As they were driving home Vuyo was lost in thought, thinking about the hard days of his childhood with his beloved granny. Also, of all the lovely stories he used to hear about his mother. And sadly, about the way she died, so tragically. The longing he had to know her. How he wished that his mother was still alive, so she could see how successful he had become, as a man.

As for his father – no-one ever talked about him. Makhulu Tshezi did not have much information about him, other than that he ran away soon after Vuyo was born and had never even bothered to come back and look for him since. So Vuyo had decided in his heart never to look for his father, either. Makhulu Tshezi has been a father and mother in his life.

Whenever he went back to Qolweni village to visit Tshezi on weekends, she reminded him of how God had been in their life of struggle.

“Oh those were hard days my boy, very hard days. But my faith kept me strong. I prayed to the Man above. Oh, how I used to cry, not knowing what we would eat the next day,” Makhulu Tshezi would say.

“But Makhulu, you came to fetch me from school every day when I was small. You baked the nicest vetkoek,” Vuyo would say, trying to make his granny feel appreciated.

“I could not let you walk alone up and down those hills. Every day, when my two cows were grazing nicely beneath the Ngongoshe hills, then I would go wait for you at your school. Those were hard days mfo wam, but we made it. Look at you now; you even have a beard like a real man,” Makhulu Tshezi would say, pulling him by the ears like a child. “A whole grown up man!”

These were precious moments for Vuyo. They could not be exchanged, even for gold.

“Some days we would have no maize meal to eat for supper and you made me drink the stale milk, over and over again,” Vuyo would try to get back at her.

“No silly child, that was not stale milk, Vuyo. That was rich and creamy homemade amasi, our ancient staple food. It was very good for you. It made your cheeks plump, and shine with life,” she would protest.

“We had four cows then, Makhulu … but then they all died,” Vuyo would remember sadly.

“Oh mntan’omntwan’am, don’t say that, because it still pains my heart. That dreadful drought of 2007! That year was like a killer monster that destroyed everything. Such horrible drought,” Makhulu Tshezi would say and shake her head sadly, wiping her old forehead, lined with soft wrinkles.

One could tell that she had indeed been a beauty in her younger days, but now her smooth olive skin was very dark, rough, sunburnt, turned to deep charcoal. Only her teeth were still in good shape, though not as white as they had been.

“I had to start again from scratch, because I could not live in this village without cattle.”

“Where did you get the money, Makhulu? I remember you bought the first replacement cow, u-Mazomzi. She was still a calf when you bought her. It’s amazing to think that she is the mother of all your cattle now,” said Vuyo proudly.

“Oh that cow, that precious cow!” She looked down, holding back tears from her eyes, and then shook her head. “I adore that cow and I will spend my last cent to make sure that she lives her best life. In fact, I just bought her calcium powder – I think that old age is catching up with her. Sometimes she just refuses to eat.”

Mazomzi was a big Nguni, a beautiful black and white cow that Makhulu Tshezi had bought with her pension money, when it was still a rather sickly calf. She nursed it till it was a fully grown, healthy cow. She made sure it was well fed and cured of all ailments.

Today Makhulu Tshezi has 10 cows and two suckling calves. All of these cattle are the offspring of that sickly calf that grew up to be a strong, big and beautiful cow. The four cows Mazomzi produced, in return, produced their own calves.

In actual fact all the cattle filling Makhulu Tshezi’s kraal are Mazomzi’s offspring. She had just sold two young bulls in the recent cattle stokvel, but they had not been delivered yet.

Vuyo fell silent again as he thought happily of Makhulu and the party that would celebrate this remarkable woman turning eighty.


Tell us: What do you think makes Makhulu such a strong woman?