RETIRED educationist Bhekimpilo Sibanda recently launched his book (an autobiography) Saved by the rain: The risk of hope in Education for liberation, which focuses on his journey, the quest for knowledge and self discovery.
The book, published by Ingwaladi Publishers, was launched this month and the story is told in an analogical format with thematic interludes and flashing anecdotes of critical times of his life.
The book is divided into 21 chapters plus an epilogue. Chapters I to V unveil his early life in Mahzabahza in Filabusi and Malole in Wanezi Mission in Matabeleland South, about 150km south east of Bulawayo up to the United College of Education.
Born in 1951, two months before his grandfather Zibengwa died alone at Filabusi hospital, he narrates a story of poverty and how life was like living with a mother and grandmother in a mission farm during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
“Harold McMillan’s winds of political change in Africa were blowing hard, even as the white colonial governments created the federation, two years after I was born,” Sibanda said.
“There was a huge mass immigration into Southern Rhodesia by Europeans from the early to the end of the 50s.
“The land tenure Act of 1955 was imposed. This caused massive eviction of Africans from their ancestral lands to poor Kalahari sands in the north of Zimbabwe and other poor lands.
“My family and I were sent to an area which was infested with wild animals, tsetse flies, little water and a dangerous wild weed called umkhawuzane, which killed livestock if they ate it by mistake.”
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Sibanda said his father almost committed suicide in 1958 when 13 of his cattle died because of umkhawuzane after drinking water at the communal borehole.
“As a young boy l experienced racism, colonialism and land eviction and they were trials and tribulations as we moved to Lupane, Emaguswini in 1957,” he said.
“My paternal uncle Ntolongo, who comes after my father plays a critical role in finding the last farm left in Lupane African purchase land section in our quest to move north with our cattle.
“Schooling was an important part of my life and I started school, sub A at Malole Primary School at Wanezi Mission.
“In Emaguswini, l went to Sipopoma School. I excelled in cattle herding, poetry and Mathematics. "But l had a few unpleasant , which led to my mother’s intervention.
“At the time, like almost all the other local schools, Sipopoma School went up to Standard 3. "Those who wanted to advance further, went elsewhere or just gave up the idea of school altogether.
“I was determined to go further and in 1963, l went to Mtshabezi Mission for Standard 4.”
In 1964, he had to move to boarding school at Matopo Primary School, 48km from Bulawayo along the Old Gwanda Road.
“Radio and the BBC were in vogue those days due to African political activism and the breakaway of Zanu from the main Zapu of Joshua Nkomo,” Sibanda said.
“The gramophone was in vogue too, and l listened to the Gallo record’s ‘Mhlaba ungehlule siye makhaya’, a summary of the sociopolitical times.
“At Matopo Mission l discovered an interest in reading and studying.
“I developed more or less like any rural boy. "What marked me out was what l call ‘creative naughtiness’, which put me into trouble with many people, including Mr Lehman the mission principal.
“Even my Standard 6 teacher penalised me for writing creative English compositions.
“A red line was drawn through my composition about an imaginary trip l had taken to London. l still have the exercise book, more than 50 years on.
“It is still vivid in my mind. With glee, the teacher was eventually proved wrong as l had been to London many times yet he thought that l would never get there in my life.
“The description was nearly accurate.”
From Matopo Mission, he moved full circle in 1967 to Wanezi Mission in the east of Zimbabwe, where he did two years of secondary education.
But Malole primary was no longer in the same place, the people had been moved out of the mission farm and the school moved about 20km east, near the Bulawayo-Zvishavane road.
"In 1968 l passed my Rhodesia Junior certificate. Due to the methods used for grading marks, only 13 of us passed out of a class of 78. But even though l had passed very well, l could not proceed to Matopo Secondary School where l had been accepted for Form 3.
“After failing to get a place at Mtshabezi Teachers’ college, l was finally accepted at the United College of Education in 1969,” Sibanda said.
“The United College started classes at Msitheli Primary School in 1968 and moved to its campus near Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo in 1970.”
Sibanda honed his teaching skills at the United College of Education.
“I believed what the principal, McDonald Partridge taught them, to ‘stop teaching and let the children learn’,” he said.
“I met my love and lifelong partner Melody Ncube there and my first job as a school teacher in 1971 was at Maphisa Government School, where l taught for about two years.
“To begin with, l was very unhappy that Melody could not get employment in Bulawayo, and that she ended up in a very remote place l had never heard about before, in Binga.
“Secondly, l was very uncomfortable with having to do sport in the afternoon every day.
“Perhaps due to a combination of anger, ignorance, naivety or passion, l soon resigned and joined Melody in Binga.
“This rural outpost was amongst the harshest places in Zimbabwe, being in the Zambezi Valley; it was hot, and as hostile an environment as could only be imagined.
“There was very little transport, tsetse flies and mosquitoes and I had suffered from malaria while visiting her once in 1973.”
Sibanda started off at Samende School about 20km from Binga in September 1973.
“Melody was at Saba school further south of Binga and in 1974, l moved to join her at Saba school,” he said.
“Even though the conditions were harsh, we enjoyed being together and had our second child born there under frightening conditions.
“We were saved by the proverbial rain.
“In 1975, the liberation struggle was gathering momentum and Zanu opened a new front in Mozambique with the fall of the Caitano government, in Portugal.
