Friday, 27 March 2015

PRESIDENT Mugabe’s former teacher Sekuru Oscar Munyoro Katsukunya (119) could be world’s oldest person

Sydney Kawadza Snr Features Writer
PRESIDENT Mugabe’s former teacher Sekuru Oscar Munyoro Katsukunya (119) could be the world’s oldest man. Since his story broke out, his exact age has been a topic for debate. Sekuru Katsukunya, who is believed to be around 119-years-old, is one of President Mugabe’s former teachers and judging by his stories, could be the world’s oldest man living.

Last Sunday, the centenarian educator realised his dream to meet his star pupil, President Mugabe, the man whose political career continues to trail blaze Africa and the whole world.

Officially, according to his National ID, Sekuru Katsukunya was born on November 12, 1907 making him 107-years-old.
Mr Oscar Munyoro Katsukunya reminisces his old days at Kutama Mission
But the age can be disputed based on some of the events he recalls and colonial injustices that characterised his era.

Firstly, he recollects some of the incidents when Ndebele warriors raided the Mashonaland regions. The raids ended in the early 1890s with the Anglo-Ndebele war of 1893.

He only started school (Sub A) at St Benedicts School in Mutoko when he was already a teen.

He had worked on a farm for two years.

In 1928, he subsequently enrolled for a teaching course at Kutama Catholic Mission, graduating in 1930.

The colonial system actually made it difficult for black people to register their births during that era.

Considering these incidents, Sekuru Katsukunya could have been born in the 1890s making him the oldest living human being on earth.

However, Sekuru Katsukunya’s national identification card (48-011432-Z-48) registered in 1959 under the colonial regime puts his age at 107 years.

He tied the knot with his wife Mariain in 1932. He taught President Mugabe in 1931.

Sekuru Katsukunya, who is now confined to a wheelchair, stays with his fifth child Emmanuel and daughter-in-law in Chitungwiza. Emmanuel acknowledged that it was very difficult to determine his father’s actual age.

“We have put the age around 119-120 years from the stories he shares with us. The colonial regime did not register black people’s birthdays and some were born at home,” he said.

Emmanuel also said his father worked before he started school.

“He told us that there was a time he walked with his elder brother to Harare (then Salisbury) to seek employment. He worked at a farm looking after calves while his brother milked the cows,” he said.

Emmanuel said his father worked for two years at the farm before returning to Mutoko where he started going to school.

“He started school when he was a bit older and the ID cannot be correct at all. I think he acquired the ID when it became mandatory to have them, but estimates were used during those days,” he said.

Although he shows distinctive signs of aging and sometimes takes time to comprehend the line of discussion, Sekuru Katsukunya showed a sharp memory especially on historical events.

“I worked at MacLean’s Farm in Harare before going back to Mutoko when a school was opened there,” he recollected.

Even the Ndebele raids on the Shona are still vivid in his memory.

“We heard of the raids. We never experienced them in Mutoko, but we heard that the Ndebeles were attacking the Mashonaland regions,” he said.

Sekuru Katsukunya replies in affirmation when quizzed if he wore loin cloths.

“That is what we used to wear although due to the influence from whites we started wearing European clothes,” he said.

When Sekuru Katsukunya appeared in The Sunday Mail in 2012, he expressed a wish to meet one of his protégés, President Mugabe, and that wish was granted last Sunday during the Kutama Mission Centenary Celebrations.

As he was wheeled to where President Mugabe was standing after commissioning the Centenary Block, Sekuru Katsukunya kept asking where his student was.

“Ko VaMugabe vacho varipi? President vacho ndevapi? (Where is Mr Mugabe? Which one is the President?),” he excitedly asked.

President Mugabe replied him several times before the centenarian became aware the iconic figure was standing before him.

Two factors could have affected the happy reunion between the teacher and his famous pupil.

Sekuru Katsukunya, because of his advanced and phenomenal age, is partially blind and deaf.

His son, Emmanuel, has become his eyes, ears and mouthpiece.

