IT is difficult to imagine living up to a ripe old age of a century. It is a milestone that many aspire towards but in most cases fail to attain it. This is the reason why those that reach such an age are considered very special, and extremely blessed.
However, some of those that live up to that age grow weary of the turbulence that life sometimes throws their way, or just feeling as though they have become a burden. These mixed emotions must have been going through Gogo Mosibudi Selome Ndlovu (nee-Sebata) as she marked her 100 years of existence last week on 9 January in Bulawayo’s Mzilikazi suburb.
She is thankful for the many years but she is pained that seven of her siblings have since died, leaving her as the only one from her family.
“I am pained a lot that they have left me alone. I do not know why God has kept me this long,” she says as she gazes into space.
Her children, however, treasure her a lot and brush aside such remarks by telling her that God knows exactly why she was still alive.
Gogo Ndlovu, born on 9 January 1922, has lived through the Second World War, the Influenza epidemic of the 1940s and now puts on a mask because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Asked what she understood about the current pandemic and why she put on a mask, she shrugs her shoulders and says: “I do not know but I know schools closed because of the disease. I do not know if the disease is still there though,” she says, drawing laughter from those around her.
Gogo is now hard of hearing and I had to raise my voice during the interview, conducted in her SeSotho language, that she is more conversant in.
Gogo Ndlovu was born and raised in Ntalale area in Gwanda South, and moved to Gungwe area upon her marriage in 1940, to Mbulutsi Mashasha Selome (Ndlovu).
In many homes, families tend to put pressure on couples to have children soon after marriage and failure to conceive has spelt doom for many marriages. Gogo Ndlovu and her husband never felt much pressure as they stayed for 16 years without any children. During that period, she looked after many relatives’ children and two of her younger sister’s children.
This has made her a mother of many as shown by the many birthday messages and Zoom and WhatsApp video interactions with people across the world on her big day.
She gave birth to two girls, Mpho and Tsibo, who still look after her and visit at the family home in Mzilikazi.
The eldest, Mpho, says her mother was a loving person whose home always had visitors, and would prepare tea for all regardless of the time of day.
She rears chickens for sale and sometimes when a visitor has left, she is asked if she gave them a chicken!
She feels this trait has been passed onto them and even the grandchildren, in addition to the love for the word of God.
Her mother, though uneducated herself, valued education and sent them to school and encouraged them, at times against the advice of some who saw no value in educating girl children. They repaid her faith and did well, graduating in their chosen fields.
Gogo has six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Interestingly, Gogo has always insisted she would never stay at an old people’s home and has been fortunate her daughters look after her.
“That is a white man’s culture,” she says when asked why she was against it.
A devoted Christian who went through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe’s catechism under the tutorship of Masilu Mvomoli, and later being baptised under the name Elisa, during the “Jerimani War”, most likely World War Two, she served the church in the women’s wing, having been treasurer responsible for church collections in the Gungwe church. She remembers some of her pastors back then, the likes of Manala, Mathibela and later Pastor Mbizo.
Since she moved to Bulawayo as she grew older, and after the death of her husband in 1986, she attended the Mzilikazi church but since she cannot walk very far now, she rarely attends unless she is picked from home.
Gogo is of good health but is on blood pressure medication and treatment for her sometimes-itchy body, suspected to be an allergy. Sometimes she has to be coaxed into taking the tablets saying she was now tired, and especially after she hears news of the death of a relative, she protests, asking why she is still alive.
She loves well-cooked food and that she loves a meal today is no guarantee she will prefer it tomorrow, a characteristic that has taught the family patience. They are thankful though, that with the help of multi-vitamins, she now has a good appetite. Her favourite food that she can have any day is thopi/nhopi, a thick porridge made with cooked bitter melon and mealie-meal.
Blessed with a sharp memory, she remembers her schooling days, how she loved athletics, the school concerts that they would attend as far as Nhwali area in singing contests.
Sighting a white person was rare in those early days. She says her first encounter was with one Dr Bergman, a Swedish doctor at the Lutheran Church-owned Manama Hospital. Later, there was also a white man that sold clothes at a shop at Tuli nearby, with a wife called MaNkala, she recalls.
It was during those early days before they attended school that they first had sight of an aeroplane.
Her face lights up as she narrates how she and her cousin climbed an anthill in the fields to get a better view of the passing plane. On the second occasion a plane landed at a square near Tuli, where the clan once settled before relocating to Pelele, and they had a chance to have a closer look at this amazing machine.
Asked if boarding a plane was on her bucket list while growing up, and if she would relish such an opportunity she asks: “Where would I be going?”.
When told she could visit her grandson in North America she retorts in disbelief: “I cannot stay with whites. I cannot speak English!”
Her parting shot is that when she finally passes away, the family should never bury her in town but take her to her rural home where she wants to be buried next to her husband. Her lovely clothes, she tells them, should be worn after her death, and not destroyed as they are too good to be put to waste!
Gogo, who comes from the same village as Chief Ketso Mathe, whom she has known since she was a child, prefers to be laid to rest in her area, next to her relatives and chiefs.
To celebrate the centenarian, the grandchildren plan a grand celebration at her rural home in Gungwe in April where 100 candles would be in line to be blown off!