Opposition leader Joshua Nkomo, the man considered by many to be the father of Zimbabwean nationalism, still evokes high feelings in Zimbabwe, even though he has been in self-imposed exile in London for the past five months.
That was the chief product of two days of acrimonious debate in which the government sought to expel him from Parliament for missing more than 21 consecutive sessions, as provided in the constitution.
The ruling party of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe today adjourned the debate in Parliament for two weeks after failing for the second straight day to muster enough supporters to pass the expulsion by an absolute majority of 51 votes.
Nkomo's followers in his Zimbabwe African People's Union maintained that he had written the speaker of the assembly seeking extended leave.
Although parliamentary floor leader Eddison Zvobgo opened the debate by saying it should not "provide an opportunity for acrimony," most of the four hours of speeches centered around attacks on and defenses of Nkomo, who fled the country in March saying that Mugabe ordered the Army to kill him. Mugabe has denied Nkomo's charge.
Labor Minister Kumbirai Kangai described Nkomo, who started the struggle for black rule more than 30 years ago in this key southern African nation, as "a treacherous man, a coward, a man who has an insatiable lust for power."
Worth Chinamano, the wife of active ZAPU leader Josiah Chinamano, made an impassioned appeal on Nkomo's behalf, asking the house, "What is wrong with Zimbabwe today that you cannot respect the father of Zimbabwe?"
"It is a pity that a man who opened the eyes of many to the fight for independence is now being thrown out."
In response to jeers from the government benches, she turned to a Cabinet minister and asked, "Where were you?" when the struggle began. "You couldn't even clean your nose."
She caused an uproar in the house when she said Mugabe is a good leader, but he is surrounded by "a lot of sparks who advise him badly." She withdrew the remark at the speaker's request. Zvobgo, minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, talked about Nkomo in terms of abiding by the constitution.
Citing the provision that allows a member to be expelled after missing 21 straight sessions, Zvobgo said that if Parliament did not support the motion it would set "a dangerous precedent" for the government "not to observe the constitution in the future."
Herbert Ushewokunze, the outspoken minister of home affairs (police), put the matter more bluntly. If Parliament "should solicit us to breach the constitution, hell will be let loose . . . . We can rule by the sword."
Opposition members, however, pointed out that the constitution requires the vote of 51 of the 100 members of Parliament to expel a member. The government never managed to assemble on the floor more than 40 of its 57 members during the two days of debate. Mugabe did not attend.
The government did not get support from any of the other parties--ZAPU, the Republican Front led by white former prime minister Ian Smith, or white independents. Speakers opposed to the motion said it was divisive for the nation and would put the country in a bad light internationally. Josiah Chinamano said, "The marathon debate is doing incalculable harm to Zimbabwe" and pressed for an immediate vote.
Zvobgo, however, pushed through an adjournment of the debate until Aug. 17. The delay led to speculation that Mugabe's and Nkomo's parties may work out a compromise.
Nkomo has suffered a steady decline in his political fortunes since Mugabe's landslide victory in independent elections three years ago. Mugabe fired Nkomo from his coalition Cabinet last year, accusing him of stashing weapons to overthrow the government.
Sporadic attempts to bring the parties together failed. Earlier this year the opposition leader was briefly arrested, troops invaded his home in Bulawayo in the southwest and shot his bodyguards. Nkomo fled the country, saying he feared for his life, but Mugabe denied that Nkomo was in danger.
Nkomo recently sent a letter to the prime minister in which he reiterated his charges of intimidation during the election and reportedly called for an imvaba--a big African-style get-together to work out the future.