MABOLENI — When he is asked to spell out his name, 89-year-old Philemon Bolani carefully writes it down in the sand using his staff. Despite having traversed almost nine decades in this life, he still has his wits about him and exudes an infectious sense of humour.
Bolani, who is headman Nyama under Chief Sogwala in Sparrow Line, Lower Gweru, was born in 1922.
He has since lost count of the friends he has buried and the colleagues he has lost along the way over the past decades. Now he has his solitary moments with his 82-year-old wife, Petty, as his only consolation.
“I miss my friends,” he said. “The only one who is still around cannot walk anymore so he spends all his time at home now. At least I still have my wife.”
With life expectancy in Zimbabwe reported to have drastically gone down to 37 and 34 years for men and women respectively, Bolani, and perhaps a few other octogenarians, could as well be the oak in a forest of willows.
Zimbabwe is believed to have one of the lowest life expectancy statistics in the world due to a raft of reasons. The collapse of the health system and the impact of HIV and Aids have been cited as the biggest contributors to the erosion of many people’s life spans.
Bolani gives some valuable insights behind his longevity. “It’s important to take care of yourself,” he says. “Avoid smoking, edible oils and sugar. You also need to do a lot of exercises.”
After enquiring about where this writer was raised, he rapped children who are brought up in urban environments, describing them as weak. “Those children who are raised in towns and cities are not strong,” he said.
Lifestyle practices in the modern, urban settings, he observed, are not “constructed” for life. He described the fast nature of such lifestyles as a death trap, setting up people for destruction. He said today’s young people are now living in the fast lane, a world of “instants” — instant love, fast foods, instant coffee, instant sex . . .
“I eat dried vegetables with peanut butter, rather than those prepared with cooking oil,” he said with pride. “Here we eat food from our gardens, rather than buy food every time when we want to eat like you do in urban areas.”
Bolani — who worked as a machine operator, moulder and boilermaker for companies that include Norman Chapman in Bulawayo, National Breweries and Gweru Casting during his heydays — believed he was now in the twilight of his life.
But did he ever think he would clock this ripe old age?
“No, no,” he laughed. “I never thought I would get to this age. Now I am just waiting for my time to go.”
He said it is amazing that these days when someone reaches the age of 50, they are no longer physically upright and walk with a bent back. Despite his age, he still walks upright, although he often uses a walking stick. But he admitted genetics can also be a factor.
He said his life was intrinsically linked to the soil here in Maboleni, where his umbilical cord and that of his father and grandfather before him, were buried.
“When the whites first arrived here, my grandfather was still around in this area,” he said. “I was born and raised here. This has always been home to me, and that is where I am going to be buried.”
He is outraged by how the love of many has been eroded by modernism, something he said has significantly affected the way people have always related and interacted.
“Now they don’t even prepare food for visitors anymore,” he laughed in derision. “You have to use your own money (to buy provisions) when you visit relatives in urban areas.”
He expressed shock at the toll that new pestilences such as HIV and Aids have taken in society, attributing the developments to the erosion of society’s morality. He said that did not happen when he was growing up.
Due to his advanced age, Bolani has since retired from active life. He has literally handed all his administrative tools as headman to one of his sons, Luke Dube, who lives a few metres from his homestead.
He has several other children in the Diaspora, whom he said are responsible for his upkeep. Three of the children, however, live with him at the homestead. His four grandchildren, he said, remind him of the long journey he has travelled in this life.
His kraal of eight cattle is like his bank and when there are pressing needs requiring finances, he just liquidates some of the cattle, which he sells mainly to Simbarashe Mupanduki, an agro-dealer based at Maboleni business centre. Mupanduki, who operates a butchery business, said they did not impose prices.
Mopanduki secured a $2 500 loan from Micro-King Finance under a Usaid-funded programme, Zimbabwe Agricultural Income Economic Development.
Bolani’s son, Luke, said they sell their cattle to dealers at an average price of $450 per head, and it was up to them to peg the prices.
“We are the ones who charge,” he said. “We have to negotiate and agree on the price. If we fail to agree, then the deal doesn’t go through. We hold on to our cattle.”
The soils in Moboleni are very rich. Maize flourishes and most of the villagers rely on market gardening for their livelihoods.