The Sunday News
John Masuku, Sunday News Correspondent
Over three decades after the death of her husband, Ethel Sibanda has risen way above the tag of always being identified as the widow of a once popular radio broadcaster and senior executive after developing her own niche as a hardworking, highly committed church worker and persistent evangelist who has ministered way beyond her own Brethren In Christ Church (BICC) locally and abroad.
Ferdinand Sibanda, Ethel’s late soft spoken husband was well known for his agriculture, culture and Imbube/Ingquzu music programmes on the pre-independence RBC African Service (ZBC Radio Zimbabwe) and nicknamed “uGodogodo Olungahlalwa Yinyoni” due to his very tall height died at the age of 51, leaving the school teacher-cum-pattern designer turned prayer warrior with seven young children, five boys and two girls with the eldest child aged 24 and youngest 11 years.
He died on 23 October 1991. He had risen to be a director in the then Administration and Personnel department at the public broadcaster.
Ethel narrates her heart rendering experiences through illness, loss, burden as well as resilience, victory and later picking up the pieces in her moving well written book My Eyes to the Hills — An extraordinary life in the hands of an extraordinary God based on the biblical Psalm 121, published in 2020 by Radiant Publishing Company established by legendary Ndebele and English author and entreprenuer Barbara Makhalisa Nkala who has since formed the Barbara Makhalisa Nkala Literary Trust (BCMNLT) to promote predominantly Ndebele language, culture and literature.
The Sibandas’ married life was frequented with family separations due to unexpected work-related relocations which sometimes brought headaches and disappointments such as when Ethel’s husband was given two weeks to leave Harare.
“Ferdinand was doing well at work when he received the bombshell news that he had to immediately move to Bulawayo to head up ZBC in Montrose. The Director General told him that he would be travelling abroad for two weeks and expected him to have moved to Bulawayo when he returned.
Ferdinand tried to reason with him but the DG insisted “When I return, you must be in Bulawayo. Am I making myself clear?
He further said “Try and make arrangements for a second mortgage if you need one.The point is you have to move,whatever it takes” wrote Ethel.
This for her was difficult news to break to the children who had grown up and were thriving at school and sporting clubs, plugged-in at church and had made close friends in their neighbourhood in leafy Borrowdale suburb.
Ferdinand was to last a very short time at the helm of Montrose Studios in Bulawayo as he fell ill and later got paralysed, forcing Ethel and family to spend time consulting different doctors and visiting hospitals until the broadcaster-turned-administration and human-resources executive died.
Ethel, who evangelised many people outside her own home had struggled to win her husband into church attendance and prayer life to the point of almost giving up. However, she prayed persistently.
“Lord if I die before him please draw him to yourself, but if he goes first, don’t allow him to come to you as he is.” Her prayer was answered but not without much effort.
“After turning down several invitations for church attendance and prayer gatherings Ferdinand who Ethel says was always a loving and caring husband agreed to attend a well organised marriage enrichment seminar run by David and Janet Cunningham at Resthaven Christian Retreat north of Harare.
He was transformed ending up a firm believer,dutifully attending church, reading the Bible regularly and actively participating during Bible study.
After Ferdinand’s departure Ethel prayed “Lord Jesus, I have no one to turn to. I will be your friend. Also be my friend” asking that Jesus should not give her another husband but help her to bring up her children in a godly way.
“With five boys and two girls, aged 11 to 24 I was overwhelmed and asked how would I be able to bring them to fear God?” she pondered.
Although a qualified and experienced teacher trained at the BICC-run Mtshabezi Mission and in pattern designing at Bulawayo Technical College (now Bulawayo Polytechnic) Ethel felt comfortable sticking to evangelism work at a very modest salary while still expecting to see her children attending and excelling at good schools.
Her training in Evangelism Explosion (EE) while worshipping at Northside Community Church in Harare came in handy.
“EE, as a non-profit organisation had limited funds that were donated by well wishers,thus salaries were minimal. In my case it was not about money but the fulfilment of serving the Lord.
“After Ferdinand died,someone offered me a job in teaching near our home to help with my income, but I felt God had called me to work in EE,” explained Ethel.
It was through EE and the Brethren in Christ Church missionary work that Ethel traversed the length and breadth of northern and southern Zimbabwe including Bulawayo spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
With scarce resources she and her teammates sometimes had to hitch-hike, walk or spend long hours after vehicle breakdowns.
To them it was like Jesus’ well documented ministry in Israel or Paul’s missionary journeys among gentiles in Asia Minor.
It took a lot of prayer, faith and hope to continue with literary speaking, thankless work in a cheerful and loving manner.
“At one time in Binga, Matebeleland North I walked non stop for two hours at night, stumbling and falling along the way to an evangelism training worship but soldiered on.
It was an incredible experience.
“Even though I was 60 years old I still felt strong and I could have gone further in order to win new souls to Christ” wrote Ethel.
In her book Ethel credits daily family devotions and church prayer meetings at their upmarket Matsheamhlophe (Bulawayo) home for her family’s spiritual growth and unity.In their upbringing she had also encouraged her children to attend Scripture Union and Youth Encounter Camps while they excelled well at school and in sporting activities.
Her prayer to see all her children complete university education to the extent of attaining degrees in Civil Engineering,Surveying and Accounting as well as getting married was answered. She witnessed all their weddings held in Harare and Bulawayo-Zimbabwe, Gaborone-Botswana and Bude, Cornwall- United Kingdom.
Due to all children having relocated out of Zimbabwe Ethel suddenly became a globe trotter and dedicates a whole chapter to the gift of having family reunions in different countries including work- related trips.
“ I always say my home is international because of the diversity of daughters and sons in law that God has blessed me with.My salary at EE was not much; therefore the extent of my travelling can only be attributed to the love and faithfullness of God,” narrated Ethel who has enjoyed family get togethers in Florida-USA, George and Fish Hoek – South Africa,Caithness -Scotland, Barcelona-Spain as well as work visits to the Netherlands and USA.
Now settled at her current home, St Johns, Newfoundland in Canada, Ethel, born a Sibanda like her husband on Christmas Day in 1944 in Mazhabazha, Gwatemba in Filabusi and educated at Matopo Secondary School was in 2007 diagnosed with cancer just before attending an annual BICC conference near her old high school.
“ My results contained a terrible surprise for me – the scan revealed a growth in my stomach” said Ethel.
This meant that that a major expensive operation had to be done but Ethel had no money and did not want to bother her children.
All forms of assistance including huge hospital discounts, mobilisation of funds, nearness to medically qualified family members, later reports of the non severity of the cancer just happened unexpectedly, thus easing the whole burden, prompting Ethel to thank God for his favour. She also had to seek treatment in South Africa, further raising the costs.
“I remembered that the Lord had promised never to leave nor forsake me.When I look back at my journey through cancer,I’m amazed at how God walked with and provided for me” she reflected.
“My Eyes to the Hills” Ethel Sibanda’s inspirational book about navigating through threatening life-changing circumstances is a must read to all who feel over- burdened and helpless after the loss of a partner or just facing a myrad of life’s shattering problems.
As the world celebrates Women’s Month in March every year it is hoped that this book now available at Amazon.com and other such writings will heal and motivate many distressed women.
The reviewer, John Masuku a veteran broadcast journalist is the chairperson of the Barbara Makhalisa Nkala Literary Trust(BCMNLT).
Contact him on:- [email protected] or Twitter: @john_masuku