Born in a family of seven, to a mother who suffered from the debilitating leprosy disease, life has never been easy for Tunica Svikiri.
BY VANESSA GONYE
Daughter to 100-year-old Gogo Jessy Braundi, Tunica led a life full of misery.
While other children had the privilege of being born in “normal” families, living in homes with parents, relatives and the like, this was not so for Gogo Jessy’s two surviving children — the other five died in their infancy — because they had to move from one home to the other, a result of their mother’s “isolation” at the leprosy centre.
They longed for a “proper” family and managed to have a feel of what that meant when they were taken to a home at All Souls Mission in Mutoko where they got to experience the other side of life.
According to Tunica, the priests at the centre did their best to make sure they saw the brighter side of life.
“Our childhood was painful, we were limited to staying either at the centre with our mother or at a home. We longed to visit relatives or go for holidays like any other child, unfortunately, that was not to be as we were taken as outcasts. The sky was always grey for us, we didn’t even know how to smile as it was one hurting experience after the other,” recalled Tunica.
Back then, leprosy was believed to be highly contagious due to the absence of a proper remedy and as such, those affected by it and those around them were treated with caution, isolated and made to feel less human.
In the 1940s, a period when the disease was endemic, Mutemwa was home to around 1 000 patients. But towards the end of that decade, a cure was found — the drug dapsone — and the disease began to be contained.
However, misconceptions about the disease still linger today, haunting many former lepers staying at the centre and around the world.
The isolation they have had to endure for decades, some into old age, has affected them in a big way.
This is worsened by their dull surroundings, that include walls with chirping paint. No renovations have been done for years until recently when the Astra Paints’ corporate service responsibility (CSR) arm got those smiles back, by giving the centre a fresh coat of paint.
Speaking at the handover event of the refurbished units, Astra Paints marketing assistant, Joyline Zindaga said: “For our CSR activity for the year, we donated paint and painted the buildings at Mutemwa, where we merged the handover with the monthly clean-up campaign. The place was last painted in the 1980s and we saw the need for a facelift and also to bring smiles to their faces.
“Many people forego the need to assist and we decided to bridge the gap and painted the clinic, chapel, hall, patients’ shelters and the administration block. Of the three projects, this is the biggest project we have done so far for the needy.”
The people of Mutemwa have, however, always been enthusiastic and eager to do something for themselves.
Some of the residents spend their time gardening, doing some repairs and a lot of things that “normal” people may fail to do, and outsmarting them since most of them have no fingers and toes.
Despite Gogo Tinashe Tembo having only thumbs and no fingers, she has remained full of high spirits throughout her stay at Mutemwa.
She is blind, but does not let that stop her from living a normal life.
“I really appreciate what you have done for us (painting walls), but next time when you come remember me and bring some sweets and biscuits as well,” she jokingly said.
The story of Mutemwa Leprosy Centre and its occupants has been told many a time, but in all conversations with the former lepers, one person stands out and remains their liberator and the change they yearned for, since knowing the dreadful reality of living with the disease.
John Randall Bradburne, was a friend, a father and a companion to the “condemned” lepers, giving them his all, till death separated him from them.
They all speak highly of him, and describe him as their true friend, one who was able to demystify the stigma that surrounded the disease.
Sekuru Bhaureni Mapuranga, who came to the centre in 1957 as a young boy, suffering from leprosy said Bradburne taught him to love and to forgive.
He had a bad experience having been affected by the disease at a tender age and at a time stigmatisation of lepers was at its peak.
“John did not despise lepers; he would do anything for us and never wanted us to go hungry. He sacrificed his all for us,” Mapuranga fondly recalls.
Mutemwa and its stories will remain a marvel for years to come as it is testimony of true love and sacrifice, the two forces that brought a change to the lives of those affected by leprosy.