Mbuya Hwiza, whose real name is Alice Manhando, rents out a single room in Chitungwiza’s Unit G high-density suburb and survives on begging, occasional vending and hand-outs from well-wishers.
Although she lives in near vagrancy, Mbuya Hwiza is the mother of a well-to-do top government official.
Her third out of eight children is Allowance Sango, the director of transport management in the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development.
Four of her children passed away while the others are not gainfully employed.
Described by people from her community as a high spirited and hard-working old woman, Mbuya Hwiza moves around Makoni shopping centre in Chitungwiza every day from morning till dusk.
She would be trying to eke out a living from selling all sorts of things. She is usually found sitting outside shop verandas selling dried vegetables and sometimes home-made bottled chilli sauce.
However, the old woman cannot raise enough money to feed herself and she winds up her day by collecting food donations such as maize-meal and cooking oil from various well-wishers who have come to identify with her plight.
Sango’s mother is 69 years old and says she “celebrates” her birthday on February 15.
On lucky days, she is engaged by people from her community to perform household chores such as digging the garden, doing laundry and cleaning the yard — efforts of which are normally rewarded with $1.
With no stove to cook the food donated to her, Mbuya Hwiza’s daily routine involves waking up in the morning and scavenging for plastic bottles and cardboard that she uses to light up a fire.
“I am an early bird and unless I am sick, I do not sleep until the sun rises. Waking up at 4am guarantees me ample time to pray, bath, clean my room and go to the shopping centre to pick up plastic bottles to cook for the day,” she said.
Sitting on her makeshift bed made out of neatly folded blankets on the floor on one side of her one-roomed accommodation, Mbuya Hwiza narrates how her family has neglected her.
“Neighbours take care of me and they are the ones that donate money to pay for my medication when I am sick, but my son, Allowance, his wife and grandchildren rarely visit to see how I am doing,” she said with tears in her eyes.
She said each time she has tried to contact him on the phone, he has given all sorts of excuses.
“Sometimes when I try to get hold of him, he tells me that he is out of the country and cannot help me, but life has to go on,” she said, adding that while he sometimes pays her rentals, he often fails to do so, attributing the failure to the harsh economic environment.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Sango confirmed Mbuya Hwiza is his biological mother but said he was finding it difficult to support her financially.
He said he also had his wife and children to look after besides other extended family members.
He said: “I have three sons who are at university and the whole family looks up to me since I am the sole breadwinner. I am also taking care of my father who is paralysed.”
Sango said his parents were divorced and he was in the process of trying to convince his mother to go and live at his farm where he said she would be able to get food easily.
“My mother got divorced from my father and I am in the process of trying to engage my uncles to persuade my mother to go and stay at my farm so that what I eat, she also eats.”
Mbuya Hwiza said she did not wish to go to the farm because of the ill-treatment that she gets from her son’s wife.
“My daughter-in-law even said I was a witch and she at one time told me that I was going to be buried in a cardboard box because I do not deserve a coffin or a proper burial,” she said, pausing to wipe off tears.
“I am all alone. My grandchildren, all of them, including the ones from my deceased children, are not allowed to visit me.”
She paused and gazed into space as if she was recalling some very special moments.
Picking up a photo of one of her deceased sons, Brighton, the old woman muttered, “Maybe if he was here, my circumstances would have been different.”
She then began to weep. Moments later, after regaining her composure, she went on to describe how at one time she had gone for days with nothing to eat until one of her neighbours came to her rescue with part-time jobs.
“There are times when I get ill and cannot get up to go to work, sell my chillies or dried vegetables and it is during such times that this community has really come to my rescue,” she said, expressing gratitude to the people from her community.
She then pulled from the suitcases lined at the end of her makeshift bed in a wardrobe like style a couple of books and DVDs.
She described the books and the DVDs as her link and motivation to know that there is a better tomorrow.
“The books and DVDs are publications from the man of God, Prophet Walter Magaya,” she said.
Her face lit up as she described her wish to be able to one day listen to the DVD messages that are on Magaya’s sermons.
Since a proper radio, television or DVD player are luxuries she only possessed in her dreams, Mbuya Hwiza expressed her wish to one day be able to watch Yada Television in the comfort of her room.
“The messages from the man of God are powerful and I believe that if I listen to them, there will be change in my life,” she said.
She said because she could not afford to go to church, she wished to have either a radio or television set to watch the sermons, which she believes are a must-watch.
Unit G resident Taonezvi Maturure said it was sad that the elderly in most urban communities were living like paupers.
“Mbuya Hwiza is a very strong character but her life is one that makes all of us feel inadequate,” he said, emphasising the need to look into the welfare of the elderly in urban areas.
Darlington Hwende, Mbuya Hwiza’s neighbour, urged families to take care of the elderly and stop finding excuses by associating them with witchcraft.
Hwende said Mbuya Hwiza deserved respect, love, support and care from her family, community and the church.