"Mguduza - A Good Deed" By Dr Mike Colson
The saying that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ has limits. When we take the time and energy to reach out and help those who can or should be helping themselves, punishment is often lurking about waiting to instill in the givers heart unfulfilled hopes and a tinge of regret. But there is another ‘good deed mechanism’ I have witnessed. For argument sake let’s call this the ‘one person in the world who cares’ scenario. It could be a stranded motorist. A child lost in the mall. Maybe even a guy that works on your crew whose story – and personal resolve to persevere – could be improved by an application of skills and resources. One such incident encountered in Southern Africa is just such a story and I share it so as to enliven in all of us the value of good deeds.
Ron ‘Mguduza’ Moore was a colorful character who owned and operated the Inyatsi Inn in Mankayane, Swaziland. At the halfway point of a dust road that leads from the Manzini Industrial Areato Piet Retief, South Africa lies a single stretch of asphalt road that leads you first past the old Swedish Mission House and then to the Inyatsi. To get to the Inn you have to cross the Great Usuthu River, motor your way up the 11 percent grade taking you over the ‘Executioner’s Rock – where the old Swazi’s used to kill suspected witches – and then run the gauntlet of dust and rocks that opens onto the Ngwempisi Valley and the county seat known as Mankayane. There is an old abandoned British government office as you enter town and a sign that welcomes you to ‘Mankayana’ – a place the old colonials used to call ‘Monkey Island’ so as to keep the spirit of the raj alive and well. But the cornerstone of the town’s entrance was the pub cum one night stand Inyatsi (literally ‘Water Buffalo is siSwati) Inn.
In the vein of ‘you cannot make this stuff up’, the sole proprietor of the Inyatsi is one Ron Moore, who bears a striking resemblance to a water buffalo if these warriors of the veldt had pasty white skin tone and wore the effects of strong drink on puffy features. Ron was a buffalo of a man who had the quickest and most mischievous grin in sub-Saharan Africa. He was quick to judge, hard on the locals who he supplied grog to, laughed with, and complained about all in the same breath. He loved whiskey – he often said it was a great meal because it never got caught between his teeth – and hated only one thing in all of Mankayane…missionaries. And so the good deed tale begins when one missionary then another enter the Inyatsi Inn pub and order up a steak dinner.
Ron had never seen anything like it in his life, he would relate later. The missionary who was the deputy headmaster at the Mankayane (formerly mission) School walked into the pub one early evening with a wife nearly eight months pregnant. Their mission was to sooth the cravings of said pregnant wife Jane for a steak meal. ..and Ron had the best (and only) steaks in town. Seeing them arrive on the premises, where no missionary had ever entered before, caused Ron’s already thyroid inflamed eyes to bug out even further. Missionaries…two of them….and pregnant! What possibly could be happening?
What happened next was the beginning of a friendship and one good deed that didn’t hurt.
The missionaries were not prototypical. He was a former Marine and she was a type A personality who took everyone at face value. The moment she saw Ron’s grin and heard his ‘Oh My God’ shout she just plain liked him. The husband in this case also could use a good steak, and since the two got paid only $365 a month together, the Inyatsi’s steak availability and cheap price was a god send. Anything less than getting shot at was worth the meal and soon, everyone settled down to that prospect. One that would repeat itself nearly weekly prior to and then for a long time after the baby – young Pieter – was born.
Over time the missionaries and Ron grew to enjoy each other’s company. He was an engaging raconteur and began to leak out his own story with each passing week. He had come to Africa, like so many British, as a sort of remittance man. It was ‘to the colonies’ young near do wells ran to; and as long as they stayed away from the mother country, all was well. Ron was an electrician who came out to do some repairs on the Inyatsi for the owner…a strong woman by the name of Maxie Hogan and her husband. Since he had no particular place to be Ron stayed on and when Maxie’s husband passed, she ‘sold’ the Inyatsi Inn to Ron who set up shop. Gone were the hotel rooms for travelers…replaced by less formal and less clean rooms for hire. In went the African version of honky tonk music, games of chance, and plenty of cheap beer and booze. And with these changes came the enmity of the local missionaries and do-gooders who populated the area. This arrangement suited Ron well as he had other fish to fry and one big secret to keep.
Over time and steak meals, and with the birth of their first child, the missionaries from time to time would ask Ron about his own family. They learned he had at least one daughter and one son and maybe more. This intrigued them and they openly wondered about the mother of the children, where they lived, and if Ron – after so many years in the bush – had any contact with his family. And so the conversation continued until the missionaries were to board a plane and fly first to England then to America to take the baby home for a short visit. Jane, who in this case would be the ‘one person in the world who cares’ asked Ron if she could look up his family near Reading and give them his best regards. And so the secret crept into the light.
Ron ‘Mguduza’ Moore’s name in siSwati means ‘stumbling drunk’…something he had been but was slowly working himself out of. At times he would try and lose weight by forsaking whiskey and drinking instead peppermint schnapps because it had the kick (30% alcohol) but not the calories. It’s made from fruit, he would exclaim! While Jane’s husband would engage commentary with Ron on politics, religion, and the ways of the world, Jane would talk about Ron’s life and family. On the eve of the missionary’s trip, Ron shared that indeed, he had a fully intact family that one night – some fifteen years previous – he had left and never returned to. As he tells it, he went out for a pack of smokes one evening and ended up on the Castle Liner to South Africa and ended his journey by inexorably, through hook and crook of the vagabond way, at the Inyatsi. He had no communication with them but had heard he was a grandfather.
The nondescript alcove that framed the door to the Moore household in Reading, England was the perfect place to get out of the rain that was falling on the missionaries and the pram they had borrowed to push little Pieter around. The door was answered on the first knock and there, standing in a cautiously expectant manner, was Ron’s eldest daughter indeed with a child and a family of her own. Pleasantries were shared, tea was served, and Ron – by proxy – was reintroduced to a family that no one in the bushveldt knew existed.
Of course, there were the inevitable recriminations that followed and some of the children and initially the former wife rejected at least initially the contact. But within a year the daughter and grandchild flew into Swaziland on the Lijubanzanzele – Royal Swazi Airlines commuter flight from Johannesburg – and was met by her father in a warm and emotional way. And no one regretted it for a second.
“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable” (Sydney Smith, English Clergy, 1771-1854)
It is a bold thought to believe that we can make a difference in our lives, and through the application of our unique skill set and resources, the lives of others. The trick is to accept that you might be the only one who can do what is necessary.