The Sunday Mail
ROBERT MUGABE, the man, might be inscrutable to many, but to those who grew up with him, he was like any other human being. However, his formative years, upbringing, experiences and influences, helped to shape the man who stood like a colossus over the country’s political, social and economic terrain during the past six decades. Following Cde Mugabe’s sad passing on Friday at the age of 95, we republish Cde Johannes Chikanya’s account. Cde Chikanya grew up with the liberation icon and was very close to him, almost like a ‘twin’.
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. I called Robert my son.
A sense of pride wells up in me each time I consider that I am one of Mugabe’s remaining peers.
You can search through Kutama in its entirety, but will not find another 93-year-old (in 2017) like me.
To the best of my knowledge, Mugabe and I are the only nonagenarians left among 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 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 our grandparents as they were not Christians.
Robert’s father, Gabriel, worked at the mission as a carpenter, alongside my uncle, Paul Gono.
This drew Robert and I closer. 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. He was far much better than his predecessor.
Father O’hea was a role model we adored as children.
He was a larger than life figure and influenced Robert Mugabe in a very big way.
The way (the then) President Mugabe conducts himself shows that he has stuck to the principles we took from Father O’hea, who always emphasised on the need to do 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.
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 at 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 the 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 and stuck 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 Robert, 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 long life to Robert and I.
As his ‘twin’, I understand 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.
His greatness began when he fell in love with his books and kept on the right path.
Cde Johannes Chikanya shared these views with The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi in Zvimba on January 30, 2017.