“I think that was one of his greatest moments in life. The excitement did not start or end with the meeting. When he heard that his dream to meet President Mugabe would be realised that Sunday, I do not think he slept at all.

“He woke us up around 3am to see if we were ready for the journey to Kutama Mission. He put us under a lot of pressure because he was so excited and could not wait to get to Kutama. It was also after a long time that he had visited the mission.”

However, Sekuru Katsukunya lamented the short time he met his legendary student.

“I last met him a long time ago when he came to All Souls Mission and he asked to meet me. I really did not recognise him but I was happy to meet the President,” he said.

Mr Katsukunya barely recalls some of his pupils although he does vividly remember President Mugabe and his late cousin, nationalist James Chikerema as schoolboys in Sub A.

“The two were outstanding students and were very bright. I was also happy to be at Kutama and I am glad the authorities have developed the school to that level. That place was nothing but a bush when we stayed there and it has developed so much,” he said.

Reminiscing on the past, Sekuru Katsukunya said no one ever thought President Mugabe would be the great man who would lead Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, let alone an independent Zimbabwe.

“President Mugabe was a quiet but very intelligent man. However, during those days we never cared much of what happens in the future and I am happy one of my pupils has made such an impact across the world,” he said with a chuckle.

Kutama College was founded in 1914 as a Christian Centre by Father John Loubiere, a Jesuit Catholic Priest with an emphasis on evangelism.

A realisation that apart from spiritual growth and the people needed educational development, the college started primary education. The Jesuits, according to the schools’ history, had established a two year teacher training programme for primary school education by 1926.

While the Jesuits Priests found it cumbersome to do pastoral work and running a school, Bishop Chichester invited the Marist Brothers to Kutama College and the first group led by Brother Patrick Luis started running the school in 1939.

Sekuru Katsukunya graduated as a teacher from the college in 1931 and was to be a teacher for the next 36 years, retiring from public service in 1967.

According to Emmanuel, one incident that has made his father idolise President Mugabe was successfully ending the colonial regime after the protracted war for independence.

“Sometime in 1977 he was drinking with some colleagues when a chopper full of Rhodesian soldiers descended on them accusing them of holding a political meeting.

“I think he thought since he was educated he could speak to the white soldiers but he received a thorough hiding and lost two teeth during the assault.”

Sekuru Katsukunya was arrested only to be released from prison in 1979 during an amnesty leading to Zimbabwe’s independence.

“That was a bitter experience in his life and he has never forgotten it. I guess he has always been grateful to President Mugabe and the liberation fighters for delivering Zimbabwe from the shackles of colonialism,” Emmanuel said.

Sekuru Katsukunya had 12 children with his wife Maria who died in 2005 after living a seemingly long life.

“The clan has grown and I think it numbers at least 300 and they are all over the world. We will soon celebrate his life. That is when almost all his offspring would converge to celebrate his phenomenal life,” Emmanuel said.

He adds that his father attributes his rich and long life to eating healthy and avoiding processed food that have become popular these days.

“There is nothing really special and I think he is a blessed old man whom God has endowed with a fulfilling life and we are grateful that we have such a father,” he said.

Registrar-General Mr Tobaiwa Mudede said determining Sekuru Katsukunya’s age would be a challenge as the registration system then did not favour black people.

“Although our records date back to 1893, the registration process was so racist and only whites, Asians and coloureds where registering during that period. Policies and laws of that era favoured the minority and blacks did not register,” he said.

“It is quite a small population that was registered then and the question of surnames, which was a non-starter for blacks, also distorted the whole registration system.”

Even as people debate over his age, Sekuru Katsukunya sits quietly and seemingly in an unending reverie.

Whether he realises that he could be sitting on a world record, a Guinness Book of Records for the longest living man in the world, is a story for another day.

Maybe, Japan’s Mr Misao Okawo who was born on March 3, 1898, and the current record holder in the Guinness Book of Records could be younger than Sekuru Katsukunya after all.
Herald
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