The Pilot That Never Was . . . Jailed for crime of poverty, Taiziveyi still languishes in ‘prison’

The Herald

Robert Mukondiwa
You would be excused for thinking the road to St Albert’s Mission was constructed in the year Jesus was born. Except that the scrappy tarmac will refute such thinking. After all tarmac was only invented and patented in 1902. Aeons after the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord.

Yet the treacherous terrain and deep red orifices in the road speak of a place left forlorn. It has been like that for the past three decades and sadly looks like it will remain like that until the very same Jesus returns. It is forgotten.

Perhaps it is fitting therefore that another forgotten person lives at the end of that terrain. In tiny mud huts that lie strewn across a hilltop that can barely hold its own let alone carry huts upon it.

Here lives Taiziveyi Zembenuko.

Taiziveyi is the young man whose story captured the heart of the nation, broke hearts and shamed Zimbabwean society after he had been made to serve three months in prison as a Form Three pupil after his family had failed to pay school fees arrears when the debt collectors pounced on his dirt poor family demanding their dues.

His father, an ailing old man well in his 80s was also looking after his mentally-ill and aged wife and therefore could not serve the time. Taiziveyi had sacrificed himself for the sake of his parents and had been locked up for the crime of poverty.

“They were too old and father had to look after mother so I offered myself to ensure that they do not endure that pain,” he had said then.

The outpouring of shame, anger, anguish and compassion had brought Taiziveyi in touch with the then Tanzanian Ambassador to Zimbabwe Hashim Mbita, who had “adopted” him and his needs to ensure that he did well and made something of himself.

Following the Father’s Day story by The Saturday Herald hailing the late Mbita for his love, arose the question, where was Taiziveyi Zembenuko now? What had become of the pledge made by others to offer him lessons on being a pilot? Had he become a success story who had arisen from an avalanche of pain and poverty?

Tracking him down to answer the question led back to the very beginning yet again, St Albert’s Mission. At the same poor homestead. At the same chickens running around the yard with tattered feathers. At the same fate.

But Taiziveyi was not there! Had he been on some flight somewhere in the clouds as a pilot now? Was he finally furnished with wings and travelling the world as a proud captain?

Far from it.

He had travelled to a nearby tobacco farm where his sister is married. We were to meet him on the morrow. Dressed poorly with the same innocent face and quiet heart that he had exhibited over a decade and a half ago, Zembenuko is still in poverty. But what was he doing at the farm?

“Ndanga ndichimbonoita maricho,” he says calmly. Tilling the field, hoe in hand in exchange for a few bond coins to make ends meet. And if he were lucky, he would get a decent meal and a cup of cool drink to wash it all down.

But what had happened to the fairy-tale story of hope and love that had been painted when people fished him out of the jaws of poverty and set him on a road to prosperity. How did he find himself on the road to perdition?

“The ambassador had to leave and he had helped me a lot. I completed Ordinary Level and have 7 subjects even after that ordeal. I have four B’s and three C’s. After that I had to eke out on my own to ensure that I went further for Advanced Level but without assistance I didn’t do well,” he says quietly.

There is the voice in the Old Testament of when God spoke to Elijah. Not in a vicious win. Not in an earthquake. But in a still small voice.

He is the epitome of and human embodiment of that, Taiziveyi. Speaks with a voice as soft as the death of an Angel. Not even the fact that poverty and bad fortune have messed him twice over makes him seem an angry soul.

But he was dealt further cruel hands. Having lost his father, the Ambassador Mbita, the people who promised to make him a pilot reneged on their promise. Many would be angry at the unfulfilled promise. But not Taiziveyi.

“Cosmas Nyamutswa (pilot training benefactor) did all he could and I even went for some lessons,” he says, “but they had a fall out with his business partner and parted ways so that affected the whole plan,” he says calmly.

Some things have ravaged Taiziveyi. Like the vicious wind and scorching sun. And age. He wears a tiny crop of soft silky hair with sprinklings of early greying.

“I am not old,” he responds to taunts that he is aged; “it’s only the type of hair that I have which greys early and quickly,” he says.

“I need a bit of love. A job possibly, so that I get to start focusing on growing myself. There is no longer anything for me to stay here for and achieve,” he says.

The reason he was staying back home has gone. He was actively looking after his parents. But his mother passed on and his father followed his aged sweetheart a few years later.

Taiziveyi (right) with Masimba Nhengu, a local entrepreneur

A sad and lonely man in the end. Taiziveyi was his only friend. And now the duty of looking after the aged parents, a burden of “Black Tax” is now out of the way.

“I can work. I am a hard worker and indeed I have managed to survive doing manual work regardless of having my good grades. I do not want a grant, or a freebie or pity and sympathy. I want to work for what I put on the table,” he says.

While youth with little to do in the rurals get busy with the girls in the village, Taiziveyi is still single and has not sown wild oats, dotting the village with little Taiziveyis.

“I am focused on becoming myself, someone worth my name first before I become a father or husband,” he says.

He has forgotten a lot of things. He has forgotten to be angry with life. He has forgotten to be a bitter person despite having every reason to be bitter at fate.

He has also forgotten how to smile. His face brightens at intervals but hardly breaks into a smile. It is much wonder how he is still this disciplined a man in the face of trying fate.

“Let me give you my cousin’s number so you can get in touch with me and help me in my last leg out of my troubles,” he pleads quietly.

And after a few pictures taken as the sun rushes to Muzarabani behind the bosom shaped mountains, he nods when offered a beer. Quietly he sips his Castle Lite.

“That’s a very peaceful person,” Masimba Nhengu, a local entrepreneur says afterwards,” he quietly has his beers and never crosses anyone’s path.

‘‘We would love for this story to at least have a happy ending.”

Maybe finally sadness and poverty will cease to be his next of kin. Maybe one day soon he will remember to smile.