Luke Singwanda Bhala: A life dedicated to acquiring, disseminating knowledge
before a marauding band of Swazi warriors mysteriously assisted by the invisible deity, Mwali, raided the country and critically weakened his rule, sending him into hiding underground from where his livestock and women and children were later heard in the early evenings and at dawn where the Mguza (Woze) empties its waters into the Gwayi (Kuzwi tjulu zwemikoho).
Some of King Tjibundule’s surviving family members assumed a non-royal identity although they maintained their real totem (ntupo), and hid among the commoners.
Some continued to live near their clan’s maintain, Dombo Nkalange, in the central part of the Matopo Hills between Marula and Plumtree.
Bhala, the patriarch of the family seemed to have been born in that region but later moved westwards to settle among Gonde Tjuma’s people one of whose daughters he married.
It was from that marriage that Matihha was born, among other children. He later married a daughter of Mantula Sibanda, a prominent local family. It was from that marriage that Matihha sired Solomon, his first born, and Luke, the last born.
Luke’s father, Matihha, died while Luke was a toddler at Gonde in the northern Nata Communal Land to where the Bhalas had moved from Thekwane.
The responsibility to fend for the family then fell on Solomon and their mother. Both the mother and the son were serious minded, resilient characters who cautiously husbanded the family livestock to educate all the children.
Helping with advice and brotherly advice was a halfbrother, Salani, on whose shoulder Solomon, Luke and their sisters leaned in both good and bad times.
Solomon, his widowed mother and all the children later moved from Gonde to the Ngwana sector in the Nata Communal Land’s southern reaches. That was where Luke started schooling – that is to say where he received his elementary primary education. Solomon had by then qualified as a teacher at Tegwane teacher training institution.
He was teaching at one of the primary schools that were founded by the Methodist Church (Wesleyan) in their circuit that covered a quite large part of the Nata communal land.
Although the Bhala’s economic fortunes had taken a turn for the better because of Solomon’s earnings as a teacher, the children were still greatly disadvantaged in relative cultural and socio-economic terms.
Solomon at one time fell critically ill and was taken all the way to Morgenster Mission Hospital in the Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) District for treatment. It was the best hospital for black people in this country in those years.
After he was discharged, he went to seek employment in Johannesburg, South Africa, instead of going back into teaching. He was employed as a Johannesburg municipal policeman.
Luke continued with his lower primary schooling at Ngwana under the guidance of his loving mother and paternal cousin, Solani, and another paternal cousin, McKenzie Bhala.
By 1950, Solomon had permanently returned home and was back in the teaching field. Luke was by that time in standard six at Tegwane Institution as a boarder. The family later shifted from Ngwana to the Tegwane Mission farm where survivors are now based.
It was at Tegwane Institution that the author of this article first met Luke Singwanda David Matihha Bhala in 1950. He was a taciturn, reserved but highly focused, humble boy who was so temperamentally calm he could not harm a lizard.
We were in the same class, Standard Six stream A, and among our class teachers were the well-known Ndabaningi Sithole before he became a pastor, a Mr. Chikwewa, a Mr. Mhlanga, a Mr. Tolson and the inimitable Miss Bakerleg. The Rev. G.E Hay-Pluke was the principal.
Luke Bhala was inseparably attached to his books, and it was in that hobby that he and I struck the same cord. Our bookishness went to such ridiculously extreme lengths that we memorised the meanings of words in the Michael West English Dictionary from A to Z.
We derived much pride in the use of synonyms, and also in combining adverbs not only with verbs but also with adjectives.
Luke was, of course, his usual modest self, so unlike me, intellectually arrogant and politically aggressive.
I left Tegwane (now Thekwane High School) for Kutama College, a year before the secondary department was established at Tegwane, but Luke remained there to do a primary teachers’ lower course (PTLC) which he completed in 1952.
The following year, 1953, he and I were teaching together at Dombodema Mission which was then owned and superintended by the London Missionary Society (LMS), now the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA).
He left Dombodema at the end of 1955 to take up a post at Enyandeni Primary School in the northern spur of the Matopo Hills, an area that fell under Hope Fountain, also a UCCSA circuit.
Luke was that time studying privately under the auspices of one of South African distance education colleges. He was doing national junior certificate.
By 1959, he had returned to Dombodema circuit and was based at Tjingababili Primary School in the Mangwe District. Meanwhile, he was continuing with his private studies, that time, doing senior certificate, the equivalent of matric.
Meanwhile, this truly self-made man, Luke got married to (nee) Jeslinah Sipopa Lugondo Khupe whose father was a highly respected Dombodema pioneer educationist who was for many years the chairman of the school (development) committee.
In the 1930s, Mr. Khupe had been the vice-chairman of the Dombodema Mission Literature Committee that translated the four New Testament gospels into tjiKalanga (Ndebo mbuya). The chairman was Reverend John Whiteside, the then LMS Dombodema resident missionary.
Luke and his wife were blessed with five children, the first of whom Mano is unfortunately now deceased.
In the 1970s, Luke was transferred to Madabe Primary School in the same district (Mangwe).
By then, the country’s political temperature was getting hotter, and he was thus briefly detained. After that he left for neighbouring Botswana where he got a teaching post at Ramotswa, a locality between Gaborone and Lobatse.
He completed senior certificate while he was at Romotswa from where he went to the United Kingdom to do an English Literature degree.
He returned home shortly after independence and taught at his alma mater Thekwane High School, and at one or so other place before he retired. However, the Thekwane High School authorities requested him to continue as a temporary teacher with his form five and form six English literature lessons.
He kindly obliged for his life’s passion was not only the acquisition but also the diffusion of education which, to some people, is referred to as knowledge, Luzibo in TjiKalanga. Incidentally one of Luke’s children is named Luzibo. How appropriate!
The author of this article would feel an immeasurable sense of regret were the three Bhalas’ legacy to disappear with them from the educational sands of Zimbabwe on which they have left historic, unforgettable, visible and invaluable footprints that must be immortalised by all who share with them the love of education, knowledge, LUZIBO.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo - based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. firstname.lastname@example.org