William Kona was born on 28 August 1919 at Selukwe (Shurugwi). He was the eldest of 11 children – eight of whom were boys and three girls. His parents were descendants of the Fingo and Xhosa people who had been brought into Rhodesia by Cecil Rhodes in 1890 in the belief that an infusion of South African blacks with experience of mixing with white settlers would help to condition the Matabele to accept the new contact between the races.
Kona’s father was a farmer and a staunch member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in which his mother was a teacher and preacher. Both parents were strict disciplinarians with a strong religious faith and a deep belief in the virtue of hard work. In 1918 his father moved on to a farm near Selukwe (Shurugwi) but was obliged to return to the Bembesi Fingo Location in the early 1940s when he inherited the Fingo chieftainship.
In 1928 Kona was sent to Ntabasinduna School (since renamed David Livingstone School) which was run by the Presbyterian Church. ln Standards IV, V and V1 he was taught by Charlton Ngcebetsha, later to become a leading nationalist. He made Kona aware of current affairs and awakened his interest in politics.
After completing Standard VI in 1934 Kona worked on his father’s farm for a year. He was then sent to Solusi Missionary College (run by the Seventh Day Adventists) where he qualified as a primary school teacher in 1937. During 1938 and 1939 he taught at Seventh Day Adventist chools in lnyazura and Lower Gwelo (Gweru). The next year he moved to a Methodist school at Kwenda in the Charter District, but three years later was persuaded by a friend to return to Seventh Day
Adventist schools. He taught at Hanke School near Selukwe (Shurugwi), for two years, becoming headmaster. In 1945 he was transferred to Solusi where he remained for 10 years, moving up during that period to . the headmastership. He also took the opportunity to further his own education, obtaining his Matriculation Exemption and a secondary school teaching qualification. In 1955 he moved to Mzilikazi, a Government school in Bulawayo. He was, however, not happy and he remained for only one year.
In 1956 he gave up teaching and went farming in the Gwelo (Gweru) District. Here he became concerned at the relative smallness of African farms, feeling that 200 acres (80 ha) did not give a favourable opportunity for blacks to enter competitively into the cash economy with white farmers with perhaps 6 000 acres (2 400 ha) to cultivate. It was his strong feelings on this matter that led him to take an active part in the African Farmers’ Union of which he became President in 1960.1
In his efforts to bring pressure on the Government to allocate more land to African farmers Kona steadily moved into an increasingly political position. He identified the imbalance of opportunity – not only in land acquisition, but also in property, farming and employment – with the political struggle, believing that a more equal distribution of wealth and opportunity between the races would remove the main “bones of contention in the political field”
He also concluded that employment and other opportunities were closely tied up with the education available to the African population. A movement had been started which could not be reversed. The African’s desire for education had forced him to give up all those aspects of tradition which protected him from the rigours of economic necessity. The need to find money for school fees meant an entry into the competitive cash economy and this, in its turn, raised the individual’s expectations, forcing him to become more and more productive.
In 1961 he addressed an NDP meeting in Gwelo (Gweru)’s Munomutapa Hall and advocated the spread of political activity into the rural areas. Although not, at first, well received the support given to his arguments by Joshua Nkomo, President of the party, led to a much greater political impetus in the tribal areas.
In 1962 Kona travelled to England to study the causes of famine. He has also travelled to South Africa as a political observer and to Malawi and Zambia on political business. He was appointed a member of the Constitutional Council set up under the 1961 Constitution2
As might be expected from one whose life for the past 20 years has revolved around farming, his work and thinking within the ANC – of which he is Deputy National Chairman3 have been directed mainly towards the solution of the country’s land problems. He believes that the present system of communal land ownership in the TTLs‘4 creates a “land rape” situation, and that some form of individual tenure is essential if the country’s natural resources are to be preserved. He believes also in the introduction of a national service scheme which will build up an interest among young people by providing employment opportunities for them in the tribal areas. He has a vision of “desert-like tribal areas being turned back into productive and beautiful land as the result of the attention given to the problem by future governments”. Kona strongly believes that the urban African should be given greater employment opportunities as well as the chance of acquiring a property stake in the townships. This, he says, would relieve the pressure on the rural areas.
When the split occurred in September 1975 Kona adhered to Joshua Nkomo,5 and attended the special congress held on 27-28 September. At the Congress he was elected National Vice-Chairman. On 13 October 1976 he was nominated as a member of the ANC (Nkomo) delegation to the Geneva Conference.
William Kona is married, with a family of four boys and two girls. Three of his sons are studying in Britain. One of his daughters, a trained nurse, is running her own clinic in the Solebela tribal area in the Midlands. His wife, a teacher for 30 years, now manages the family trading store and supervises farming activities while her husband is away. They live in the Gwelo (Gweru) District near Nkai, raising between 100 and 200 cattle for slaughter each year.
His hobbies and interests include football, concert music, Western and African drama and carpentry. He is a small, sturdy figure, greying and light-skinned, with the high cheek bones inherited from his Cape forebearers.
1 He remained President for 16 years, being voted out of office in September 1976
2 The Constitutional Council was intended to serve as a watchdog on the Legislative Assembly. lf it reported that any proposed legislation was contrary to the Bill of Rights such legislation was automatically blocked for six months unless the Government could muster a two-thirds majority in support of its passage. (For further information, including details of a case brought by Terry Maluleke in an attempt to raise the ban on Sunday meetings, see (Crisis in Rhodesia, Shamuyarira, p.l68).
3 He was appointed to this post in December 1974. He became Deputy National Chairman of the ANC (Nkomo) at the congress on 27-28 September
4 “where the land is used by all and sundry, but belongs to nobody.”
5 After a special Executive Committee meeting in Salisbury (Harare) on 7 September (at which resolutions were passed calling for a congress and requiring Bishop Muzorewa to return to Salisbury (Harare)) he was sent (with M. A. Ndabambi) to convey the resolutions to the Bishop and to the Presidents of Botswana,
Zambia, Tanzania and Mocambique.