Pathisa Nyathi @70…Family, friends lift veil on historian’s life

24 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views
Pathisa Nyathi @70…Family, friends lift veil on historian’s life

The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
CLOUDS of dust rose as Clement Magwaza’s Kokotsha song reverberated in the hot, sticky air in Sankonjana, deep in rural Kezi.

These plumes of dust, rising from hardened feet of villagers in the far reaches of Matabeleland South, were a signal that the party now belonged to them. They had watched as dignitaries, respected men and women who had come from the big cities with their big cars disturbing red dust as they negotiated the seemingly endless kilometres of dirt road leading to the Nyathi household.

It was, after all, a big day in Sankonjana. It was the day they were out to celebrate one of their own, a wise man whose keen mind had devoured hundreds of books, a sage whose tireless hand had written thousands of words.

It was Pathisa Nyathi’s 70th birthday celebration held last Saturday, and people had come from far and wide to observe festivities meant to honour his seven decades on earth. It was by all accounts, a glorious occasion.

Even before Magwaza’s razor sharp voice stabbed the tranquil Sankonjana air, the peace had already been disturbed by the popping bottles of sparkling wine which, once opened, were poured into immaculate glasses enroute to parched throats of those that had come a long way.

While close family and dignitaries sought shelter from the punishing sun under imposing tents, villagers did not leave any shade unused as they waited for the feast that would announce that festivities were well and truly underway.

As the all too familiar lyrics to the traditional Happy Birthday song was sung in hushed tones, a generator hummed by the corner, bringing the sweet music of electricity to homestead in the middle of village few could identify on a map.

As festivities unfolded, UB40’s Red Red Wine blared from the speakers as glasses clinked, with Nyathi himself, a beverage in hand, exchanging pleasantries with guests that had travelled so far just to see him.

Pathisa’s sister Mebby Nyathi had narrated how growing up, the historian used to be a naughty boy and when DJ Cleo’s Hip Hip Hooray came on, Pathisa shook his 70-year-old frame, temporarily bidding farewell to the sage that the world now knows and giving a rare glimpse of the naughty trickster from all those years ago.

As Hip Hip Hooray segued into the South Brothers’ Bazobuya Sibalindile, it served as a reminder of Nyathi’s own days at Mazowe Secondary in 1970, when half the school was expelled as revolutionary fervour swept through the classrooms and he and his classmates, as young as they were, faced the possibility of arrest while holding late night political vigils.

However, despite a fancy feast, the artificial shade of big tents and the unusually loud music, this celebration was still taking place in a village, where bicycles far outnumbered the number of four-wheel drive vehicles, where Pathisa’s roots are anchored. For family, it was time to reflect on Pathisa the man, not the historian.

“When he grew up, he was a very naughty boy,” sister Mebby said. “When he went to school at Tudi 1, there was a place where he would hide in the bush and not go for his lessons. He would only return later in the day like other kids who had been at school.

“When he used to go to Sankonjana, he was very naughty. I remember how, when he was with this other young uncle of ours, they saw an old men called Mqamuko, they threw stones at him while laughing. He went to report to school how some school kids were hitting him with stones.

When teachers asked them what had happened, they said they thought they were hitting an antelope. He grew up as a man full of great surprising things and so today when we see him and all that he is doing, we are not surprised,” she said.

Mebby narrated the various misfortunes that befell Pathisa over the years, some which almost claimed his life.

“This other year he got really sick. It was painful to watch and like his name suggests, Pathisa was helped by the Lord and he managed to heal and go on with life.

He was also involved in an accident and as a sibling I thought he was going to die. I remember Reverend Damasane was the first person to take a picture of him while he was in the hospital and that was the first time, I saw him. They had to wire his jaw because they had been significant damage.

Again, the lord helped him and he survived,” she said.

Mebby spoke about how for years, he had agonised about the fact that he did not have books in his name, despite the fact he had helped countless others pen theirs.

“I want to congratulate you because some time ago you spoke in pain about how the Lord could take you yet you did not have a book about you, although you had written so many books for other people.

You spoke of how you would even sleep at 2am, as you held on with your teeth, your feet and your fingers, trying to make sure that you finished all the books that would narrate the story of your life. Now all your dreams and wishes have come true,” she said.

Nyathi’s son, former National Arts Council Director Butholezwe said as his father turned 70, he had already been attacked by an assortment of illnesses that came with old age, and had begun to fear and think of his own death.

While some might look at this fear with dread, the younger Nyathi said he recognised it as the wind in his father’s sails.

“As a person who lives by injections, I think he has fear that life will be taken from him and it’s a fear that I can understand. Only God can decide when we depart earth but personally, I celebrate that fear because it’s pushing him to do things that he would otherwise not have done.

He has written an autobiography. So many people wanted to write it on his behalf but I don’t think anyone could have written it in the way that he wrote it because everyone of us know our story,” he said.

Going down memory lane, Butholezwe narrated how his father’s birthday was never celebrated in the Nyathi household.

“Growing up, I never remember us celebrating his birthday. We would celebrate other birthdays but never his. So, this one is the first that we have celebrated accordingly for someone who never celebrated his birthdays in the past.

We worked together a lot at Amagugu and now I’m working in a cultural space and this is largely because of his influence. Wherever we worked our work was seen and what we did still stands at Amagugu. I might not write books like he has but I will choose something in the cultural field that I will help improve. That’s my promise to him going forward,” he said.

Nyathi’s first-born, Sikhanyisiwe Nyathi Sibanda painted a picture of Nyathi as a stern, serious man as they were growing up.

“We shared a lot with my father. When I was growing up, I thought he was a quiet man because he would get home, he would read his newspaper, chat to his MaGumbo and then go and sleep. When it was news time on TV we would be sent away because he didn’t want anyone making noise during that time. Even now he is still the same, he doesn’t want anyone making noise during that time. So that’s why I thought he was someone who doesn’t care about us,” she said.

Sikhanyisiwe said her view of her father softened as she grew older and began realising the deep love and caring that he had for his children, a love that was masked by his more serious fatherly side.

“When I started working, there was this security guard that works at the Tower Block (Byo City Council offices) called MaNdiweni.

So, my father, when he would travel, would bring meals from the plane and leave them with her and then I could collect later on. At that time, I was already married so MaNdiweni asked one day why my father was so soft on me.

Those are the little things that made me realise that this man cares about me. It wouldn’t matter whatever he got on that plane, whether it was just a bun and some jam. It made me feel loved.

“There was a time when his eyesight was getting poor, so I would drive by the Tower Block, where he worked, and get him and I would drive him home. The next day he would come to the bus stop and I would drive us to town again.

That’s where our friendship blossomed,” she said.

Sikhanyisiwe also spoke of one of his father’s overlooked qualities – a piercing sense of humour.

“Some people don’t realise how he has a great sense of humour. He is a man who is just full of jokes. When I visit home in Gwabalanda I know we will sleep well after midnight because he will tell me story after story. He will tell me about people from the past, he will tell you about the herbs and how we neglect them and fashion ourselves as better people while foreigners package these same herbs as medicine.

“Even after my mother had passed on, most people thought maybe we wouldn’t have someone to care for us like a mother because the belief in our culture is that no one takes better care of a child than mother.

However, with my father, everyone can be rest assured. We have someone who really takes good care of us. When he started building this homestead, he didn’t have a cent budgeted but he insisted that he would build it anyway.

Today the house is standing. That’s one lesson we have learnt from him. If you want to start something, even if you don’t have money, you should go ahead and do it,” she said.

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