By Mehluli Sibanda
The past holds the key to the future. This has been demonstrated throughout history when people perished after making mistakes similar to those of their forebears.
Imagine having a fountain of wisdom that has been around since just before the First World War (1914-1918); someone who lived through the Second World War (1939- 1945); a person who witnessed first-hand the brutality of the settler regime and saw the war of liberation, independence and could be a living embodiment of African endurance and sacrifice. If you had such a person, what questions would you ask?
The Mhaka family in Bulawayo’s Woodlands suburb is blessed with such a person.
Last Sunday was a special day for the Chifamba as well as Mhaka families as they decided to celebrate birthdays for two women who are generations apart.
The centre of those celebrations held in Woodlands was Remitiya Chifamba who clocked 110 years while her great-granddaughter, Ms Rutendo Mhaka turned 26.
Celebrations were held a day before the two’s birthday. Mbuya Chifamba was born on September 14, 1910.
Mbuya Remitiya Chifamba
She has seen it all. Apart from the First and Second World Wars and Zimbabwe’s liberation war, she saw the Spanish Influenza and now Covid-19.
She even wore nhembe (traditional loincloth) before modern dresses came along, helped a number of women safely deliver babies at home and saved many marriages through counselling couples at her rural home.
From Chivasa Village under Chief Nyamandi in Gutu, Masvingo, Mbuya Chifamba was overly excited when she was told the media would be attending her birthday festivities since she wanted to tell her story, share age old wisdom and perhaps, the detailed secret to longevity.
The last would be very interesting because there appears to be a trend of matriarch longevity in her family, as her mother and grandmother both lived past 100 years while her younger sister is 92 years old.
Sadly, Mbuya Chifamba suffered a minor stroke days before her birthday, which left her right side paralysed, affected her speech and put her on a wheelchair.
Her story might become an inspiration for Africans to always document their history so that there is always a solid foundation for future generations to build on and progress.
Recently, respected historian Mr Phatisa Nyathi bemoaned the African trait of failing to document events, which has led to Eurocentric and Americanised versions of the continent’s story being circulated worldwide.
Like a wise person once said, “If the lion could tell the story of the hunt, it would be a hero as well…”
African history is often distorted because it is told by other people, not those who actually lived it.
Mbuya Chifamba’s family decided to go ahead with the birthday celebrations since the idea was to celebrate life, something she still had. The day started off with a mass led by Father James Batsirai of the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Mary’s Basilica.
Despite her old age, she still loves to dress up in bright colours and she got to wear one of her favourite colours, pink, at her birthday celebrations. She was in her Roman Catholic Church uniform for the mass then a purple dress later on when she cut her cake.
“My great grandmother is stubborn. If she doesn’t want water that’s her. She loves sugar. Probably it’s old age but she is obsessed with sugar. She loves to dress up, she loves colours, some of her favourite colours are purple and pink,’’ said Ms Mhaka.
Mbuya Chifamba could be one of the oldest Zimbabweans alive today.
Her family reflects how, just like many women of her age, the colonialists did not consider her a “person”.
She was not given any identity documentation. While she did acquire an identify document at some stage, she later lost it. The only identity for Mbuya Chifamba is her 1995 voter registration card which indicates that she was indeed born on September 14, 1910.
It appears long living genes are abundant for women in her family. Mbuya Chifamba’s grandmother lived past 110 years, it was the same with her own mother while her older sister died at 106 in 2012. Her other surviving sister is 92.
Mbuya Chifamba’s husband, Raymond died in 1996 when the two had already separated and she never remarried. The couple had four children, three boys and one girl. She has outlived three of her children, with only her second born son, Samuel, who is 78 years old still alive. Her first offspring, Edward died at the beginning of 2020 at the age of 87.
Mbuya Chifamba has 16 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and one of her great grand child has a child.
Her granddaughter, Mrs Jesca Mhaka, the mother of Rutendo, told of how her grandmother made clay pots and collected thatching grass to send her and her late brother to school. The only other known job that Mbuya Chifamba did was working on a tobacco farm in Gweru in the 1950s.
“I was raised by my grandmother from the time I was six-months-old, until I completed my ‘O’ level at Mutero Mission. From there I went to Parirenyatwa Hospital where I completed my diploma as a lab scientist. She was my mother in everything, she worked very hard, we had difficult times but we managed to pull through. I am so close to her, she is like my mother,’’ Mrs Mhaka said.
She is grateful to the Almighty for preserving her grandmother this long. According to Mrs Mhaka, God gave Mbuya Chifamba the gift of life as she assisted a lot of women in Gutu who could not afford to go to hospital give birth at home.
“I am so happy and I am so grateful, I thank God for that, that’s why we decided to have a celebration, she taught us to pray, we are a very strong prayerful family because of her. My grandmother is very kind, when she was still fit, she would visit the poor. She was mbuya nyamukuta, she assisted women who could not afford to go to hospital to deliver their children. She was also a marriage counselor at our rural hospital,’’ said Mrs Mhaka.
She has not had any major health issues besides hypertension which she developed in her 90s and the more recent stroke.
“My grandmother has always been strong, besides the blood pressure which has given her problems from her 90s. She developed this minor stroke days before her birthday.”
Ms Mhaka feels blessed to share a birthday with someone who was already 84 when she came into the world. Seeing how close her mother and great grandmother are gave Ms Mhaka the impression that Mbuya Chifamba was actually her grandmother.
“It’s a blessing. When I grew up I actually thought that was my grandmother until I was told ‘that’s your great grandmother.’ To think that she has a sister who is still alive that’s even shocking. I am happy that I share a birthday with her, I am really lucky,’’ Ms Mhaka said.
She spoke of her great grandmother’s kindness and how she showed compassion for others even when she was not feeling well.
“My great grandmother is a very kind person. She has big heart. Whenever we went to the rural areas, she slaughtered a chicken for us. She used to come visit us when we lived in Mutare despite the distance. Even when she was sick, she still cared about the welfare of others,” Ms Mhaka said.
Her wish for Mbuya Chifamba is that she gets tranquility even when the Lord eventually takes her.
“I wish she has peace, despite the turmoil she has been through, the one thing I want to wish her is to have peace even she rests, to have peace that God will take care of her grandchildren, great grandchildren. I want her to be happy that she has lived this long and seen God’s gift, she has seen her grandchildren and great grandchildren,’’ said Ms Mhaka.
Mbuya’s Chifamba’s secret to long life in the words of Ms Mhaka is through prayer, something she has imparted in her great grandchildren since she prays several times.
“Her secret to her long life is prayer. She always has a Bible, she always tells you to pray. I have taken lessons from her. It takes more than ‘Our Father’ to get to that level, it’s more of a commitment and consistency to be at her level, she has goals when it comes to spiritual life,’’ Ms Mhaka said.
Mbuya Chifamba lived with some relatives in Gutu until Mrs Mhaka and her husband Magura decided in March to bring her to Bulawayo where they feel they can best look after her. Despite her advanced age, Mbuya Chifamba is showing signs of recovering from her stroke, with her family hopeful that she will be with them for more years to come.
Then, with a little luck, everyone may be able to tap into her extensive indeginous knowledge of how things work.
Maybe her wisdom and that of other Africans may be documented for future generations. The Chronicle