Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Could this be the oldest man alive?

White Tembo retired in 1955 and has been living at his farm in Rufunsa since 1956. Pictures by Jack Zimba.

Juliana died on April 18, 2018. She is believed to have been 108 years old.

White Tembo thinks he still has a few more years to live.

Mr Tembo's third daughter Justina (right) is 82 years old.


Could this be the oldest man alive?


 WHEN White Nyamfukudza Tembo comes out of the small house, he is borne like a toddler in the arms of his teenage grandson, and then his fragile frame is carefully placed in a chair.
His grandchildren and great grandchildren gather around and gaze at him like a relic in a museum. Well, at 114 years old, he is a living relic.
“Get me something warm, it’s cold out here,” demands the old man.
His voice is still strong, but he is hard of hearing and one has to shout when speaking to him.
He can hardly see, but he was able to detect the flashlight from my camera.
“Are they taking pictures of me?” he asks his son, Brian.
Sitting beside the old man is his third child, Justina. At 82, she is the oldest living child of the old man.
And next to her is Materesi Phiri, the old man’s sister-in-law. She is believed to be close to a hundred years old.
They are all here because a few weeks ago, the old man lost his wife, Juliana. She was believed to be 108 years old.
Juliana had a history of hypertension and had suffered a stroke in 1956, then the second stroke hit her on April 10.
Her frail body could not take it. She died on April 18.
The old man is still devastated by Juliana’s death. The two are said to have been inseparable.
“They were like two pigeons,” says Brian.
It is a remarkable love affair that spanned over 80 years.
The old man speaks about Juliana with deep fondness.
“As you see me today, I’m mourning. Where is the woman I have lived with?” he asks, tears running down his wrinkled face.
He wants his Juliana back.
“My God, bring back my wife,” he says. “She left me sleeping on the bed. I felt for her with my hand, but she was not there. Where is my friend?” he laments.
When Juliana died, the family could not immediately break the news to the old man, fearing for his fragile heart.
When the old man asked for his wife, they laid his grandchild next to him instead.
Two days later, they could not keep the secret anymore. The old man could not take the news. He wanted to take his own life.
“He asked for poison to end his own life,” says Brian.
The old man did not attend Juliana’s burial, but the family arranged for him to say goodbye to her at home, a little touch of her face as she lay in her coffin.
The family is now trying to use psychosocial counselling to help the old man cope with the loss of his Juliana.
“It is only now that he is beginning to understand that death is there,” says Brian.
The old man seems to find a lot of comfort in his four surviving children, especially his two sons, Brian and Peter. He is only able to recognise them by their voices.
“You are my only family now,” he tells Brian.
The old man still calls his sons with the prefix “ka”, as if they were little boys.
Brian is the eighth-born child of the old man, born in 1962, and then his younger brother, Peter, was born in 1966.
Juliana was in her 50s when she had her last two children.
“The two of us are products of menopause,” says Brian. “Mum was already in her 50s when we were born. We were lucky to be born.”
Brian says he sucked from his mother’s breast until he was five.
“I remember sometimes I would come back from looking after the animals and then I would ask my mother to kneel so I could suck,” he says.
As for his father, he has always known him as an old man.
“I have never seen him young, I have always known him as an old man,” he says.
The old man is chatty and loves to sing. And although his memory seems to be failing him now, especially after the death of his wife, he sounds very reasonable and likes to express his opinion.
“I hear that when a man impregnates a girl in Lusaka, he is punished, to me that is wrong,” he says, almost out of the blue. “Because when that child is born, do you throw it away?”
He is also inquisitive, asking a lot of questions, some too hard to answer.
“Who is my God?” he demands.
The old man is also amused at the prospect he could be the oldest man alive.
“Someone two days ago told me there is no-one in this country who is as old as me. I was surprised. The whole of this country has no-one as old as me?” he asks.
