Many women envied the late Mbuya Idah Marufu for being the wife of a ‘wealthy’ man who worked in South Africa and the community affectionately called her Mai Mujebheki (because her hubby worked in Johannesburg).
Being married to a Johannesburg-based hubby brought envy but it also had its negative side for Mbuya Marufu (83) who is mother to former powerful First Lady Grace Mugabe. Her husband, the late Johnston Taruvinga Marufu like any other Zimbabwean man working in South Africa would come back home after many months. The family would not even know when he would come.
This left Mbuya Marufu exposed to the vagaries that face single mothers. Elders from Ndwere Village under Chief Chivese in Chikomba who spoke to The Mirror in interviews said Mbuya Marufu was abused by her brothers-in-law who assaulted her and sometimes took away money sent to her by her husband for the upkeep of the family. Mbuya Marufu’s children would fail to buy books and pay fees at the nearby Madondo Primary School.
Life was a struggle.
These abuses are a public secret. Grace Mugabe herself complained bitterly against the abuses when she spoke at a recent family funeral. She said it was because of the abuses that she would never develop her parents’ home nestled about 28km from Chivhu along Chivhu – Nyazura Highway.
The home is still an old-fashioned dwelling of the 70s’ with a four-roomed brick-under zinc house and a round kitchen. While nearby houses have piped water and electricity the Marufu homestead where Mbuya Marufu is being buried on Saturday near her husband and her eldest child Reward’s grave is deserted and desolate. Workers were sprucing up the place for the event when The Mirror visited the home this week.
Elders said the abuse was so severe that Mbuya Marufu was at one time forced to walk back to her parents’ home some 60km away at night with young Grace strapped to her back. She also faced resentment from some women-folk who thought that because her husband was away for long periods, Mbuya Marufu could snatch away their husbands.
However relatives of the Marufu family who spoke on condition of anonymity described her as a heroine to be remembered for her courage and dedication in fending for her children under very difficult hardships.
Mbuya Marufu became mentally unstable at some stage and Grace attributed this to the torture and torment that she went through at the hands of her in-laws.
Mbuya Marufu was born in Ranga Village under Chief Muchetedza in Sadza and she was also popularly known as vaMunjanja because she is of the Sinyoro totem.
She died at the Trauma Centre in Harare on Friday last week after succumbing to what relatives described as “old-age sickness.”
“Her life was particularly difficult. Wives whose husbands worked in the cities here could write letters to them and discuss the welfare of their children. In her case there was no letter writing to husbands in South Africa. One would just wait until the day he came,” said an elderly woman who requested anonymity.
“The incident where she walked back to her parents’ home at night traumatised her. During those days there were frightening forests and no woman could enter them alone even during the day. Such constant verbal and physical abuse tormented her and she eventually developed mental problems,” said another family member.
Some neighbours said that Mbuya Marufu’s children ended up doing menial work in the sorrounding home steads to fill in on basic needs.
Her burden was only lessoned when her daughters, Junior (now Mrs Gumbochuma) and Rosemary (Mrs Chidhakwa) got married.
They took their mother away to Harare to stay with her.
It was Grace’s recruitment into the Office of the President as a copy typist that really turned her life around.
Just a few months after Sally Mugabe, Robert Mugabe’s first wife passed on in 1992, rumour spread in Grace’s home area that the late Enos Chikowore was fronting marriage negotiations between the Marufu and Mugabe families.
Grace’s marriage to Mugabe brought the little known Marufu family into fame. The Mirror was told that Mbuya Marufu stayed with Grace at the most opulent of Zimbabwe’s residences, the State House and lately the famed Blue Roof which is Mugabe’s private residence.
Mbuya Marufu had five children; Reward a war veteran who died in 2010 and was declared provincial hero, Junior, Rosemary, Grace and Winston Churchill who is the last born.
Grace was known as an ordinary village girl who did primary at Madondo Primary School and was constantly chased away from school over fees arrears.
She was a lowly rural girl who, although her father worked in South Africa, dependend on the neighbouring Mashonganyika family for books and stationery when she was doing her secondary education at St Francis of Assisi High School in the neighbourhood.
Grace does not forget her early life. She pinpoints those who were sympathetic to her difficulties and those who enjoyed her misery.
She would always name these people at family funerals.
It is there at that abandoned homestead where her hubby and son lie that Mbuya Marufu will be laid to rest on Saturday.