“I took comfort in studying. I passed 'O’ and 'A' levels and a Diploma in Marketing from South Africa. I was also selected to go for a three-week headmasters’ course in Domboshava, 20km north of Harare.
“In 1975 we moved to Manjolo Primary School, near Binga, but our stay was short, we stayed there for only one year and returned to Bulawayo without a job due to the war of liberation, which caused schools to be closed.
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“Back in Bulawayo in 1976. I first tried my hand in marketing at Neild Lukan furnisher shop, selling new FM radios.”
He found this job lowly and left to join the Bulawayo City public libraries.
“Several attempts for a settlement to the Rhodesian independence problem failed. The Zambezi bridge talks, Joshua Nkomo /Smith talks and the Geneva talks. I despaired but could not leave my family behind. Back in Bulawayo, l started off working at Mzilikazi library and then moved to head Mpopoma library.
“It was at Mpopoma library where l got into trouble assisting University of Zimbabwe students who were running away from call up and l distributed the “Breaking of the chains” a Zapu (Zimbabwe African Peoples Union) magazine sent from Zambia. I used my ample reading time to read for the certificate in library science and doing small time underground political work for Zapu.
“In order to fix me, l was placed on military call up into the police reserve but l devised a plan to escape, l pretended to have poor eyesight, l was let free and did not go for call-up.
“Finally independence day arrived on April 18, 1980 and Zapu lost the election. "An election which was by no means free and fair, but reflected the general will of the people of Zimbabwe,” he added.
Sibanda said Zimbabwe lost the democratic turn from then on even if it gained politically independence from the colonisers.
“Unfortunately, sporadic clashes between Zipra and Zanla guerillas spoiled the independence euphoria resulting in Robert Mugabe establishing the Fifth Brigade, the now infamous Gukurahundi.
“Gukurahundi caused so much havoc in Matabeleland killing an estimated twenty thousand people in Matabeleland and the Midlands from 1982 to 1987 when Nkomo and Mugabe finally signed a peace agreement.
“My family was caught up in the disturbances which followed in Sipopoma my home area. My father survived a direct massacre and is allowed to narrate his intriguing story of their capture and narrow escape from St Lukes hospital where he was pursued by Gukurahundi as he sought treatment for his horrible injuries.”
Sibanda’s mother survived in a kitchen that was set ablaze by a whisker, she was pulled out of the burning kitchen by a young boy. She died of trauma in 2002.
“Unperturbed by the ensuring turmoil of the 1980s, l focused on education, eventually going to the University of Zimbabwe where l graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1984. On completion of my B.Ed dedree, immediately went to Stirling University in Scotland, where l was joined by my family and l passed the Master of Letters and PhD.
“The four years spent in Scotland were very rich and fulfilling for me and my family even if Melody got very ill towards the end of 1989. After successfully completing my higher degrees, the whole family returned to Zimbabwe in 1990 and l started teaching at the University of Zimbabwe.
“The highlight of which was to meet Nelson Mandela as he came out of prison and was ignored in Zimbabwe. As part of my consultancies and community service while at the University of Zimbabwe, l engaged in academic tourism, which exposed me to many parts of the world,” he said.
He visited more than 30 countries was also nominated as part of the International Training Committee of South Africa where he experienced apartheid and Eugene de Kock’s cruelty and arrest.
“In 2003, the situation in Zimbabwe grew worse both economically and politically. I moved to South Africa yet again and spent four years at the University of Limpopo and three years at the University of Fort Hare. My greatest success was being appointed full professor of journalism and media studies at the University of Limpopo.
“The inaugural ceremony was splendid and overflowed to Zimbabwe where over five thousand people attended including children from five primary schools and students and friends from Limpopo. Ntombintombi Gumede an MA student was one of those. My stay at the University of Limpopo was one of the most fulfilling of my life.
“I worked with Community Radio with many communities and the Queen Mujaji, the rain making queen of southern Africa, she is a descendent of the great kings of Zimbabwe.
From Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, l returned to Zimbabwe at the end of 2012 where l was again appointed professor of journalism for a shot while before moving on to Lupane State University as dean of social studies and acting pro-vicechancellor and director of research and innovation until he retired in 2018,”he said.
On retirement he concentrated on farming until he suffered a stroke in February 2022 and then his playful dogs broke his leg in April 2022.
“All my children came to visit me, to help me through this mishap. It was the high medical expenses which illuminated how Zimbabwe is, it is in a low ebb. A very broken country economically and politically. Amongst all those dark clouds of my illness, there was a silver lining.
“I have been married to Melody for 50 years." Nobuhle their eldest daughter had her 50th birthday in July 2022. "We were blessed with a granddaughter Nkosazana-Langa too who was turning one. So we decided to celebrate Nobuhle’s birthday together with her. It was a great day and a great hail storm fell during the occasion. The lawn was white with hail stones.
“In my culture we believe that this is a sign of luck and good hope. All cultures believe that rain is a blessing depending on the time and when and how it comes. Rain can also bring the worst trouble, if it comes as a storm, cyclone or other heavy downpour.
“Some of the events in this book experience rain at a philosophical realm; some are at the practical level and others are a combination of the spiritual, physical and philosophical. The high point of this book invoked all of these,”he added.