David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
Way back in 1968, a friend of mine and I arrived at a teachers college on the outskirts of what is now Chivhu town and was known then as the Republic of Enkeldoorn where one of the Afrikaner farmers from the surrounding ranches and tobacco-growing farmers called himself President of the Republic.
The guys even had a fake passport and fake prison cell housed in the small town’s only hotel. Most Afrikaner farmers in Enkeldoorn spoke flawless ChiZezuru as did most of the Indians.
The Bhika sisters were a permanent feature, single, lovely and rich and almost exotic. To my knowledge they never got married. The sisters for many years had in their employ an attractive black woman working for them.
Her name was Pingi and she could have had her pick of most eligible bachelors in and around the town, but somehow never did. My friend came from a shaky background, but managed somehow, with a little help from others to attain the Rhodesia Junior Certificate (RJC) as it was then.
The RJC was a school-leaving certificate and anyone getting it, and wanting to, could join any of a number of programmes, from teaching to nursing, agriculture and so on. As you might have guessed now, his family did not have the wherewithal to send him to school beyond primary school.
Quite against what most people were used to, a Good Samaritan offered to pay his fees and did so. Even when we joined teachers’ college, the good man continued sponsoring my very grateful friend. As far as I can remember, the man did not have a surfeit of anything.
He wasn’t oozing with money. Nevertheless he found it in his heart to solve my friend’s financial predicament and pay his fees. Such goodwill is not so common these days.
People are more into flaunting their riches and making fun of people less fortunate than themselves in their circumstances. I am telling this true life-story because too many people these days are unable to think beyond their immediate family circles.
After college I went to teach at mission school where after initially teaching an external Junior Certificate class attached to our primary school, I was given a Grade Seven class.
That was some 42 or more years ago. Some of the Grade Seven pupils were borders and generally came from families that could afford that kind of education.
The rest of the children came from the surrounding villages. There was a set of identical boy twins in my class. Although their classmates could easily tell them apart, I had no such luck. In the end I made them sit apart so that I could tell who was who without too much of a struggle.
In this same class there was a boy called Punish who could play the drum, sing and dance like a village drunk. The last lesson of the day on a Friday always was music and we absolutely savoured the opportunity to sing and dance the traditional way.
A couple of boys in my class could have become soccer stars had they played their soccer in the 21st Century. It so happened that there was a rich man’s son in the class who had too much money for his own good.
The boy was hardly 13, but had become world-wise in the most unsavoury ways. He developed a taste for the fleshpots of Salisbury (Harare now) and the good time girls there had no qualms about accepting money from minors like him.
Unbeknown to me and the boarding master, the boy came to school at the beginning of a new term afflicted with a venereal disease.
His problem was how to get away from school to be attended to. He and his father hatched a plan according to which he would abscond from school and later return in the company of his father.
When that day came I was summoned to the headmaster’s office where I found the boy with his father. The story was that I had given the boy corporal punishment that went wrong and he had had to go away for medical treatment.
The boy’s father had a lot of swagger and arrogance. He made it clear to me that if he wasn’t the magnanimous type he would have made sure that I got the sack and that I never got anywhere near a classroom again.
For the life of me I couldn’t remember doing what I was being accused of, and I was young and too inexperienced to have seen through the charade.
The headmaster gave me a stern warning while the man said I should not be too worried. We were opening a new page, he said, and I was to continue teaching his son and others diligently without fear. Luckily for me, there was a cousin of the naughty boy in the class. She was the daughter of a colleague on the staff.
She went home and told her father how unfairly I had been treated and her father who was an elder brother of the boy’s father took it upon himself to investigate the whole thing. One weekend he went to Salisbury to confront his brother.
When he came back after the weekend he reported his findings to the headmaster whereupon I was once again summoned to the head’s office. This time around the headmaster was relaxed and smiling where he had been almost irate the last time.
I was told the good news of my innocence and got to know about the intricate plot against me. To this day, I remember with gratitude the actions of a man who put family aside to ensure that justice and fairness won the day.
Such goodwill is unparalleled in these days of avarice and subterfuge. I found myself reflecting on some of these things recently. The trigger for that was a missed call on my mobile phone.
Although I did not recognise the number and at the risk of phoning and being told by some unfeeling person that they had phoned my number by mistake, I returned the call.
The excited voice at the other end wanted assurance that I was in fact the person he was looking for. When I said I was, the man told me one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard.
He said I would perhaps not remember him, since he had been this inconspicuous small boy lacking in confidence and sorely afflicted with “gwembe” (scabies).
The man said he remembered me giving him a cake of soap and advising him to wash himself with it thoroughly. He said he’d never forgotten my “kind” gesture and had for years been looking for me. That is a story from 1972 /1974 and we spoke again just over a week ago.
I shall be meeting this former pupil of mine in two weeks’ time when I visit the capital. The goodwill that’s coming my way is almost palpable and I am still asking myself what I did to deserve such a place in the gentleman’s heart and mind.
He is now the proud owner of a chemical factory in Harare. Add to this the free pull-up banner made for me in Johannesburg and transported all the way to Harare for my book launch and you begin to see some good in the human race.
Some will say that Zimbabwe is bankrupt of goodwill. Those are the words of sceptics who cannot see any good anywhere in anyone. I am sure that if we all think back we can come up with similar experiences.
Today I still think of the young Indian teacher at Bulawayo’s Founders High School roundabout 1966. He was a Geography teacher who also did some lessons at an evening school in town. As luck would have it, a friend of mine known as S’khulu (Big man) and I were unable to raise the fees for the evening class. Mr Moola offered to teach us Geography for free. We walked from the location to Founders High where Mr Moola was a house master.
Once there he would offer us refreshments and then proceed to teach us. In the end both of us passed our Geography. The episode with Mr Moola reminds me of the anonymous friend, who gave me a lift home one day when he saw me walking in the city night with a bag slung over my shoulder.
He said his name was Mehta and he was off to university in India. As he dropped me off at our place he gave me an economics text book and suggested that I consider reading Economics.
I owe all the economics I know to the timely intervention of a stranger in the night who became an anonymous friend in deed. We need more such people amongst us.
- David Mungoshi is a writer, social commentator, editor and retired teacher.