The Sunday News
“If I am spared this time, I will work on my biography. A lot of people have been urging me to write,” says the extremely frail man who is sitting in front of his house at Number 16 Jungle Road, in Trenance.
I had found him sitting close to the gate. He ordered a chair be brought to me so we could move close to the house.
He took several minutes to get to where I was waiting for him. His steps were feeble and breathing whining.
“Yes Malumami, I am one of those who for years have been calling on you to write the history of Zimbabwe and that of the BaKalanga and their culture,” I respond to the man who some few months ago was a ball of energy who would speak with animated vigour for the whole day.
The man I am referring to is Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu who I met on the late afternoon at his Trenance agricultural plot.
Today he is a pale shadow of the man that I have spoken with over several decades when I made a beeline to his home to tap into his vast knowledge with regard to Kalanga history and culture and the liberation struggle.
There are times when I have taken researchers to his home to also tap into his immense knowledge. The last person was Chief Ngungumbane Mkhwananzi who is working on a doctoral thesis. Before him I had taken Professors Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor of Oxford University and the University of Sussex respectively. The two have for decades, been working on the history of Matabeleland with emphasis on the history of ZPRA. I have been privileged to work with the two.
For some time now I have been urging Ndlovu to write something. At long last he heeded my call. He submitted his manuscript and was also to submit one on the history of the Lumbile (Ngwenya) people. There was some delay in the submission of his manuscript as he wanted to include some portion on the tsvimbo/induku which had hit the headlines in the social media.
Once that was updated Mbedzi, his typist called me to come and pick up the manuscript.
Indeed, during some earlier visit I had observed Saul was frail. Armed with the manuscript I rushed to my typesetter and graphic designer Blessing Chirandu and advised him to put aside all books in the pipeline and fast track Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu’s. Indeed, that happened and in two days’ time the book was out. I immediately took it back to Saul at his Trenance home.
“Ah, Nyathi, the book is out? It’s good to deal with people who know what they are doing. This is good, I tell you,” he said as he fondly handled and looked at the book with his face posting some smile that was not his usual trade mark smile.
I asked him to quickly go over the book and point out any errors in the book. He obliged and quickly did that after I had left.
The following day I drove to his home. He was sitting in front of the house to catch some heat as temperatures were very low on that day. While I was there he spoke to his sister’s daughter in Mashonaland Central. The lady in question is the wife of former Government Minister Nicholas Goche and sister of Leslie Gwindi.
He narrated to her what the matter was wrong with him and that some specimen had been taken for analysis. He had a running tummy. On the previous day when I presented him with a copy of the book his wife indicated she too, like Gwakuba had some upset stomach. With Gwakuba it was worse. She had an upset stomach following what they both had eaten which was not tasty at all.
I got the book with suggested corrections and went back to give it to the graphic designer for him to incorporate identified errors, the most glaring of which was the spelling of modern in the title of the book he had written: “Zimbabwe: Important Aspects of Its Modern History.”
I took away the book and that was the last time I spoke to him. We had while together tried to get in touch with Goche, but failed. When I had just left Saul, Goche called and I did tell him Saul was in a bad shape. He did not live to see the corrected version of the book. I was glad at least he had seen the book before he passed on, on Friday, 16 July 2021.
His wife Caroline had, when I brought the book the first time, expressed reservations about the length of the book. It was of course too short, 145 pages, when considering the vast knowledge Saul possessed. I tried to defend the frail Ndlovu that we could come up with a new edition in future. In my mind I knew that was wishful thinking on my part.
Each time I looked at the frail Saul I remembered the dream I had some months back-beginning of year or late last year.
I saw, in the dream, a small group of people and amongst them was Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu. I looked at him and said, “Gwakuba, do you know that people will not understand when I fail to pen your obituary when you die?” The dream was accurate in that I did not know what I would write when he passed on.
I do not research and write obituaries posthumously. I compile and keep them and wait for the day the person dies.
With Saul it was not so. At the time of revelation he was very far from death. In his case he spoke well to the end.
There was a short piece about James Robert Dambaza Chikerema he wanted included in the book. He went on to narrate the story to me with unbelievable clarity.
Chikerema wanted the people of Matabeleland to have some buy in into the new political party, the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) formed on 12 September 1957 at the Mai Musodzi Hall in Harare.
Without Joshua Nkomo who led a more or less moribund African National Congress (ANC) with a following in Bulawayo, if Nkomo was not elected, Matabeleland was not going to support the new political party.
In the elections, Chikerema was beaten by Nkomo by a single vote during elections. That was what he sought instead of having a Shona president and another Shona as vice-president. That has since been included in the book.
All the same I went to see Saul specifically to tell him the revelations for I was indeed going to feel uncomfortable when he died and I could not write his obituary. Only one person was taken into confidence and told about the revelation. It was the Resident Minister, Judith Ncube who urged me to go and see him.
When he passed on the Resident Minister, as usual when there is death of a prominent person who was in ZAPU, phoned to find out what information I had to assist her team to write about Saul so he could be considered for national hero status. I reminded her of the revelation.
Saul did not provide his biography. The story ended when it was too late for him or myself to do something about it.
Mr. Masola, a descendent of Kumile phoned up. They were scrounging through his papers to see if there was something that they could make use of in the application. I was quick to say I did not think they would find something.
Theirs, and my salvation, lay in the book that Saul had written and I had just published. Usually, we have, in the books that authors write, not biographies, a section about the author. His was there. Normally, we place that on the back cover of the book. This time I decided otherwise. Mbedzi his typist was about to shorten information, “About the Author.” I cautioned that we do not shorten but place it inside the book, for it was long, three pages.
At least that would serve and did serve to provide information that could be pieced together and, if well written, sustain an application for a national hero status. Mr. Masola immediately drove to my home to photograph the section on, “About the Author.”
The Press did the same. That saved the day. Without that there was nothing substantive to be pieced together to tell a definitive and sustainable life story of Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu.
But what did Saul do in life? That will be dealt with in the second installment.