I’m President Mugabe’s uncle, though 10 years younger than him.
My totem is Madyira, and I am of the same scion as his mother, Bona. My forebears originated from Gutu, relocated to Musana (then Chishawasha); finally settling in Kutama where my father was part of the team that built Kutama Mission.
I have interacted with the Mugabe family since the 1930s and, therefore, know them very well.
I am always over-awed, though, by President Mugabe’s demeanour, especially his respect for my clan and I; the same respect he displayed when we were much younger.
I know a lot about Robert Mugabe’s early life as he remained in Kutama with his maternal grandparents, Sekuru and Mbuya Shonhiwa, when his father, Gabriel, relocated to Karigamombe.
They lived in that house (pointing at President Mugabe’s rural home in Kutama).
I got to know Robert intimately when he was in his teens and one thing about him struck me at the time – his passion for farming.
It was the “special attire for the occasion” that distinguished him from every other farmer I knew: The white pair of shorts and white shirt were unmistakable, even from a distance, and he never wore anything different for field work.
He gave his all when it came to farming.
It was easy to tell that this was his passion as he still worked the fields even during his teacher training course at Kutama Mission. Their crop was always the best in our area because of this little dynamo who got up early everyday to tend the fields.
I’ve never asked him about the all-white look, but I presume it inspired him to work like a man possessed.
Robert was disciplined in his youth, and never missed a nhimbe (community-assisted field work). Even now; he encourages his family to grow crops and feed themselves.
A question he is sure to ask at family meetings is: What have you done in the fields; is it enough to feed everyone here? He always emphasises that our lives should revolve around farming.
Kutama generally receives good rains. Besides, many of our neighbours and relatives have benefited from the free irrigation the President has personally made available.
He is against those who seek to make quick gains like felling trees illegally. He often says, “Musaite pfungwa dzedemo; itai pfungwa dzekurima.”
I was not surprised when he led land reforms as farming is close to his heart. He wants people to farm and make the best out of their land.
Farming was important to Robert in his early life because it sustained the family. And when his father later returned to Kutama, Robert managed to take care of his other siblings through farming.
The larger family had to grow enough food and Robert was right at the centre of engineering everything as a big responsibility was on his shoulders. His father had grown older, and it was up to Robert to feed the family.
At that time, he was earning a salary as a teacher, but it was still important to farm. After Zimbabwe won Independence, he set up an irrigation project to enable households around his home to irrigate their crops all-year round.
This project is free, showing how committed he is to supporting those interested in agriculture. The President does not tolerate lazy people. If you approach him seeking financial assistance, he will ask: Have you produced anything in your fields? Ko kumunda kunei?
He has come to know the lazy people in our family and tells them that farming brings prosperity. He, nevertheless, remains very kind and often lavishes us with gifts, particularly at Christmas.
His love for farming is like a fire that burns within him. I’m happy that the rest of Zimbabwe has benefited from his passion as seen in land reforms he has championed. I used to work in Harare, but I retired, and my occupation now is farming.
Robert inspired me and I always remember his words of wisdom each time I reap returns from my farming endeavours. I always try to grow enough crops to sustain my family; just like the man in whites used to.
Cde Ignatius Kutama was speaking to The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi in Zvimba on January 30, 2017
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