When your name turns out to be your purpose and calling
Our grandfather, Robson Mhlanga was a very enterprising man. He was way ahead of his time. He was trained in carpentry at Mount Selinda, founded in 1893 by the American Board of Foreign Missions (now United Church of Christ) in Chipinge, Zimbabwe.
He later struck out on a journey that took him to present day Gweru in the early 1930s to set up a furniture making factory. Yes, you heard me right, a factory not a carpentry shop. Robson made a name for himself there and that is where my late father Jonathan Temba was born in 1935.
Circumstances surrounding the birth of my father saw him move to South Africa. Unlike many who were attracted by the gold mines (eGoli) of the Witwatersrand, he chose Cape Town over the mining cauldron of Johannesburg. There he set up another furniture factory brought in apprentices from home to work at his growing enterprise.
It was not long before my father joined him there as a child. He had his early education, gaining his matric KwaLanga and preparing to go to university, Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. However, as fate would have it, an eye complication and subsequent operation at the world famous Groote Schuur hospital put paid to those plans.
Grandpa Robson was advised by doctors to move from the Cape Mediterranean climate to a tropical one. He had to leave his factory and chose instead to return to the then Rhodesia in the 1950s on doctor’s orders. My father had to cut his educational trajectory (he was destined for the University of Fort Hare) and instead took a course in salesmanship and accounting to support the extended family, by later taking up a job.
The point is that my grandfather had the love for helping people. There are many from rural Chipinge who beat a path to the Cape at his call and their descendants are still there. He set them up in the carpentry business at a time when Africans were not expected to own one.
It’s an attribute that he passed on to my father, Jonathan who when he returned to this country in the early 1960s educated all his siblings before setting them up in jobs at various local companies.
He and stalwarts like the late Alfred Zwambila, Taffy Moyo, William and Daniel Ngwenya, Nicholas Mabodoko, Benjamin Muvuti, Rueben Zemura, Mtshena Sidile and a host of others were instrumental in inspiring fellow Africans to succeed in a very racist and discriminatory environment.
Be it civic affairs through advisory boards, or sport where they financed clubs such as Highlanders FC, or in politics when they clandestinely supported the liberation movements of the time.
In business, they were selfless icons with a community spirit. All these men are heroes in their own right but never demanded honour. For them, it was their responsibility, the right thing to do, and a calling that belied their humility.
It’s a legacy we intend to carry on, for our own small way we have watched our products soar in their lives and make an impact on society. Nothing gives us greater joy. Tears always flow freely when they come back just to say, thank you.
For his part, our grandfather bequeathed African names to us that talked to our calling. Whether intentional or not one will never know, but we are certain that he insisted on being the one to name us children.
I have previously shared how my name Lizwi, which means voice, has turned out to be my destiny. I have lived to that name, moving from teaching, broadcasting and print media and now to public relations and communication. I thrive in giving the voiceless a voice. A coincidence perhaps, but I don’t think so.
In the past year, I have watched the star of my sister Iris Mhlanga rise and shine in a similar fashion. She was named Nozizwe, which means ‘Mother of all nations.’ She has the uncanny ability to attract people who are in desperate need of help and have no one else to turn. She then connects them with those with the resources to assist.
She used to ask me, ‘Why do I attract birds with broken wings?’ Well, she must be the angel that mends them, I suppose. At one point in my life, I was one of those birds. Her being there to give emotional and spiritual support is responsible for my recovery.
But what has happened in the past 12 months is truly remarkable. The broken birds became a flock that became almost unmanageable. Yet took it all in her stride, and applied her medicinal training and exceptional organisational skills to the test. She has leveraged the power of social media and her exceptional organisational skills to marshal a disparate troop of well-wishers and anonymous philanthropists.
‘Let’s start a charity,’ we decided almost like a joke, and the Nozizwe Mother of Nations Trust was born in October. It seemed the most logical thing to do. Everything that we experienced seemed to align with this cause. The charity assists those struck with polio, cerebral palsy and other destitute and needy members of our community.
In those three short months, we have witnessed miracles that are beyond our imagination. The spirit of giving is so strong out there. Many of us want to lend a helping hand and the generosity knows no bounds.
As we embark on this lofty calling, our resolution is to take this cause to the next level. In line with this, my message for the New Year is that we forgive, love, be kind, generous and grateful. For with this comes abundant blessings from our creator.