Luke Sing­wanda Bhala: A life ded­i­cated to ac­quir­ing, dis­sem­i­nat­ing knowl­edge

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News/ Obituary -

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. sg­wakuba@gmail.com

Eu­nice Mab­hena

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