The Sunday Mail
Perched on a stool under the cool shade of a big Amarula tree, Kuda Chimbwanda goes about his business.
Speaking in a low, firm but authoritative voice, he gives specific instructions to his two assistants.
Moments later, the car engine roars to life, much to the relief of the car owner who had spent a cold night huddled on the car seat after his vehicle had broken down.
Kuda, of Chimbwanda Village in Uzumba, is a blind auto mechanic probably the only one in Zimbabwe.
An eye disease around 2001 resulted in the 44-year-old losing his eyesight when he was already a qualified mechanic. With a blurred vision, engine parts, to Kuda, appeared out of focus and hazy.
His wife accompanies him to and from work every day.
The loss of vision has, however, not deterred the mechanic from practising the trade that he so loves.
Although he is visually impaired, Kuda has, for the past 18 years, been performing maintenance, diagnostic testing and repairing both small and big cars. With the help of two assistants, the team works on engines, drive belts and transmissions, among other specialised areas.
According to locals, Kuda is a “wizard” when it comes to maintaining vehicle electronic systems such as steering and brake systems.
Last week, The Sunday Mail Society tracked down and caught up with the visually impaired tradesman at Manyika business centre in Uzumba, Mashonaland East province.
Upon asking for Kuda’s whereabouts, the first question that locals would ask was whether we have had a car breakdown and were seeking his services. An easy-going, calm and calculative person, Kuda is short, slim and looks much younger than most men his age.
With a strong handshake, his hands are cracked, thick, rough and very dry, like the hands of most mechanics or those that are involved in hard manual labour.
He says auto mechanics is his calling.
“This is my preferred source of livelihood. Although I can still till the land or do any other jobs, motor mechanics is like a calling. I spent so many years training and repairing cars. I cannot just wake up one day and announce that I am no-longer interested in this job,” Kuda said.
Most of Kuda’s clients are drawn from the local community, with business people and the other villagers constituting the majority of his customers. Teachers from the nearby Uzumba Primary and Secondary schools, nurses stationed at Manyika Clinic and those that pass through the area on their way to Nyadire Mission or surrounding areas often benefit from Kuda’s expertise.
Years of training including working for three bus companies and his familiarity with almost all types of engines, makes it easier for the father of three to make accurate diagnosis.
After the diagnosis, Kuda then instructs his assistants on how to solve the problem.
“The assistants that I work with had the basic knowledge of how engines function. It made everything else easy. What I do is to simply tell them what to do,” Kuda said.
Edwin Manyika, one of Kuda’s long-serving assistants, touched a bit on his boss’ work ethic.
“He is principled and hard-working. He does not attempt to do tasks that he is not familiar with or experiment with tasks that he was not trained to do. We do auto electronics and nothing else,” Manyika said.
Auto electronics is a delicate task that, if not properly done, might result in cars catching fire.
Masango Chipika, who also assists Kuda said he is proud of his track record.
“Our track record speaks for itself. We never attempt to do what we are not sure about. We always refer our clients to other people if we feel that we are not qualified to do specific tasks. Business is good because we deliver,” Chipika said.
Kuda attended Murehwa High School and sat for O-Level examinations in 1994. The following year, he enrolled for a diploma in auto mechanics at Mutare Polytechnic.
For seven years, he worked for three bus companies, B&C, RPK and Masamvu Buses as an auto mechanic. After losing his sight in 2001, he returned to Uzumba from where he has been repairing cars.
The changes in technology, however, often catches up with Kuda’s operations.
“There has been some technological advances in the way car engines are being manufactured. For instance, most vehicles engines are now having direct injector pumps as opposed to carburettors. Kuda is yet to catch up,” said Noah Zuze, who also works closely with the visually impaired mechanic.
Despite this setback, Kuda said he is not thinking of retiring anytime soon.
“Remember, I have children to feed. I will stick to the type of engines that I know how to fix. I am still around”.