Old, satisfied with days

Old, satisfied with days

BUTHA-BUTHE-At 102 years old, Matela Motuba, a World War II veteran, has seen it all to the extent that he sometimes feels his time is nearly up.
He has seen the horrors of the big war, coming back home to be a peasant without any paid employment and seeing his son shot dead by the police.
“I am just waiting for God to take me to Him,” Motuba says, looking up to the sky.

“I’ve long passed 100, what else do I want? I am not sick, I am just old,” he says, with a smile.
Looking healthy for his age, Motuba has issues with swelling of legs and ankles due to old age. His hearing seems to be fading too, as one has to shout for him to follow any conversation.

He says what kept him healthy over the years is the hard physical work he does in his fields. He also says he quit smoking and beer during his youth, shortly after returning from the war.
The only illness that befell him a few years ago was when he suddenly became blind.
His daughter sent him to the Maluti Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Mapoteng where his sight was restored after doctors removed a cataract.
“That is the only illness I recall.”

Sitting under an apricot tree and clad in war veterans’ uniform which he wore for the photos during the interview, Motuba, who has a great sense of humour, looked at his neat green yard on the slope of the Butha-Buthe Plateau in Ha-Mopeli village.

The village is nestled on the north-west of the plateau.
It is this plateau, its white and wide cliff and the green fields at its foot that conjure up Motuba’s nostalgic memories about his childhood and the years before the war.
“Those were the years, times of our youth when the land still belonged to man and beast alike. There was peace in the land and there was prosperity,” he says.

Motuba says the world has now changed, “it has turned against its inhabitants or the other way round” because “people of today are not human”.
In the old days when Motuba was a young man, people worked hard in the fields to feed their families.

“A man ploughing his field would also plough the one belonging to a widow next door without expecting any payment. It was regarded as a form of public service,” he said.
Then came the war.

“As the servants of the British government at the time we volunteered to join the British army to fight against the Germans.”
They were taken to Ha-Ratjomose in Maseru for basic military training before they were shipped to Egypt via the Indian Ocean where the Italians, Germany’s then allies, dropped bombs.

Motuba was assigned to cannons, specially manned to shoot bomber planes.
“We were only concerned with our own survival, whether one would come back and see your parents again. Many people died there, many never returned home, the war swallowed them up.”
Motuba was part of the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps (AAPC), that was a unit of the British Army consisting of High Commission Territories (HCT) natives.

The AAPC was established in July 1941, after the paramount chiefs of the HCT managed to convince the colonial authorities to create an independent force consisting of their subjects.
Initially a labour unit, the AAPC’s duties were gradually expanded to include anti-aircraft artillery operation and other combat duties.
It was commanded by Colonel HGL Prynne and numbered 36 000 men.

Over 1 216 of these died in the war. The last AAPC soldiers were repatriated in spring 1946 and the unit was disbanded in 1949.
When the AAPC was disbanded Motuba found himself reassigned under a new contract to Durban where he guarded the army equipment for the next 14 years.

“I came home to be a farmer and since then I have never done any other job except farming,” he says.
At least he looked up to monthly monetary compensation from the British government until Lesotho took over the payment after independence in 1966.

Now, as an old man, Motuba says the money is too little.
“It cannot even buy grocery despite the fact that I am alone.”
Thanks to the old age pension introduced by the Pakalitha Mosisili-led government, he is at least able to buy basics.

Motuba says his grandchildren visit him during Christmas holidays every year.
“They live in South Africa, it seems they do not like this country hence they have left it,” he says.

Caswell Tlali

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