In November Mantombi Zuma will be 109 years old – and she still doesn’t have electricity.
She has difficulty remembering past events like the death of her husband of 45 years, but this grandmother of 29 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren is quick with words of wisdom for those wanting a long life.
Born in November 1904 in Weenen in northern KwaZulu-Natal, gogo Zuma had nine children, eight of whom have died. She was the youngest sibling of five, with two brothers and two sisters, all of whom are dead.
Gogo Zuma moved as a young girl to the kwaDinababuko area in Molweni, near Inanda. She grew up in abject poverty and started working on Francis farm in the Estcourt area, where she married into the Zuma clan aged 18.
She worked on the same farm for several different owners.
“I’m the only one left in my family and I can’t remember when my parents and my siblings died. Through my living days I have worked on a farm in Estcourt under different owners. This one owner would either sell or die, and a new owner will take over. It’s been like that until old age got the better of me,” she said.
Gogo Zuma still walks unaided, but her hearing is poor.
“My grandchildren sometimes tease me and ask when am I going to die because I have overstayed my visit on Earth, but I tell them that I’m being rewarded by God and ancestors for how I lived my life.
“If you want to live longer you must have self-respect. Don’t do things to impress friends and peers. Ask yourself if it is good for you – how is it going to benefit you?
“I may not remember much. But what I can tell you is that children of this time see life differently from when we grew up. I got married once, my husband dying in a year that I can’t remember, but I never thought of anything else except to raise my children.
“Self-respect and listening to the elders are what kept me alive to this day.”
Her daughter-in-law, Carol Zuma, said gogo Zuma tells them she got married when she was 18 and often told her descendants that this kind of longevity was not unheard of.
“She always warns children on how they behave. She once said when she got married she respected her in-laws and after her husband’s death in 1967 she never thought of getting married again.
“We all lived to see her grow old as a single mother who did all she could to raise her children,” said Carol.
Gogo Zuma said she still did not have electricity and that has made her life difficult. When The Witness visited her in her RDP house on Friday it was cold. Only one of her four grandchildren who live with her was home.
“Oh, if they can only give me electricity my life will be better. I’ve never had electricity since I stayed here while everyone else has it,” she said.
Area councillor Sithembiso Mchunu said she would investigate the matter, but could not say when.
“I was shocked when I found out that gogo’s house had no electricity connection,” she said in an SMS.