For a centenarian, the old man has the zest for life.
In fact, he thinks he has a few more years to live.
“I’m still here, you will get tired of giving me Coca Cola,” he tells his sons.
The old man likes to drink Coca Cola, but tea is his favourite.
As we speak, a cup of juice is placed in the old man’s hands. He makes the symbol of the cross the Catholic-way and then gulps the liquid.
The old man has a big appetite, so much so that the people around him have nicknamed him Tembo ku nyopola, which translates “Tembo the glutton”.
The old man likes fish and okra, because he only has three teeth remaining in his mouth.
When asked about his secret to long life, the old man becomes animated.
“Ehee! You want to know my secret? If a person is crooked in his dealings, death is never far away,” he says.
“If you kill people, you cannot live long,” he adds.
The old man also talks about his faith as a Christian.
“I was baptised together with my wife and it is God who keeps me,” he says.
Brian says the old man has also led an active life, except the past two years when his legs could not carry him any longer.
A photo taken five years ago shows the old man standing in gumboots.
Juliana is also said to have been active, making tea for her husband even when she clocked 108 years.
In fact, the family thought the old man would die first because he seemed much more frail.
When he was a young man, the old man had a bad lifestyle. He used to drink alcohol a lot.
“It is something I witnessed. Dad used to drink a lot,” says Brian.
The old man was also a big smoker.
But in the late 60s, the old man was diagnosed with a condition and doctors advised him to stop drinking and smoking. He did.
Now, is old White Tembo really 114 years old?
Without any birth records, it is hard to prove the old man’s age. Even his national registration card is blank on his date of birth.
But the account of the old man’s life by his son Brian is very corroborative.
According to Brian, White Tembo was born in 1904 in Luangwa. The old man’s father was a mail runner, who delivered mail between Salisbury (Harare) in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Feira in Luangwa district.
He married a granddaughter of Chief Mburuma of the Nsenga people in Luangwa district, although he already had three wives in Southern Rhodesia. He would marry two more women in Luangwa district to make a harem of seven.
Between 1910 and 1920, the young White Tembo travelled with his uncle to Lusaka where he worked on a big farm in Kabulongo (present-day Kabulonga).
The farm belonged to a German called Mr Schulz and the young boy’s job was to chase birds from the wheat fields.
But when copper was discovered on the Copperbelt, it opened new prospects for jobs. And White trekked up north to seek employment at the newly-opened Nkana mine. The mine was opened in 1928.
He got a job as a caddie at the golf course belonging to the mine.
And then in 1930, he returned to Luangwa, picked up his wife and went to Southern Rhodesia, where he worked on the mines.
White and Juliana are said to have been engaged long before they were married. They were first cousins. In 1932, they had their first child.
In 1954, Mr Tembo returned to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and worked for J.J. Lowe, a construction company. But he worked for only a year and was retired, probably after attaining the age of 50.
He never wanted to settle in Luangwa, so he bought a large piece of land in Rufunsa, where he settled in 1956, rearing cattle. At one time he had a herd of 2,000 animals.
In 1993 when Chief Mburuma died, the old man should have ascended to the throne, but he refused.
The account of Mr Tembo and his family, his links to the Mburuma chieftaincy are a subject of a book, but the manuscript is still on the shelf of a university in Lusaka.
If White Tembo’s age is proved correct, he may enter the records as the oldest man alive.
On April 10‚ a 112-year-old Masazo Nonaka of Japan was named as the oldest man alive. The record holder for the oldest person ever (male) was also Japanese. Jiroemon Kimura was born on April 19, 1897 and died aged 116 years 54 days, on June 12, 2013.
Last week, there was another contender for the world’s oldest man. He is Fredie Blom of Cape Town in South Africa, who celebrated his 114th birthday on May 8.
However, the all-time record for the oldest person ever is held by Jeanne Louise Calment from France, who lived to an unprecedented 122 years 164 days, from 1875 to 1997.

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