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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Letter to My Mother : An epistle to Pelagia Makumbe Tamborenyoka Gombera

By Luke Tamborinyoka

Dearest Mum,

I am writing this letter to you today, amai because the poetic dictum remains true that memory is a treasure that no one can kill and that death leaves a heartache that no one can heal.

Luke Tamborinyoka and his late mother
Luke Tamborinyoka and his late mother Pelagia Makumbe Tamborenyoka Gombera 

Fifteen years ago to the the day; at exactly 1937hrs on Sunday, 30 October 2005, you were quietly promoted to higher glory as you lay in your brother Chakanetsa Makumbe’s round kitchen hut at Makumbe village in Domboshava. You had just been discharged from the nearby Makumbe District hospital in this hallowed place of your birth. Today, I proffer this special ode to you because memory has always been a fertile site for deep reflections.

I write this epistle to you, amai , because the fond memories of the time God favoured us to be with you are still closeted in the treasured parts of our hearts. Every August, as the nation celebrates its heroes, we make it a point as a family to bring a bouquet flowers to the sacred place where you lie in the soft requiem of death under the wild loquat tree (muzhanje) at your own homestead at Tamborenyoka Village in Domboshava’s Shumba ward , some nine kilometers south of your own maiden village at Makumbe. You may not know it, amai , but when we intered you in the loamy soils in your own compound on Tuesday, 1 November 2005, we buried you beside your husband Ernest who had left us earlier on a stormy Friday night on 31 March, 2000.

You may not know it, amai vaAnymore , but your mother-in-law, gogo _vaAnymore, Martha Tamborenyoka Gombera, has since followed you along this tenuous route to God’s bosom. We also buried her in the same family graveyard and we made sure the order of the graves was such that your dear husband lies between you and his mother, the two women he so dearly loved.

Your own mother, gogo_Cecilia Munemo Makumbe has also followed you to the land yonder. You may have bumped into her up there but she was privileged to have lived for well over a hundred years on this earth. We buried her in the field behind that huge mango tree at Makumbe village early July 2018.

Today, I write this epistle to you as I “Luke” the beast of death in the eye to defy the chasm, nay the distance that the spectre of death had presumably imposed between you and us. Yes, I am writing this letter to expose the dismal failure of death in obliterating the cherished memories and the glowing embers of our unstinting love for you that have stubbornly refused to die since that ominous Sunday you left us way back in October 2005.

You were always mediatory and inclusive amai . Your Christian beliefs always ensured you were always the pillar of harmonisation between any feuding parties. They must surely be missing your mediatory services at the Salvation Army Tsatse corps where you worshipped and served as the Home League Secretary till the time of your death. I am reliably told the church has been torn apart by two factions that are currently engaged in mortal combat.

I know factionalism in the church was unheard of during your day’s, amai , but it is the in-thing across the churches nowadays, even at our own AFM church, where two factions are now fellowshiping separately throughout the country, one faction in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Politics and factionalism in the church? What an abomination.

Well, that may be evidence of the efficacy of the module in my Political Science studies: The ubiquity of Politics . The ubiquity of politics suggests that politics is found everywhere. Wherever there is human endeavour and wherever there are aspects of power, authority and control, then there is politics. These aspects of power, authority and control are everywhere including in families, at funerals, at burial societies and maybe even in the church. Maybe that is why there is now too much factional politics in the church, including at your very own Salvation Army Tsatse Corps amai .

It was precisely because of your skill and capability to bring a polarised people together that I invited Nelson Chamisa (then MDC Organising Secretary) and Biata Nyampinga (then the Zanu PF Goromonzi West MP) as the two guests of honour when we unveiled your tombstone in August 2012. That gesture was meant to celebrate your legacy of inclusion, togetherness and tolerance. There could have been no better occasion to send the message of tolerance than at the unveiling of your tombstone.

And at that glamorous function, amai , I stood in rapt wonderment, reminiscing over the enveloping motherly care you had given to the seven of us for all our lives. I know you would have been proud of me, had you been there when I led the gathering in singing your favourite hymn; Blessed be the Lord , For In Thee is Refuge ( Ishe Muri Chipotero ).

