Clad in muddy tattered clothes, with a head crying out for a shave, Charles Mafion of Nyamande village in Domboshawa will strike you as a homeless beggar, if not a mad man.
His skin, ashen from heat, gives the impression of someone who has had an enduring stint without a bath.
And his smile, though graceful, has often been judged as similar to that of a mental patient by unforgiving locals of Nyamande.
But Mafion is neither insane nor homeless. The untidy appearance he retains is a result of the bewildering work he has been doing along the banks of a small stream in Nyamande village for years.
Using astounding craft and art similar to that used in the making of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, Mafion has single-handedly built himself a 13-roomed double-storey house with only granite stone and clay.
“There was no plan, no foundation, he did everything with his hands. Not even basic tools such as trowels and spirit levels were used,” said Mafion’s pastor, Mr Innocent Masenga.
“All the material he used was obtained from the surrounding environment, nothing was bought.”
The house consists of three kitchens, five living rooms and five bedrooms, two of which make up the upper floor of the house.
It also contains a toilet and two en-suite wash-rooms. Sitting between a hillside and a stream, this work of improvised architecture has become a huge marvel in the Domboshawa community.
But just what inspired Mafion to build such a remarkable structure.
“It all started back in 2007 when I had this burning desire to have my own house,” he says.
“But the challenge then was that I did not have resources so I decided to go with what I had. Since this area is mountainous, with a lot of granite, I decided to put that granite to good use as my bricks. I would crush them against each other until they gave me the right sizes and shapes I needed to build the house. At first I laid the bricks one on top of the other without anything holding them but after a while I started to add clay to make the walls a little bit stronger.
“For poles, I cut trees in the mountains and that is where I also get the grass I use for thatching. I also melted plastics to make cabinets and windows. In all of this I use my hands and basic tools to build.”
Mafion said he did not use any building plans as it was all in his head.
“I would just visualise what I wanted to do the next day and get on with it,” he said.
“I am not professionally skilled and educated, I left school when I was in Grade Seven but I guess to be able to do this is a talent from God.”
Although some people in the area have criticised the house saying it is a safety concern, Mafion has confidence in his work.
His critics argue that the walls could be brittle given that they were built without mortar and are being held together by mere clay.
“The house is very safe, I have lived in it ever since I started building it and it has survived 10 rainfall seasons, even when we had lots of rains last year. There are many living rooms and many bedrooms and my mood determines which one l use on which day, but I prefer the ones at the top.
“Of course, the structure was not built according to legal standards but I have not yet had any problems with authorities so far. I hope it stays that way.”
Mafion has been living alone after his wife and child relocated to Mozambique a couple of years ago. He says his only family now are his old grandparents who live adjacent to his house. All other family members have either passed on or relocated.
“I know some people think I am mad but that’s absolutely not true. If I was mad would I be able to do all these things?
“Everything I do is a blessing from God and I have recently received Jesus Christ so everything I do now is guided by His word. Now that I have a big house my desire is to find a woman to settle down with and start our own family.”
Mafion’s neighbours expressed mixed feelings about his work with some praising it while others said it is evidence that he is mentally challenged. Pastor Masenga emphasised that Mafion is a mentally fit person who is only exhibiting his artistic talent.
Mafion is hopeful that if his house is properly marketed it can become a big attraction and earn him some money.
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