Rev Ndabaningi Sithole takes rightful place among liberation luminaries

The Chronicle

Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Reporter
NATIONAL Hero Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole left a legacy of uplifting Ndebele culture and history as he wrote the first isiNdebele novel, Umvukela wamaNdebele published in 1956 detailing the Ndebele resistance to colonialism.

The colonial government banned the book in the 1960s and it was later republished under the title “AmaNdebele kaMzilikazi.”

President Mnangagwa

On Heroes Day last Monday, President Mnangagwa posthumously declared the late Rev Sithole and other struggle stalwarts, such as Cde James Chikerema national heroes.

Rev Sithole, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) founding president, died in 2000 in the United States.

The son of Jim Sithole, a member of the Ndau tribe, the nationalist was born on July 21, 1920 in Nyamandlovu where his mother Siyapi Tshuma came from.

His first book was the 60-page Umvukela wamaNdebele which was published in 1956 and republished in 1982. It chronicled why the Ndebele nation rose in 1896 against white rule.

Some of the books he wrote are the Polygamist, Obed Mutezo and Letter from Salisbury Prison written during his six-year imprisonment from 1969 to 1975.

Authors, historians among other people who spoke to Chronicle said Rev Sithole, who learnt at Dadaya Mission in the Midlands province provided a very clear account of the people’s struggles.

Renowned historian and author Mr Pathisa Nyathi said Rev Sithole was a hero who led in his writings.

“The first novel in isiNdebele was by Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, in 1956 Umvukela wamaNdebele.

Thereafter he was followed by Peter Sivalo Mahlangu who wrote uMthwakazi in 1957, and then Ndabezinhle Sibanda Sigogo and Isaac Mpofu among others. But he is a pioneer,” he said.

“There was no doubt about Ndabaningi Sithole and his role in the early stages of African nationalism and indeed one of his books, which I read at secondary school, African Nationalism. He was conscious of the political situation.”

Mr Nyathi said Rev Sithole was politically conscious.

“It was clear that he was conscious because for you to write such a novel about the Ndebele uprising, it required somebody who had political consciousness.

It didn’t come as a surprise when he, later on, joined the nationalist movement and was involved in the formation of Zanu in 1963 at the home of Enos Nkala in Harare, with Robert Mugabe,” said Mr Nyathi.

He said Rev Sithole opened up their eyes to why the nationalist movement was important and how the colonialist agenda was being furthered in the country and Africa.

“For the literature side he contributed a lot and nobody can take away that from him.

Especially in isiNdebele language and championing that and remembering the history as nobody had before written about the history of the Ndebele resistance to colonialism,” said Mr Nyathi.

Chairperson of the Ndabaningi Sithole Foundation, Retired Bishop Chad Nicholas Gandiya, said the family is working hard to preserve the legacy of the national hero.

He said the national hero’s works will be republished.

“We have republished his masterpiece African Nationalist, and it’s already in the shops. We are working on the republication of other writings by him,” he said.

The Chairperson for the Zimbabwe Academic and Non-fiction Authors Association (ZANA) Bulawayo Chapter Mr Zibusiso Mabonisa who also wrote Icala Labokhokho said Rev Sithole’s writings acted as a foundation for isiNdebele novel writers.

“Reverend Sithole is one of the people who inspired us with their work.

What he wrote was like a foundation that laid for us as writers where we can build on,” said Mr Mabonisa, whose book won the RoilBAA last year in the Outstanding Literature Works, isiNdebele category.

“I go back to the books of our pioneer writers like Ndabaningi Sithole and I get the correct isiNdebele language that was used before. That’s how he influenced my writings.”

Mr Mabonisa said Rev Sithole’s writings both taught readers both history and language.

Mr Mihla Sitsha Tsheza, an isiNdebele author who wrote Wangenza Mntanami (2020), said everyday he was challenged by Rev Sithole’s feats in writing.

Mr Tsheza, who has written over 30 isiNdebele books, said Rev Sithole set a standard that authors try to emulate.

“When he started writing it was unheard of that a black man would author and publish a book in the isiNdebele language.

That book even if you take it and read it now, it’s as if it was written yesterday.

It gives us a challenge as the writers of this age so that we also author a book that can stand the test of time,” said Mr Tsheza who won the Outstanding Literature Works, isiNdebele at the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards in 2020 for his book.

“Reverend Sithole set an example or a standard where you ask yourself how you can reach those levels. He gave us the courage to write books because he wrote during a period that was difficult.

He also ensured that our history as a people be preserved in those books that he wrote,” said Mr Tsheza.

“His writings paint a clear picture of our history and encourage us as writers, to write about what was happening in the country and around us.

When you read the books you will be challenged as a writer.”

Veteran broadcaster Mr John Masuku described Rev Sithole’s writing as powerful.

“That’s a book that Rev Sithole wrote while he was in America in the mid-1950s with his rich background of having been born and bred in Matabeleland and having a Ndebele mother, he was able to gather that history and wrote one of the most powerful historical books,” said Mr Masuku.

The latter said he interviewed Rev Sithole in the 1970s.

He said the book was banned in the 1960s when he was also being harassed and arrested for his nationalist involvement.

“After 1965 and 1966 that book was no longer on the shelves, but we had copies. It was missing from the bookshops for quite some time, I think until after Independence I think when I bought a copy,” said Mr Masuku.

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Article Source: The Chronicle

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