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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Letter to My Mother (republished)

An epistle to Pelagia Tamborenyoka Gombera, nee Makumbe

Today is Sunday, 30 October 2022. Exactly 17 years ago to the day, on yet another Sunday, 30 October 2005, my beloved mother Pelagia Tamborenyoka Gombera, nee Makumbe, passed on.

By nature I have always been a highly sentimental and historical individual; a stickler to memories and epic historical and family events, which may explain why I am a journalist and a political scientist, vocations that mainly thrive on detail, memory and history.

As an Advanced Level student way back in the 1990s, I felt humbled when I attained the prizes for best student in both History and English at Oriel Boys High School in Chisipite, Harare. And as a student at the University of Zimbabwe a few years ago, I was yet again greatly humbled when they awarded me the Book Prize for best student among the 120 students, both full-time and part-time, in my Political Science class.

I am a historial and memories person; a stickler to names, dates, times and specific detail. And that may be why I am republishing this special, emotional letter to my late mother on this historic day in my family.

Our parents are always a special people. But I will argue that one’s mother is always more special. For it is our mothers who largely determine our conduct and the values we will cherish later in life. Our fathers are hardware people; the guys who almost always determine our gait and facial appearances.

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When they say ” Uri mwana wekwanhingi ka iwe ?’, they are probably saying so because of your facial look, your hardware, the outer cover of who you are. And this hardware, our facial appearance and looks, is often inherited from one’s father and paternal lineage.

But while the father reposes his hardware on us, it is the mother who instals the software that influences the kind of people that we truly become in life. Our values, our deportment and conduct are often installed in us by our mothers.

I will posit that human behaviour is often evidence of the software given to us by our mothers. For the mother is the closest person to the child at the age that values are installed. So let us not shame our mothers by our disorderly conduct.

For our behaviour is evidence of the values infused in us by our mothers. Yes, our behaviour is the footprints of the software installed in us by our mothers, that is for those fortunate enough to have enjoyed motherly care when they were growing up.

My mother, just like my father, was a special person. But my mother, Soko Special, this princess of the Chinamhora chieftainship, is the woman who infused the prudent values in me that I still cherish to this very day.

Like I said, I am a historical person—an ardent political scientist given to memories and the remembrance of epic historical and political events. Dear reader, yesterday, 29 October, was yet another historic day. For it was the stock-market crash of Tuesday, 29 October 1929 that triggered the Great Depression of the 1930s, a phenomenal event in world history.

The Great Depression had a global impact and it was probably the first event to bust the trite notion of sovereignty. It began in the United States of America under the Republican President Herbert Clark Hoover. But the economic shock spawned by the inept Hoover administration quickly spread across the world to become the longest, deepest and most widespread depression of the 20th century.

The trigger of this epic global economic collapse was the events of what became known as Black Tuesday , a reference to the stock-market crash of 29 October, 1929.

On that sordid day, 16 million shares traded on a single day in Wall street, stock prices collapsed, tick-machines could not cope with the volume of trade and billions of dollars worth of investments were washed away.

By 1933, unemployment in the US had risen to 13 million while half of the country’s banks had closed, spawning the worst depression the world had ever seen.

And yes, we have our own uniquely sovereign depression of its own kind in this country. Oh yes, the despondent citizens of this country are depressed, most of them with high blood pressure and high stress levels caused by an inept and corrupt government that cannot even pay its own workers.

But our unique collective depression as citizens is a story for another day.

My subject today is about the great woman in my life whose death sparked a huge depression on those around her whose lives she had touched and inspired. I have heard of others who hate their mothers and even accuse them of witchcraft.

My word to those fortunate enough to still have their mothers is for them to cherish them because they will only truly appreciate their worth when they are long gone.

I will always remember my mother for as long as I live. Two years ago, on the 15th anniversary of her death, I wrote the letter below, which I republish today in her honour. May her memory never die, even as she lies still and motionless in the dark rictus of death.

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.

Seventeen 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 crevices of our hearts.

Every August, as the nation celebrates its heroes, we make it a point as a family to bring a bouquet of 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 interred 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 at 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. 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 presumably imposes between us the living and our dear departed ones who we so much loved.

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 days amai .But it is the in-thing across the churches nowadays, even at our own AFM church, where until recently two factions were 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 even in the church. Indeed politics is everywere. Maybe that is why there is now too much factional politics in the church, including at your very own Salvation Army Tsatse Corps.

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 Nyamupinga (then the Zanu PF Goromonzi West MP) as the two guests of honour when we unveiled your tombstone in Domboshava in August 2012 during the era of the inclusive government. 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 love, inclusivity and 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 then.

I know you would have been proud of me, had you been there when I led the gathering in singing your favourite hymn; Ishe Muri Chipotero ( __Blessed_ _be_ _the_ _Lord_ , _For_ _In_ _Thee_ _is_ _Refuge__ ).

I know you would have been happy if you had peered from spirit-land to see and 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 of demonic attacks, which happened 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 if the good Lord feels I must join you up there.

Amai , all the seven of us, your children, are now devout Christians : Anymore, myself, Edina, Tendekai, Precious, Patience and Ngonidzashe.

Some of us 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 primary school in the Seke communal lands, is the Corps Secretary at Marikopo Salvation Army corps while Patience, who until recently taught at Domboshava primary school here in our rural hood, held 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 of fathering my siblings at an early age. But I remain proud of my sense of mission. I successfully but belatedly completed my second University degree two years ago, something I could have done far much earlier but for my responsibilities.
But I am happy and proud to tell you that the seven of us now have six University degrees among ourselves.

I kept the pledge, amai , and sent them all 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 to 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 for Best students at University, which we both 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 many others have stood tall, firm and unflinching by our side. Yes, we missed and we still miss you. 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 recent 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 arrogantly defined —and still defines—the men and women we are today.

Now I hear some of the grandchildren last time 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. Apart from Lee-Anne, she is the one who also stays with Thammiah, Precious’ eldest daughter whom you never saw. So, variko vanagogo . And they continue to ably carry your torch.

You left us exactly 17 years ago to the day mhamha , just 48 hours after I had left the Daily News to join the then MDC on 28 October 2005 as the Director of Information and Publicity. . .

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 allegedly 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 opposition 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 often go on strike amai , including your own daughters Precious and Patience.

I know it never used to happen but Patience was even supplementing her measly income by selling eggs and vegetables at Domboshava primary school where she taught until recently. She was lucky she taught here in our rural hood because sometimes we would 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 in the storm water drain while you tilled the land, with 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 23 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 Luke Tamborenyoka Gombera 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 hailed from. You and your grandfather Makumbe, if you were to wake up today, would get lost among the arrivistes 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 as a “gift” 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 Dheu 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. But 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.
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Greet baba for me, the gogos and everyone up there.

Your loving son,

Luke Batsirai

P.S. My soul is broken. I know, amai , that there is no shame in being a broken man; that all one has to do is to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding. But then you are an important piece that I know I will never be able to pick up and rebuild again!

Luke Tamborinyoka, a journalist by profession and an ardent political scientist, is a citizen from Domboshava. He is a change champion in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his facebook page or via the twitter handle @ luke_tambo.

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