BULAWAYO – The late vice president Joshua Nkomo’s son has described a government decision to pull down a Nguni shield outside the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo as “an insult.”
A black and white shield was mounted with the airport signage when the new terminal building was officially opened in 2013.
For the local population, descendants of tribal warriors, the shield or ihawu in isiNdebele is a heritage symbol and ode to their history.
The shield was used in battle, notably in the Second Matabele War in 1893 when Matabele regiments armed with spears battled Leander Starr Jameson’s settler army which fought back with guns.
Workmen took down the shield on May 5, allegedly on orders from their superiors in Harare. In its place, a new design of the airport signage with colours of the Zimbabwe flag and the coat of arms went up.
Nkomo’s only surviving son, Sibangilizwe, visited the airport – 25km east of Bulawayo – on Sunday and told of his disbelief at the change which was apparently made without consulting the family.
“I couldn’t believe that this government can disregard a people’s culture and heritage like this. I had to go to the airport to confirm,” Nkomo tweeted.
“This is an insult to Joshua Nkomo, to Zimbabwe, to our history, heritage and culture. This is not what Joshua Nkomo stood for. It’s shameful.”
Tawanda Gusha, the CEO of the Airports Company of Zimbabwe, declined to comment on Sunday.
He told ZimLive: “A detailed response will be provided in due course.”
Transport minister Felix Mhona said: “The Airports Company of Zimbabwe will issue a statement addressing the issue.”
Airport staff who spoke to this reporter said they were also caught by surprise, with one describing the change as “shocking”.
ZimLive understands the plan was to change the signage before President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s arrival in the city late last month to officially open the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair. Unnamed government officials in Harare reportedly demanded the change, claiming the signage was “embarrassing.”
A source in the transport ministry said: “The new signage that has been put up is temporary. Three weeks ago, we actually advertised for a tender to redesign the signage for the Joshua Mqabuko International Airport. There will be consultations with key stakeholders, including the family, on how this will look.”