I know you would have been happy if you had peered from spirit-land to listen to me, your second-born son, leading the singing of the hymn that you used to sing with teary eyes when one or more of your children wailed under the spell those demonic attacks, which was often during our tenuous and troubled upbringing. Suffice to say we are still troubled _amai .

As I write to you, I am having those terrible nightmares I used to have when I was young, those ones that would leave me trembling while drenched and soaked in hot, searing sweat. I can smell death near me, amai , and I have this eerie feeling I will be joining you soon.

Yes, Soko , I am experiencing those attacks again. But I am not afraid. I am ready to “Luke” the beast of death right into the retina of the eye and to embrace her with both arms of the good Lord feels I must join you up there.

All the seven of us, your children, are now devout Christians amai : Anymore, myself, Edina, Tendekai, Precious, Patience and Ngonidzashe. Some of us are now fellowship under other denominations while others are still holding the torch in the Salvation Army, where you were Home League Secretary at the time of your promotion to higher glory.

Precious, now a teacher at Marikopo school in the Seke communal lands, is the Corps Secretary at Marikopo Salvation Army corps while Patience, who teaches at Domboshava primary school here in our rural hood, holds the same post at Mungate corps. Yes, the same Mungate corps where your eldest son, Anymore, began his pastoral vocation as a young Salvation Army pastor way back in 1996.

I am equally proud, Soko , that I have kept my promise to you . By a stroke of fate, I was ushered to the parenthood for all my siblings at a fairly early age. I sent them all to school amai I mean all your children. There are things I failed to do for myself because of that onerous responsibility but I remain proud of my sense of mission. I have just successfully but belatedly completed my second University degree, something I could have done far much earlier but for my responsibilities.

But I am happy and proud tell you that the seven of us now have six University degrees between us. I kept the pledge and sent them to school following your teary-eyed plea to me that evening late September 2005 when you told me you were sure you would not hold out much longer. You told me strive to send them all to school. I kept the promise Soko. Precious and I had the honour and privilege of being awarded Book Prizes at University, which we dedicate to you, amai .

Even Ngonidzashe, your last-born son whose health challenges you well knew before you passed on and for whom you wept in between prayers as he grew up, is now a grown up man. He too is now a proud holder of a BSc (Hons) degree in Sociology from the University of Zimbabwe.

You were only two girls, with eight brothers in your family, amai After you and your only sister Auntie Sophia passed on, we thought we would sorely miss the matriarchal care and guidance that every African man continues to require regardless of their age. But no, amai, just stand proud of your nieces who have continued to nurture us, to guide as and to provide the motherly care.

Mai Gatawa (auntie Albertina), Mai Chimbwanda (auntie Priscilla) and others have stood tall, firm and unflinching by our side. Yes, we missed and we still miss but we didn’t lack the motherly care and concern, including daily prison visits and food for me for the several months that I spent in the D-class section of a notorious prison on trumped-up charges of banditry and terrorism.

We have not lacked motherly care even in our adult life. For example, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, your name–sake, Auntie Pelagia, felt duty-bound to organise food hampers from her base in London for all of us. Indeed, Soko , they have all ably carried your torch and we have not lacked the motherly guidance that you provided. In sadness and in laughter, at birthday parties and during funerals, these beloved aunties have consistently and competently given us the motherly guidance.

When you were promoted to higher glory in 2005, you left behind five grandchildren. Now they are eleven. This means the majority of them never saw you. The most inquisitive of them all, Lee Anne Tapiwanashe, always asks about gogo vepamuzhanje in reference to the wild loquat tree under which we buried you. The muzhanje tree has since been cut and is no longer there but Lee-Anne still refers to this tree because it poignantly and arrogantly defined the burial site in the family compound where you are buried. You too amai were yet another tree that was cut but that stubbornly and defined who we are today.

Now I hear some of the grandchildren have trooped kwagogo Chimbwanda for the long Covid-19-induced school holiday. Gogo Chimbwanda, auntie Priscilla, is one mummy with a difference who has filled your role with honour and distinction. She is the one who also stays Thammiah, Precious’ eldest daughter whom you never saw. So, variko vanagogo . And they continue to ably carry your torch.

