Man with a ‘golden’ heart
A CLOUD of fine dust slowly drifts into the minibus as it bumps and swerves down the dirt road. The choking dust left its occupants, most of whom were urban dwellers, swearing and cursing.
The grayish dust settled on the passengers’ faces and heads. As the dust got thicker, their vision became blurred.
On either side of the rugged road that slithers into Bikita district as it stems from the tarred highway linking Nyika growth point and Chiredzi town in Masvingo, weary looking villagers drag their bare feet heading to varying destinations.
Far afield, headsmen drive their assortment of domestic animals to the nearby river that snakes from yonder high mountains whose gray granite rocks shine from the rays of the bright afternoon sun.
The commandingly arid and insipidly mundane landscape highlights the devastation of a drought that has left villagers hungry and hapless. Rains were very poor this year.
And in a land strewn with stone kopjes, granite rock mountains and scrubby savanna veld, winters here are bone dry, making life even more miserable.
The whole of Bikita district faces distressing hunger that has reduced everyone to paupers, impatiently awaiting food aid, without which the next few months could be deadly.
And amid this looming calamity is a community of elderly people at Mutikizizi Old People’s Home that has no clue as to what their future holds; a community whose people’s daily lives are defined in terms of constant pain and misery.
Strolling about the homestead one cannot help but marvel that a philanthropist has decided to tough it out and do his best in the face of adversity.
Incidentally, this same land gave the world the great philanthropist, Jairos Jiri, who founded Zimbabwe’s first organisation that assisted people with disabilities.
At Mutikizizi Old People’s Home, its founder, John Mutikizizi, is yet another man with the proverbial golden heart and a calling not many would answer to.
Wearing a thick waist belt and hunched over – due to a combination of old age, back and leg problems – the 70-year-old man spends hours toiling in his vegetable garden on the shores of Mujiche River, growing tomatoes, vegetables and other crops for sale at a nearby shopping centre. He does this for up to 16 hours a day, six days a week.
But no matter how much money he makes, he spends no more than a few dollars on himself and his family.
The rest he gives it away to the needy, who look up to him for everything.
Their predicament is worse this year with famine setting in, causing a major food shortage, which has forced them to be very economic. They only serve one major meal a day and yet, the worst is yet to come.
Further worsening the crisis is the government which is bound to extend per capita grants of just US$15 monthly to each elderly person residing at an old people’s home, but has not given a cent in the last five years citing shortage of money.
The home, like 165 others dotted across the country, has had to rely on donor funded organisations that are also failing to access the funds.
Unlike other old people’s homes belonging to church organisations, this one is sorely reliant on the benevolence of its founder and famine is threatening to wipe the old men and women domiciled there unless urgent intervention is made.
Despite the looming hunger, Mutikizizi is hopeful and thankful to well-wishers in the community who continue to support the institution with various donations.
Mutikizizi’s heart-warming story is that of a man who did not need to be wealthy and famous to help the needy.
From almost nothing, he founded the old people’s home deep in a pitiable rural community of Bikita, from where he has taken care of hundreds of elderly people over the years, while also assisting orphans in the district with food and school fees.
The only noteworthy possession he has is a simple house in Mucheke, the oldest suburb in Masvingo city.
But he has rented off the house to raise a few more dollars every month to help him feed the 12 aged people resident at Mutikizizi Old People’s Home.
To some, it might seem like madness to give away most of your earnings, but Mutikizizi insists it is not that difficult.
“Everyone can do it. It’s not just me. It’s not how much money you make that matters, but how you use your money. I don’t see money as being that important. After all, you can’t bring it with you when you come into the world and you can’t take it with you when you leave this life.”
He said being able to assist so many people over so many years has brought him great joy.
Mutikizizi started his philanthropic work on a home-based-care basis soon after completing his pastoral studies at independence in 1980. He established the old people’s home five years later.
The following year, he obtained official registration with the department of social welfare and immediately abandoned city life to permanently live in the village with the old men and women referred to the home by the social welfare department.
In 1988, the country’s then First Lady, the late Sally Mugabe, made a donation for the construction of a big hostel which today, perched on a hilltop, is clearly the most outstanding feature in the village.
While, in retrospect, the journey sounds beautiful and rosy, Mutikizizi recounts it as having been at times rough and thorny; and only determination and passion have driven him this far.
Most philanthropists like Mutikizizi are usually single people who have never had any children; but he has been married for 42 years and together with his wife they have four children and several grandchildren.
“My wife once packed her things and threatened to leave me. She was concerned that I was using the money she and the children should have been using at home on strangers. in a way she was right, but I was determined. I told her I was not going to stop and at the end of the day, she accepted.
“Over the years, she has been a great pillar of support and today she helps me take good care of the elderly, particularly the needs of the women,” he said. Then came the operational challenges associated with running such an institution away from services that are regularly required by those in advanced age.
With major hospitals, Silveira and Mashoko Mission that service Bikita District, well over 50km to the North and to the South respectively, Mutikizizi has had to face the nightmare of transporting his elderly to those institutions each time they fall sick; and to make matters worse, there is no vehicle at the institution.
“Old age means one’s health is very delicate and they need regular medical attention. Many times we have had to get up in the middle of the night to look for transport to get them to hospital. We need a clinic close by which would also service the whole community or at least a car to be able to rush the elderly people to hospital when they fall sick, which is very frequent.
“We also need a car to transport items donated to us as well as medicines. Last month, we were called to collect rice at Ruwa rehabilitation centre (in Ruwa, Harare) and I had to ask a local businessman to help us with his car. I am afraid we still owe him the US$200 worth of fuel he used,” said Mutikizizi, relapsing into deep thought.