Spotting an ageing bald and a long forgotten cotton white beard, Thampson Mthombeni (114) cuts a ghostly figure as he leans on the walls of his bedroom hut waiting for yet another day to pass.
And with blindness having drastically cut his world, condemning him to one place, every single day is a long and laborious one in his journey to longevity.
Born on June 6, 1902, Mthombeni, who claims to be older than what his identity card bears, says he has never taken ill in his entire life.
The only time he visited the hospital, he claims was three years back after falling blind.At the hospital he was told that the eyes were beyond treatment and since then, he has been restricted to one place and feels his world collapsed with him loosing his sight.
Everyday he wakes up and with the aid of a walking stick, crouching over and leaning heavily on his cane, he finds his place to sit.
Having been deprived of his sight, Mthombeni’s life now borders around his bedroom hut, the kitchen and the toilet.
Under the walls of his bedroom hut in Njobo Village, Mberengwa, is a stool permanently fixed for him to sit and from this place is a long thin rope tied on his stool stretching to the kitchen and extending further north to the toilet.
If nature calls, Mthombeni sluggishly picks himself up balancing on his walking stick and with the rope giving him direction, he walks slowly but with confident steps to the toilet.
And when politics of the belly demands his attention, he again uses the rope to lead him to the kitchen to grab food.
This is routine and Mthombeni is now used to it and life goes on!
After his care givers got tired of guiding Mthombeni every now and then and with other rural chores needing attention, they had to devise a plan to make sure that Mthombeni finds his way to and from the toilet.
And the plan was to tie a rope from his now permanent base to the toilet, bedroom hut and kitchen. This seems to be working and at least, Mthombeni is his own man now!
But with his world now centered on three things, the toilet, the kitchen and his bedroom hut, he says he feels lonely and useless.
“I am redundant now, I don’t have much to do. The world to me now means the toilet, the kitchen and my bedroom hut and with the prevailing food shortage in our area due to drought at times I don’t bother going to the kitchen because there will be no food.
”Most of the times, I spend the whole day seated and without food only to get supper before I sleep. Life of a blind person is very difficult. I am guided by the rope and I don’t attempt going anywhere outside the perimeters of the rope, lest I get lost,” narrated Mthombeni.
He says, he still feels physically healthy to do other chores but his eyes betrayed him.
“I am feeling healthy and still counting. I wish I could see so that I can join others in the fields but my eyes betrayed me. However, I thank God for being one of the chosen few to live this long,” he said
Mthombeni, who is of the Malawian origin, says at times he feels lonely as everyday he sits at the same place pondering on the day when his maker will decide to call him.
“You know at times I wonder how God chose destiny for everyone. You know if I hear of young people dying in the village, young people who are productive dying while myself, old as I am, still living. It’s God’s choice we can’t change it but it’s painful,” said Mthombeni.
The centenarian says although he was now deprived of his sight, his only regret was that he can’t do anything with his solace coming in that he has seen and witnessed everything.
“I think I have seen it all. I witnessed the First World War, Hitler’s Germany War, the First and Second Chimurenga wars, almost everything,” he said.
Mthombeni says he was also involved in the opening of most mines in Zimbabwe and South Africa, some of them still operational today.
“When the famous Wenera came, I was already in South Africa where I was a labourer at Kimberely. Back in Zimbabwe, I was part of the team that went around opening mines in Kadoma, Chegutu, Shurugwi and then Shabanie Mine in Zvishavane.
Born in Mzimba in Northern Malawi in the 18th century, Mthombeni came into Rhodesia on foot at the age of 14 and later obtained a Rhodesian identity card, which was popularly known at that time in a native language as chitikinyani.
He says he, together with his peers again, crossed the Limpopo River into South Africa on foot where he worked at various mines.
“I worked at Kimberely for years before I came back to Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe we went around the country opening mines before I stayed in Shurugwi for over 17 years working at Tebekwe Mine,” he said.
Mthombeni says he later moved to Mberengwa where he worked at Vanguard Mine before he went into retirement.
Now under the custody of a distant relative, Samson Ngwenyama (91) whose roots are also traced to Malawi, Mthombeni now lives in a squalid hut in Njobo Village in remote Mberengwa hoping that one day he will leave the earth to meet his maker.
But with his health record, it feels like it will take a dozen years or more from now before Mthombeni is finally granted his wish to meet his maker. And without any traceable child or bloody relative, he has no one to give him the much needed care for a centenarian.
His care giver is also aging and at 91, very soon would also need his own care giver.
Mthombeni says he fathered eight children with five women during his productive days but is not in touch with any.
“Some I fathered them in South Africa, some back in Malawi but there are two girls I fathered here in Zimbabwe and we lost contact many, many years ago,” he says.