The Sunday Mail
I was born in Chitendero Village, Kutama on May 8, 1924. This is the place where Robert Mugabe was also born.
I am related to him in that his father, Gabriel, was my cousin and referred to me as mukoma while I called Robert my son.
A sense of pride wells up in me each time I consider that I am one of President Mugabe’s remaining peers. You can search through Kutama in its entirety, but will not find another 93-year-old like me.
To the best of my knowledge, President Mugabe and I are the only nonagenarians left out of the lot born here.
I am told that I did not cry when I was born, and the resident Catholic priest baptised me on that day fearing that this was an indication that I would not live long.
But here I am — 93 and still going strong!
I grew up at Kutama Mission. In the early days, we were not allowed to interact with non-Catholics as the priest at that time, Father Loubiere, was intolerant and did not have cordial relations with the community.
He would not even allow us to interact with my grandparents because they were not Christians.
Robert’s father, Gabriel, worked at the mission as a carpenter alongside my uncle, Mr Paul Gono, and this drew Robert and I closer in those early days.
We spent a lot of time together, eventually becoming best friends; more like twins. We often ate from the same plate.
Robert was very intelligent, so was his brother Michael.
Father Jerome O’hea, Father Loubiere’s successor at the mission, greatly influenced our upbringing, making sure we followed Catholic traditions and never missed church services.
He was a man of many talents: a doctor, builder and an engineer.
He managed to spread the faith, and worked well with people of different faiths as well as other Christian churches like the Methodist.
We learnt a lot from this priest whom the people loved and was far much better than his predecessor. Father O’hea was a role model whom we adored as children. He was a larger than life figure and influenced Robert Mugabe in a very big way.
The way President Mugabe conducts himself shows that he has stuck to principles we took from Father O’hea who always emphasised doing what is right.
Robert and I also shared lighter moments with Father O’hea. I remember how we would sometimes hide from him or roll over weaved mats to dodge chores.
Never quite a drinker
Following Catholic indoctrination, many people felt encouraged to move from Kutama Mission to other areas to spread the Gospel. Gabriel moved to the Karigamombe area, while Robert remained behind in Kutama with his grandparents, Sekuru and Ambuya Shonhiwa.
Sekuru Shonhiwa was known as “Chigubhu” because of his love for traditional brew.
He had an adept way of imbibing the brew, enabling him to keep it for longer while the containers of his drinking partners’ had long run dry.
Despite this exposure, Robert never took to the bottle, but, instead, took many positives from his grandparents. He was, in a way, his grandparents’ keeper, and had many responsibilities at that young age.
The two of us were separated when he started school.
I was only able to start school when I was 15-years-old, leaving Kutama for Chishawasha. At the time, Robert was in Standard 5.
We used to interact often whenever I went back to Kutama during school holidays. He never forgot our special relationship and bought me a suit when he started working.
This was one of the special gifts I held dear because it was a sign of his great affection for me.
Our lives later took different turns when he joined politics while I joined the Rhodesia Civil Service as an extension officer.
I worked in Mutoko and Murewa for many years, and thus could not see him. All I could do was support what he was doing to liberate the country.
I was not surprised that he became a nationalist leader because he had shown signs of greatness during our formative years. He was disciplined, despite being exposed to alcohol.
He sticks to principle, having blended his grandparents’ and Father O’hea’s teachings.
Father O’hea taught us to love one another. One sees that in the President because he loves his family greatly.
Many people wonder how he has managed to live this long; I believe everyone is responsible for their decisions in life. He has never imbibed alcohol, even during our youth when our peers were drinking themselves senseless.
If he had, or had not followed the right path, he would not have achieved what he has. Above all, it is God who has given Robert and I long life.
As his “twin’’, I understand President Mugabe and his vision for Zimbabwe. He saw and experienced colonial brutality and does not want it repeated. He has carried self-discipline, wisdom and principle since our days together at Kutama.
It was when he fell in love with his books and kept on the right path that his greatness began.
Cde Johannes Chikanya shared these views with The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi in Zvimba on January 30, 2017