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Mbuya Elsie Mufuka: A tribute to the last of the tribal matriarchs

By Ken Mufuka

The people called Salvationists (vanhu vemureza-a flag) are somewhat special.  Those who have served the Salvation Army are given a heroes funeral, and honors. Though we knew that my mother’s time had come when she turned 100 just before Christmas, and had witnessed to one of her many nephews, Lawrence Makusha, when finally the hour to depart came, I was devastated.

Ken Mufuka and Mbuya Mufuka
Ken Mufuka and Mbuya Mufuka

Mbuya Elsie Mufuka, my mother was my first love.

There is something lovely beyond measure about those among us, people of prayer, who keep the faith to the end.  Lawrence, who visited her two weeks before her death, had this to say.

 “She was not well and in bed.  Surprisingly, her mind was sharp and her memory for someone of that age. We talked for almost an hour. Actually we listened while she talked. Finally she prayed a prayer I will never forget.”

She told Lawrence that Salvationists on the other side of the Jordan River were waving to her. “Come over, we are waiting for you.” They were saying.

Tidings Shamba, another nephew, had this to say. “Ambuya was so loving to all who saw her. I am hurting at the loss. There are few like her. I can truly say I knew a woman who was Christ like and forgiving.”

I say this to point out a quack in Bantu life. One must watch the death bed carefully because it often happens that nephews are shown the secrets of life by departing elders while the direct progeny miss out.

But the issue here, as the Salvation Army top brass, Colonel James Chinyemba and Major Madaka unfurled the Salvation Army flag, they told of a woman, who had joined the Salvation Army as an officer in 1939, retired in 1980 and yet lived another forty years as a witness of faith.

The ten lepers

My mother was my first love.  It was not because she was my mother, for she was a matriarch to two tribes, her own, the people of the Rain bird, and to those of the Eland clan.

True to form, she kept some of the money we sent her, and whenever a visitor from the village came, she had something for them.  Very often the tribal visitors were given US ten dollar bills which we had sent her, and we saw them gasp in surprise.

 There is something about these Salvationists and their grasp of fundamentals of life which she shared with everybody who cared to listen.

When my family went through a period of excruciating poverty, we learned to be thankful. There is nothing repugnant to God and man as an ungrateful wretch, who scorns gifts given with love. Worse, when prosperity comes, the sluggard forgets those who sustained him when he was poor.

Poverty is to be avoided at all costs, but if it comes, it must be endured like the cross, with grace, prayer and faithfulness.

The story of the ten lepers was always on her tongue. Only one came back to say “THANKS.”

I was the naughtiest of the eight children, and guilty of juvenile mischief, such as removing the walking stick of an elderly blind woman, Mai Chikwata from its place on the wall.

The fundamental was this. Never give up correcting children. While children pretend not to abide by the instruction of the elders, the words of wisdom abide in their inner thoughts. The people of the Rain bird say children do not go too far away from their umbilical chord (Rukuvhute).

Way back in the 1940’s my mother grasped the fundamental that girl children who lack an education are prone to be abused by their income earning husbands.

“Kudzidza kwakanaka.”  But the catch was that it takes almost 25 years to train a doctor, and years  of self sacrifice for a family of four while their children go through K-12.

Those years must be born like a cross, for in due course, they shall pass..

Faith availeth much, and those who keep the faith will not falter. I remember many times when she would hold her hands in an attitude of prayer and say: “Children, if God does not send us food, I have nothing to cook.”

 In the same way that one lived by prayer and supplications when evil times were upon us, when prosperous times come, one must never forget to show gratitude. Big talk is cheap.  It is more practical, as a sign of gratitude to God for one to return (like one of the ten lepers) and say THANKS.  It is even more blessed, like the Samaritan to give practical help.

It was with this in mind that my family set up four different Trust Funds to help any child in Mufuka Village who wants to go to school, another to help needy kids at Mucheke High School in Masvingo. There are two trust funds at Lander University that have helped Zimbabwe students get an education.

 Her role in this was that a portion must serve the needs of girls.

Thus we honor  Muranda WaMwari and the Salvation Army that taught us that the purpose of life is to do the most good. I say farewell to my first love, ms Elsie Mufuka. I pray that I have been a faithful son.

Why I will miss her

It was always a joy to watch funeral ceremonies with my mother. We would perch ourselves at a vantage point where we would see the celebrants come in one by one.

My mother, ever with a caustic tongue would say: “Look at that one,  Va Jamus, he says he is a teacher. He is the lead mukuwasha here. You will see how much he cries. His tears will fill a bucket, but he has brought nothing for the celebrants.”

Then she would shout, in that deliberate low but piercing voice, only found among people of the Rain bird.

“Nhai  iwe Jamus, ko  zvawauya wkabata maoko ako chete, zvino todye iko muzukuru!”  Oh, how the audience would laugh and echo her words.

“You are right Mbuya, this Mukuwasha must be fined, he ought not to get away with it,” they would say.

I think I can now die with some satisfaction that at least we have taught all the people of the Mufuka Clan and the VaZukuru of the Rain bird the secrets of life.  Later in life, I learned that that was called practical Christianity.

St. John the Revelator had a caustic tongue, from which my mother must have learned a thing or two. “What does it matter, if your neighbor says he is hungry, to say that you will pray for him, rather than to give him bread.”

 Tradition says that fearing St. John’s caustic tongue early Christians decided that it was better to take in one orphan than to say a thousand prayers

 I have inherited my mother’s sharp tongue, but through the writing pen!  My mother will be laughing from across the Jordan River. I sure she is looking at the mourners and saying:

“You see that one;   his tears will fill a bucket, but he has not brought a goat for people to eat.”  Farewell, my dear mother. You were my first love.

Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwean patriot. He can be reached at mufukaken@gmail.com.  His books are available from Innvov Bookshops in Zimbabwe.