For the love of a village belle, 88-year-old Saul Wambuzi over 50 years ago ascended the hills of Busoga College Mwiri and has never looked back. His employers describe his contribution as the epitome of what today''s society should be like. Wambuzi talked to Watuwa Timbiti.
For the love of a village belle, 88-year-old Saul Wambuzi over 50 years ago ascended the hills of Busoga College Mwiri and has never looked back. His employers describe his contribution as the epitome of what today's society should be like. Wambuzi talked to Watuwa Timbiti.
At the end of a day’s hard work, 88-year-old Saul Wambuzi closes the carpentry workshop, an ancient looking rusty-roofed structure at Busoga College Mwiri, perhaps one of the oldest buildings in the school, going by its stuffy interior and an unamiable architectural design that reeks a dull aura.
With the straps of his bag glued to his right shoulder and a small jerrycan containing milk collected from the school farm firmly gripped in his right hand, Wambuzi, with the help of an improvised walking stick, embarks on the stiff-slope journey back home in Mawoito, a village at the foot of Mwiri Hill in Kakira town council, Jinja district.
A few negligible steps from the school compound, he stops with a searching stare into the shrubs. Eventually he bends and peers into a thicket to pick something supposedly vital — it is a stick he says he hides there every morning.
With two walking sticks to rely on, he determinedly soldiers on with an unbelievably steady pace that would leave most of today’s pork-munching and beer-guzzling lot defeaningly panting their tongues out.
From the look of things, Wambuzi is enjoying his walk. But the toughness of the slope begins to be reflected in the beads of sweat that race down his aged face as he glides down the thickly bushy and canopy-like path downhill. It is a journey he has walked every morning and evening for over 50 years, no wonder he is soundly strong.
Becoming the school carpenter
Tired of traversing up and down the steep hill, dispatching letters on a bicycle as the school postman, Wambuzi requested for a new assignment. He was posted to the carpentry department in 1952, where he has diligently worked to this day.
“I knew nothing about carpentry. However, at that time, junior I, II and III students studied carpentry. So, I was asked to start working in the workshop as a toolman. My work was to look for whatever tools teachers needed during lessons. That way, it was a double achievement. I was working, but also acquiring skills,” he says. The skills he acquired are best reflected in the quality and durability of the furniture he makes.
“I have made doors, stools, office and chairs. I cannot even remember how many I have made. The white man always trained us to do quality work — he always told us to have more knowledge and less energy, that is why some of the furniture I made in the 50s and 60s is still being used in the school,” he says with finality.
Missed marrying his first cut
Born in 1924 in Bupyana village, Gadumire sub-county in Kaliro district, Wambuzi least expected to leave his home village until he inextricably got drenched with love for a sizzling village belle — the only thought on his mind was to marry her.
Circumstantially, his great expectation just remained a dream or just a wish; the bride price demanded — three cows, six goats, sh300 and six hens, whcih he could not afford.
“I did not have such things. I wondered whether I would ever afford that much and get her hand in marriage. Determined to get her, I left Bupyana in 1941 to look for a job. I got one in Mwiri in 1942 as a casual labourer,” he recalls.
However, with a starting salary of sh7, it took Wambuzi time to get the required items. “By the time I went back, she had gotten married to another man. I understood her situation because I knew she truly loved me, but was probably overpowered by her people — they alleged that I had run away and was not serious about her,” Wambuzi says.
As a casual labourer, his work entailed slashing the school compound and gathering firewood for the school from the nearby bushes. He argues that the sh7 salary was a commensurate pay: “This money was enough because, for example, meat cost 30 cents, sugar 10 cents. I remember at that time, Makerere lecturers earned about sh95.”
Also his education level did not warrant a higher pay. He ended in what was then called the sub-grade, probably the equivalent of nursery school today. Exercising great financial discipline, Wambuzi bought land at sh10 in Mawoito, where he built his current home and through a savings pool with his colleagues, bought a bicycle at sh40.
When his superiors realised that Wambuzi could write and ride a bicycle, he was given a new assignment — he became the school postman when his predecessor fell sick. The assignment entailed riding a bicycle to and from Jinja town until 1952, when he was moved to carpentry.
Although most of the students he remembers seeing in 1942 have passed on, including former president Milton Obote, some few are still alive, for example, minister Daudi Migereko’s father. He also remembers former chief Justice Wako Wambuzi, who he says, loved to play cricket.
Wambuzi says patience is the way to go and scorns today’s generation for misguided ambitions and greed.
“Young people today want quick money. They look more at what they cannot afford and less at what they can actually do,” he observes, adding: “Give a young man this workshop, he will steal all the timber and equipment and sell it to get money for easy pleasures, such as drinking. I have not tasted alcohol for 37 years now. Perhaps that is why I am stronger and have lived longer than most people,” he proudly says.
Finding love: a memorable experience
The father of 12 got his wife in 1952. Those days, he says, an emissary had to speak on your behalf. One would only have the courage to pour out their heart to a girl in question if the emissary carried back tasty feedback.
The couple were joined in holy matrimony in 1990, engraving joy on Wambuzi's heart. “The school gave us food for our guests and the reception was at our home in Mawoito.
I will not forget the honour that comes with that day; it is a day of joy so much that you even forget that death exists. My wife really looked good in her long white dress,” he says with a reflective expression.
Using his meagre pay, Wambuzi educated his children to some of the most sought after rungs on the education ladder. “Our first born is a primary school teacher and the second, who passed on, was also a teacher. The fifth born is a doctor, currently working in Kiboga.
His younger brother is an electrical engineer in Kakira Sugar Works and another son studied sugar processing in India. He is also working with Kakira Sugar Works,” he proudly recounts, attributing the success of his children to Mwiri: “Working in a school like Mwiri always pushed me to educate my children because I always admired the students in the school and their lifestyles, prompting me, despite the constraints, to give my children education.”
Euphoria of Independence
“Milton Obote found me here. I remember Obote as a shrewd young man. You could tell he would be a leader someday. He was always in the school concert, says Wambuzi.
At independence time, Wambuzi says a celebratory mood engulfed Mwiri hill. Robinson, a white teacher, put up colourful lights that could be seen by people downhill. “The fact that our very own Obote was to become Prime Minister was a great joy.”
However, at the tail-end of the euphoria, according to Wambuzi, tension mounted in the school. The students, such as James Rwanyarare, the former UPC presidential policy commission chairman, demanded that the white-dominated school administration leave the school immediately and be replaced by a black headmaster and deputies.
“Although the students sounded radical, they were right because it was independence. All instruments of colonialism such as the Union Jack had gone down. So, power had to shift hands and the first black headmaster, Samuel Okunga Makanga, came in the early seventies,” he says.
Before the dust could settle another politically related tempest engulfed the school: The second black headmaster, YY Okot, continued supporting Obote even after his downfall. He refused to lower the UPC flag in front of the school administration block. He was shot dead in 1972 in Kampala and Idi Amin's men were rumoured culpable.