The Sunday Mail
On Wednesday, former Anglican Church Bishop Jonathan Siyachitema was laid to rest at St Mary’s Cemetery in Chitungwiza after losing his long battle with cancer on May 6.
He was 90.
Bishop Siyachitema’s work in public office was well-documented.
His pastoral work began when he trained at Salisbury Theological College in the United Kingdom in 1969 and was ordained a priest at St Mary’s Bristol.
He returned to the then-Rhodesia in 1971 to work as a priest at St Andrew’s, Mpopoma, up to 1976. He became the first black dean at St Mary Cathedral from 1976 to 1981 and was the founding Bishop of the Lundi — now Diocese of Central Zimbabwe — from 1981 to 1996.
From leading a delegation of church leaders to the Lancaster House talks, which culminated in the country’s Independence, to serving on various boards, including at the University of Zimbabwe, Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe and Zimpapers, his contribution to the development of modern-day Zimbabwe was immense.
Although he lived a full and illustrious life, his last year on earth was forgettable. It was a year characterised by untold trauma, loss and grief.
For Bishop Siyachitema and his family, the year 2021 will forever be etched in their hearts as a wretched year full of incredible sadness and sorrow.
Last year, the bishop tragically lost six family members to Covid-19, and it all happened within 26 days. On January 5, he lost his brother, Fanuel, to Covid-19-related complications. His sisters Lydia and Judith also succumbed to the virus on January 12 and 17, respectively. Less than a week later, on January 22, the Grim Reaper would return yet again, and this time to take the love of his life, Rose.
As if that was not enough, his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, passed on seven days later.
It got worse. Two days after Elizabeth’s death, Covid-19 would haunt the Bishop’s family again, claiming the life of his third-born daughter, Rosemary, the well-known former Consumer Council of Zimbabwe executive director.
Elizabeth and Rosemary were exposed to Covid-19 while taking care of their 85-year-old diabetic mother, Rose, after she had developed symptoms associated with the virus.
Bishop Siyachitema’s eldest daughter, Mrs Florence Siyachitema-Maruza, said Rose initially returned a false negative result after undergoing a Covid-19 antigen rapid test.
The much more effective polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test had not been popularised then. After she passed on, the two sisters started developing Covid-19 symptoms.
While thoughts that they had contracted the deadly virus crossed the family’s mind, they did not want to believe this could be the case. Instead, they thought the headaches and body aches the sisters were experiencing were caused by exhaustion due to the sleepless nights they spent taking care of their ailing mother. As a result, they did not get tested.
Mrs Siyachitema-Maruza said the tragedy left her late father a deeply sad and troubled man. “I remember them sharing a ventilator,” she said, referring to her two sisters.
“Rose(mary) would use it for a minute and say, ‘no, Flo, let me give the younger one so she can have the chance to breath’. “She would then pass it to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth would pass it back.” Mrs Siyachitema-Maruza said the tragic death of her sisters has scarred her for life.
“Elizabeth passed on a week after mum died. I remember when she died I was holding her in my hands while waiting for an ambulance. I remember removing mucus and placing my mouth on her nose to assist her with breathing.
“And everyone was like, ‘she has Covid’, and I remember asking for a sanitiser.
“But, this was my sister; it was very difficult.
“And two days later, it was Rose.
“So myself along with my father, brother, cousin and niece, we buried these two on the same day.” She said burying her sisters while only in the company of close family members because of strict Covid-19 protocols on funeral gatherings came as a relief.
“In a way, I was glad it was just us burying the two,” she said.
“Having grieving relatives falling over me would have been too much.
“So you needed people who were sensitive. You can only get people who are sensitive sometimes when you don’t have too many people around.”
Tragically, misfortune would not relent and continued to stalk the Siyachitema family. Overcome by grief and struggling to cope with the heart-breaking loss, Bishop Siyachitema’s son John fell into depression. He became hooked on alcohol. As fate would have it, it was not long before he developed kidney disease, which was linked to his binging.
On many occasions, said Mrs Siyachitema-Maruza, Bishop Siyachitema tried to gently nudge his son away from the bottle, urging him to seek counselling. However, because of the lockdowns, most institutions providing counselling services had been shut down, leaving John in a lurch. Tragically, he later died, as depression took a toll on him. “I stayed with my father as we ministered to each other,” said Mrs Siyachitema-Maruza. “At that time, he was infirm, in a wheelchair. We prayed like there was no tomorrow for strength and the ability to accept our wretched fate.” Three months later, Bishop Siyachitema’s health deteriorated rapidly. In typical fashion of a man of his stature, he never moved away from his strong Christian beliefs. However, a few days before his death, added Mrs Siyachitema-Maruza, Bishop Siyachitema admitted that the battle had become too much for him.
He then asked to be laid in his bed and requested a priest to assist him perform his last rites before thanking his family for facilitating the process. Bishop Siyachitema passed on peacefully on Friday May 6 surrounded by his family. “One other thing that stood out is his strength for service,” she said.
“He had the great spirit of giving to service, at church, in the nation and within the family. He was always giving and giving.”