Sunday, 24 November 2019

THE BLIND BEGGAR AND HIS FOUR WIVES


WHAT started off as an ordinary assignment to understand the life of Matias Ganuka, a blind polygamist, ended up as a heart-wrenching journey.

The blind man operates in Harare’s CBD, but hails from Siakobvu, Kariba. Ganuka, popularly known in his home area as Mudhara Kabotoro, has four wives. He, together with his four disabled wives and 20 children, leads a life that touches the hearts of those who get to interact with the family.  In fact, the man and his family need urgent help, not from just ordinary people, but even from the powers that be.

Like most blind beggars, he is always accompanied by one of his children — a young boy who appears streetwise. A few yards away from him, his second wife, Feria, is also begging and is accompanied by a young girl, their daughter. For any passer-by, it is hard to tell that the two are husband and wife.

Positioning themselves strategically to beg for their huge family, the Ganukas are such a sad life story. To understand the family more, The Sunday Mail Society travelled to Kariba to get a feel of their home and spend time with the blind polygamist’s three other wives and children.

Tucked at the foot of the rugged hills of Siakobvu’s Kasvisva village, Ganuka’s homestead looks lifeless.  It is late afternoon and any lively household should be preparing for supper, yet for the Ganukas, there is no hope for an evening meal.  Emerging from one of the tiny huts is a pale disabled woman, panting heavily with her eyes bulging as if she is scared of the unseen.

She drags herself on her backside to welcome us. This is Jennifer, Ganuka’s third wife.

Later, the first and fourth wives emerge from the surrounding bushes, both walking with the aid of crutches.  Esnarah, the first wife, mysteriously became disabled when she was still a toddler. She does not recall what happened to her.

Feria lost her sight to measles when she was three.  Since she can walk properly, she is the one who usually accompanies their husband to Harare to beg.

Jennifer, on the other hand, has long history of illness.

“I was bitten by a lizard when I was still a teenager and since then, I have never been able to walk. If I eat or drink anything, I vomit. I always have an empty can on me for use when I vomit. I rarely pass stool,” she narrated.

Sometimes, Jennifer experiences seizures, which makes it risky for her to be home alone. Therefore, her 16-year-old son does all the household chores and has to bath her when she is not feeling well. Rumbidzai, the fourth and youngest wife, had her legs burnt when she was still a toddler.

Her maternal family (the Matashus) conducted some rituals and she was made to sit on some hot ashes. All the four wives are illiterate, and do not know their exact ages and none of them has or can operate a cellphone.

Feria has her own compound while the other three live under one roof.

“We are grounded here because of our disabilities, so our sister wife has to travel with baba while we take care of the household. Upon return, it is up to her to distribute what they will have brought home. We accept whatever quantities we are given, although at times it feels unfair. We cannot argue over that,” the trio revealed.

Ganuka sired 20 children with his four wives. However, eight died while the others depend on their father for survival. Eighteen of them were primary school drop-outs, while two are in Grade Two and Form Two.

Just like Feria, Ganuka lost his sight to measles when he was only four.

“I usually come with Feria. She is blind but can walk, unlike the other wives. We spend three months begging before going back home for a month’s break. Well-wishers give us money, clothes and food, but it is not enough for the entire family,” said Ganuka.

He revealed that some villagers used to discriminate against his family, saying they were not supposed to benefit from food aid programmes.


“Because of polygamy, others would judge me. Even my children were discriminated against. We ended up losing out on food aid programmes. Neighbours would not help us, which prompted me to travel to Harare to beg,” he said.

In Harare, Ganuka, Feria and their two children pay $30 monthly rentals for a room in Overspill, Epworth. Daily, they travel to the CBD, where they pocket between $50 and $80 on a good day. On other days, it is much less. Usually when they travel back to Kariba, Ganuka would have pocketed between $1 500 and $2 000.

While the Ganukas are currently gathering inputs for the farming season, they have no food reserves, hence they are surviving from hand to mouth.

Ganuka has no livestock at his homestead; tillage is manually done by his children and disabled wives.

“To travel to and from Kariba, some buses now require a fare, it is tough. That’s why we are now staying longer in Harare. In the past, we would go back home every month,” he  said.

He recalls how tough it was growing up without sight. He was constantly stigmatised, which forced him to abandon school when he was in Grade One.

However, blindness did not discourage him from falling in love. Sadly, he was often turned down. Feeling frustrated, he decided that he would only pursue disabled women.

“I had several relationships, but they all failed, the women would spend the little I got from my fishing nets business and dump me later. Out of frustration, I decided that I would only chase the disabled ones.”

He got into his first marriage in 1978, the second one in 1991, third one in 1998 and the last one in 2010.  Although he has never seen any of his wives, the sound of their voices is sweet music in his ears. The feel of their skin is enough for Ganuka.

Feria wishes to see her husband’s face one day.

“Since losing sight, all I have known is darkness in my eyes. I have never seen my husband. But due to his voice and touch, it feels like I see him smiling every day, although I wish for more,” she said. Feria does all her household chores without any assistance. She balances being a mother, wife and a street beggar.

All of Ganuka’s children are able-bodied. Sunday Mail

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