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

Letter from America: with KENNETH MUFUKA

The people called Salvationists (vanhu vemureza), (the flag), are somewhat special. Those who have served the Salvation Army are given a heroes funeral, and honours. 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.

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 40 years as a witness of faith.

The 10 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$10 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.

There was a particular period when my family went through excruciating poverty, and was it not for the saints in Masvingo, the family would have gone under.

But the lesson she taught us was that poverty must be avoided at all costs, but endured with grace and faithfulness.

But there was more, which was that when trying times pass, as it did for the 10 lepers, only one returned to the giver of life 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. Please never give up correcting children. Though they 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 cord (rukuvhute).

My mother grasped another fundamental, the role of education in the future of a developing country, way back in the 1940s. In her scheme of things women who lacked a saleable skill were likely to fall under an abusive husband.

“Kudzidza kwakanaka.” But the catch was that it takes almost 25 years to train a doctor.

Since four of us were at boarding school at one time, poverty abided in our house, and she was known as Musekiwa, the laughing stock of the family, whose children have run away to foreign countries.

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.”

The fundamental I learned was what we call practical Christianity. In the same way that one lived by prayer and supplications when evil times were upon us, 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 the 10 lepers) and give your neighbour some 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 honour 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, Elsie Mufuka. I pray that I have been a faithful son.

Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwean patriot. He can be reached at mufukaken@gmail.com. His books are available from Innov 8 bookshops in Zimbabwe.

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