You left us exactly 15 years ago to the day mhamha , just 48 hours after I had left the Daily News to join the MDC on 28 October 2005 as the Director of Information and Publicity. I am still with the MDC _amai . It’s now called the MDC Alliance. I am still fighting this dictatorship amai, the dictatorship that made you cry on Friday 19 January 2001 when they arrested and detained me for criminally defaming Robert Mugabe.

The same Robert Mugabe has since followed you up there amai. You will be shocked to know that he was violently stampeded out of power by the soldiers and he even voted for the MDC Alliance in 2018. Wonder of wonders amai, Mugabe even held a press conference on the eve of the last election and told everyone he was not going to vote for Zanu PF.

But now we have a worse leader in the name of one Emmerson Mnangagwa. Remember him? Yes, he mounted a coup, stole the election in 2018 and has a government that is corrupt, rapes women and is just plain clueless when it comes to running the country. Now, even the teachers are on strike amai, including your own daughters Precious and Patience.

I know it never used to happen but sisi Patience was even supplementing her measly income by selling eggs and vegetables at Domboshava primary school where she teaches. She is lucky she teaches here in our rural hood because sometimes we bring her maize meal from home, the maize that we grow on that family field that is close to the river Nyaure. Yes, that place near Mr Titus Mvere’s homestead where we would eat cucumbers and in the storm water drain while you tended the family field—light showers of rain washing away our dirty bodies as we played.

The dignity of the teacher has vanished amai . We have even had some female teachers from the nearby Tsatse school pleading with us to use the village anthills to mould bricks and clay plates for sale. Yes, female teachers, moulding bricks for sale!

That’s how far down we have sunk as a nation under this scarfed regime.

On another disturbing note, Domboshava has significantly changed amai. It has largely urbanised. But we have kept the huge hectares of arable family land. At least the 22 villages in Shumba ward three, among them Tamborenyoka village, are still largely very rural. We can still farm, till the land and tend the cattle in the vlei and in the mountains.

While elsewhere land has been sold out to desperate land seekers from Harare, we have stubbornly held firm to our treasured land and ensured this area remains our rural home, the land of our forefathers. We have not sold away our treasured land where we buried you and your husband—-this area that has the sacred Dambatsoko mountain where we buried my grandfather and namesake on 10 December 1987. Dambatsoko, the revered mountain where my great grandfather Gombera was interred in a cave sometime around the summer of 1922.

The rest of Domboshava has been sold away, amai , including your maiden village where you hail from. You and your grandfather Makumbe, if you were to wake up today, would get lost among the srrivistes who bought the land sold away by your own brothers, cousins and nephews. Makumbe, your great grandfather whose name began as a nickname given the way he “gathered up” ( kukumba), his 32 wives, among them the beautiful woman called Sone, the princess and daughter of his friend, Chief Masembura.

You will recall, amai that Sone was given to your grandfather on top of the whole Domboshava area as payment for assisting chief Masembura in a battle. Makumbe then invited his kinsmen who were still resident around the Chishawasha area to come and settle with him on this land, which became the new cradle of the vaShawasha people, your tribe, the Chinamhoras.

Your own brothers are selling this land amai, including the very area with the decorated granite–stone grave of Makumbe just beneath the mountain. Makumbe, your iconic great grandfather after whom a whole mission school and hospital are named must be turning within those granite stones that make his grave.

Continue to rest in peace amai. But like I said I could be joining you up there soon. I have a strong feeling I am about to come there. The dreams and nightmares I am having nowadays all seem to be exhorting me in that direction. We are all praying about it.

However, I am not afraid, amai . I will “Luke” the Beast of Death in the Eye whenever it shall come.

Yes, I could be joining you soon. Greet dad, the gogos and everyone up there.

Your loving son,

Luke Batsirai

Luke Tamborinyoka is the Deputy Secretary for Presidential Affairs in the MDC Alliance led by Advocate Nelson Chamisa . He is a multiple award-winning journalist who was once elected and served as the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.

Tamborinyoka also served as spokesperson for almost 10 years to the country’s democracy icon , Morgan Tsvangirai , until the latter’s death in 2018 . He is an ardent political scientist who won the Book Prize for Best Student when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe.

You can interact with him on Facebook or on the twitter handle @ luke_tambo.

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