretary and Vice President of ZANU-PF at the 3rd ZANU-PF’s People’s Congress held on 17 December, 1999 in Harare. On 23 December, 1990 he was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s Vice President by His Excellency of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Cde R.G. Mugabe. With the launch of the 3rd Chimurenga for Land Reform, Cde Msika was the Chairman of the Land Acquisition Committee which spearheaded the Land Reform Programme. His wish was to see all landless Zimbabweans regardless of status, getting land in total fulfillment of the wartime vision.
In 2003, Cde Msika was appointed Patron of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) taking over from the late Vice President Simon Muzenda. This was of significance given his great love for football. It was proper for the football fraternity to make him “a father and trustee” of the association and its “controller and asset manager”. He was also a great fund raiser for the Zimbabwe National Football team, the “Warriors”. Among other soccer related activities, Cde Msika officially opened the ZIFA Village and the artificial turf at Rufaro Stadium.
Cde Msika was also a leader with great heart and compassion. Some of the humanitarian activities that he worked on included the construction of the Ekusileni Medical Center in Bulawayo which is a state of the art hospital initiated by the late Vice President Nkomo and Chikombedzi Hospital after he came across a patient being ferried in a scotch cart to a hospital 20 kilometers during one of his rallies. Cde Msika had managed to acquire an ambulance for Chikombedzi Hospital but due to sickness and his untimely death, had not handed it over to the hospital authorities. Cde Msika also took care of orphans and disadvantaged people at his Ndire Farm in Glendale where he fed and clothed them.
He also sourced maize seed and fertilizers for the disadvantage people of Chiweshe. Cde Msika spent most of his time with youths at his houses and around the country where he taught them about the struggle for independence and the need for land reforms. He emphasized to them the need to uphold the principles of sovereignty and black empowerment. Cde Msika was also Chairman of the Development Trust of Zimbabwe (DTZ) after taking over from the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo. The Trust spearheads farming activities in the country.
Given his illustrious nationalist career and sacrifices and undoubted patriotism, the ZANU-PF Politburo unanimously agreed to confer the National Hero Status upon Cde Joseph Msika. On delivering his message of condolence, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe described the late Vice President as a man of high stature and a fearless freedom fighter. Consoling the Msika family, he urged it to “derive comfort and solace from the tributes sure to flow in abundance and in diverse forms from the nation that he helped liberate and found”.
Cde Joseph Wilfred Msika was survived by his wife, Maria, three children, Lucia, Shelton and Taguma, and grandchildren.
A Guide to the Heroes Acre