Obert Chifamba Syndication Writer
Wrinkles on his face speak of the most incredible life journey. The crow’s feet on the edge of his eyes, a testament to laughter, warm smiles and affection. His forehead silently speaks of worries withered in the past and acceptance of the present. Yet, ordinarily, they are so deeply engrained that they speak of a man who has travelled past 10 decades to the present. At 103 years of age, Thomas Kutama Chibikira of Churu Village, Mhondoro communal lands under chief Mashayamombe says he has not sought medical treatment in over decades.
“I last visited a hospital in 1962, since then I have never set foot at a medical facility,” he said.
The only other time he used conventional medication was in the late 1980s when he got malaria drugs from a village health worker.
Sekuru Chibikira attributes his well-being to a strict routine that has stood for years.
“I do my errands on foot. Every Sunday I go to Mubaira Growth Point which is about 10 kilometres from my home. I have not missed a church service and I don`t intend to,” said Sekuru Chibikira.
He was born into a Catholic family on November 12, 1914 and has remained in the church since then. Sekuru Chibikira can be described as a die-hard who subscribes to the adage “age is just a number.”
Just recently, The Herald caught up with the centenarian walking to the local shops about five kilometres from his home.
He had a walking stick whose presence seemed to be more of a formality than a necessity.
This writer had to exert himself to catch up with him before he could reach his destination.
Asked on how he manages to retain such high energy levels at his age when most fail to get there in great physical shape, he cited his daily activities repeated over the years.
“I don’t feel sick, neither do I feel tired though I no longer have the same agility I had when I was a young man. I guess I have to keep doing everything I am doing today to maintain shape.”
He no longer has cattle and practises zero-tillage known in communal lands as ‘timba ugute’ (dig to survive) every year.
“I single-handedly weed my fields and grow sweet potatoes to keep my diet balanced,” bragged Sekuru Chibikira.
He believes he owes his longevity to God and from the fact that as a little boy he used to eat a lot of natural foods.
This included sadza from the tiny grains of a certain grass named “bungwe” that used to grow at the foot of nearby Kaguvi Mountain, but is now extinct.
“Sadza prepared from that grass’ seed tastes even better than that made from rapoko though they both have the same brown colour,” he said with a chuckle teasing the reporter that he will never experience that level of delicacy.
The list of traditional wild foods that Chibikira ate as a boy seems endless.
Tsenza, hwenya, tsambatsi, tsombori, derere rechijonga (okra) and a host of others that are now extinct probably due to too many human activities on the once-pristine lands that made up most of his diet.
Despite the time, he still enjoys traditional dishes. While a long life seems desirable, he has had to pay a painful prize.
Watching his loved ones depart has not been easy on the centenarian.
“I got married in 1955 and sired five children, two boys and three girls,” he said.
His story represents strength of character and memories of lost love tinged with sadness. He now faces the world alone.
First to die were four of his children, which left him with one and his wife.
She was to follow too and he remained with one daughter, who as fate would have it, also died a decade or so ago.
Sekuru Chibikira said, “Since my last daughter died in 2007, I have been living alone and I have no friends. I only had friends when I was still young and working.” He had one grandchild and does not know his whereabouts. He also has lost contact with most of his family.
He says he now interacts with everybody at a social level.
“My day starts at 7am and I go to sleep usually between 8pm and 9pm,” says Sekuru Chibikira.
He is a living institutional memory of gone by generations that used to wear animal hides for clothes.
He has survived in two different worlds and vividly remembers being forced to remove his kilts (nhembe) by one white man who had set up a pole and dagga store at present day Mubaira Growth Point.
“Our grandmother was convinced by the same white man to shun animal hides. Although we no longer wear them, they represent our formative years where we were in touch with who we are,” said Sekuru Chibikira.
With a fringe of grey-white hair around his balding, mottled scalp, a wizened face and slightly hunched back, Sekuru Chibikira walks with a slight shuffling gait.
He shows surprising agility for his age. His twinkling eyes are framed by thick greying eyebrows and on his chin are stubs of clipped grey whiskers.
This is a man who has a story to tell, experience dances on his lips like a curious child.
As he described his life, his tale could transport one to another place and time.
He oscillated between emotions as he narrated his ordeal.
At times he would seem excited to tell his story. Other times he seemed like he was honouring a solemn duty to remember the fallen.
In instances, he would appear overtaken by emotions that had been buried for decades and would pause.
To add a feather to his growing list of conquests, Sekuru Chibikira said he has never been treated for a sexually transmitted disease despite having dated many girlfriends in Gwelo, now Gweru where he worked.
“My employer was a very strict white man who would say it to my face if he did not like any of my girlfriends.
“I was always in the company of my friend Josiah Chirimuuta (now late) and we would date as many girls as we wanted but were all quick to end the relationships once we discovered that a girl was a two-timer,” he said.
They were lucky to escape unscathed from their escapades.
“We never got to engage in sexual activities despite having many girlfriends. We did it just for fun. I guess that kept us safe from STIs and other problems, and, yes, here I am — old and still going strong.”
Sekuru Chibikira’s neighbours aren’t even sure if he is as old as the village or older than the hill near the village.
He has just outlived everyone who knew that.