By Violet Gonda
17 January 2013
Vice President John Landa Nkomo died on Thursday morning, after years battling cancer.
Nkomo was 78 years old and is Zimbabwe’s fourth vice president to die in office, after Joshua Nkomo, Simon Muzenda and Joseph Msika – who passed away aged 82, 80 and 85 respectively.
President Robert Mugabe expressed his sorrow at the loss of the Vice President, during a joint press conference on the new constitution at State House.
The president said: “On behalf of cabinet, our sincerest condolences to his family, to his dear old mother, to his relatives and to all his friends. We are together with them.
“They have lost a real revolutionary, a fighter for freedom, a friend of the people.”
Nkomo was a founding member of nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU, before its merger with ZANU PF in 1987 following the Gukurahundi massacres.
He held several portfolios as a cabinet minister before being appointed one of Mugabe’s deputies in 2009, following the death of Msika.
The United States embassy was the first to announce his death in a condolence statement.
“Whether as a teacher, a politician, an advocate for Zimbabwe’s independence, or as a public servant, Vice President Nkomo was a patriot who dedicated his life to Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and prosperity.
“As a leader of PF Zapu and Zanu PF, Nkomo played an important role in shaping the course of Zimbabwean history. May he rest in peace,” the embassy statement read.
Initially there were conflicting reports as to where the vice president was when he died, with some reports saying he died in South Africa after treatment for cancer. But the president revealed that his situation deteriorated on Wednesday and he was rushed to St Anne’s Hospital in Harare where he passed away.
Some observers have pointed out that it is unfortunate that senior government leaders are still in office when they are old and ill, and die before they are able to enjoy retirement.
Water Minister and a close family member, Sam Sipepa Nkomo told SW Radio Africa: “I don’t know if it’s their policy that they can’t rest from public office. I totally agree that this is what happened before. The four vice presidents died in office. They were sick and I can only assume that this is perhaps the policy of their party.”
But he added that the family couldn’t really raise the issue of retirement with John Nkomo because; “the state in which he was, you couldn’t raise anything like that because you were afraid that you could hurt his feelings and whether he retired or not in the end was making no difference. You could see that the main was in pain.”
Observers say Nkomo’s death is likely to renew the succession debate and the discussions around 88 year old Mugabe’s health, as the country prepares for ‘make or break’ elections this year.