Bernard Sono: Life begins at forty, right. For me it’s so true. When my family and friends celebrated my 44th birthday, it was great I tell you. Even for me, I was actually celebrating four years of a new life. The day I turned forty, I was actually turning one, my life would have ended at thirty-nine. But then there I was, at forty learning to crawl and not in control of my bowels…
Paida: Hoo, Hoo, Hoo Bla Bento! Let me get everyone involved. My apologies people, we are with Bla Bento aka Bernard Sono, I first posted just a snippet of his story on my Facebook Page, celebrating his 44th birthday, many people felt encouraged. Some felt there is more to Mukoma Bernard’s life changing story. So they asked me to go deeper, so here we are. Present today is Amaiguru- Mukoma Bernard’s wife and their 3 sons. Without holding you guys in much suspense; Bla Bento, tell us of the Bernard before that day in Rosemead Avenue. Who is Bernard Sono?
Bernard Sono: I was born on 19 September 1976, I have 9 siblings. My parents once separated, my father left us with my sick mother and my grandmother (my mother’s mother) took us in. She was a nanny in Harare, she had to quit her job and started to sell undergarments so that she would be able to feed and clothes us. My father came back and took us from my grandmother’s place after ten years. I can safely say most of my growth and understanding of life happened the time when my father was absent. We learnt being responsible at early stages. I saw at first-hand the struggles a single mother faces raising up children through my grandmother. My first office job was when I worked for an auto mechanic company back in Harare, I was in the human resources department, so we hired an auto technician. He became my friend and later taught me auto works. He told me that I should know the product I was selling to our customers. I took it like a duck to water. My friend later relocated to SA, instead of hiring another technician, I became one. I do not hold a qualification from an affluent university or technical colleges, serve for the crush course I had from my friend, determination and passion carried the day for me.
Paida: You said something profound mentioning that most of your growth happened during your father’s absence, I have seen men raised by single mothers or raised by a female figure being abusive to their wives, what’s your take on that?
Bernard Sono: 80% I blame our society for that, it is seen as the woman’s fault when the husband leaves or abandons them. You see, our society see our women as scapegoats for men’s ills. Why would one leave their loved one when they need them the most? And our society can reward that man with another wife, to abuse and dump again at will. I am changing the narrative through the way we are bringing up our boys, I can safely say we are faring well in that department, credit goes to my wife too; we complement each other well.
Paida: Talking of your Wife (Amaiguru), how did you guys meet?
Bernard Sono: (his face lights, of course he is smiling, looks at Amaiguru then..) I actually remember that day clearly. It was the year 2000 you see. Things had started going bad for the majority of Zimbabweans. I had left the auto company and ventured in other solo projects but all had gone bottoms up. After going in circles trying to make a living and be an enterprenuer at the same time, I found myself in Chegutu, gold panning with other makorokozas. That day I met Mitchell Matanda , I was driving my tractor and was dirt I tell you; after all you know how makorokoza roll. I said to myself, if I do not talk to that beautiful girl, I am going to regret it for the rest of my life. My appearance at that moment did not deter me at all. Mitchell was with another woman (now my mother-in-law). I parked the tractor, then walked to them. I remember telling Mitchell that the reason she had found herself in this remote of remotest places was that she had come to rescue me. I told her straight that I wanted her to be my wife, right in front of my mother-in-law to be.
Paida: Ummm Bla Bento, what kind?
Bernard Sono: (he chuckles then..) Munin’ina (young brother) in life sometimes there are situations that requires you to be bold and go straight to the point. By approaching her I had nothing to lose at all but everything to gain regardless of the result. To her credit, which made me fall more in love with her, she did not give me hard time at all. She introduced me to her mother and that was when I started being embarrassed, her mother after nodding at me she left us. Mitchell then gave me her home address, they were actually coming from Harare to come and sell clothes bales to makorokoza.
Paida: Amaiguru, ichokwadi here chiri kutaurwa naBlazzy (is there some truth in what Bla Bento is saying)?
Mrs Sono/Amaiguru: (she is someone who commands respect without even trying) Among other things, my husband is not a liar (we all laugh), I do remember that day too. He was different from other men that were present, he actually looked at me and spoke to me. Strange it was that someone would just tell you that they want to marry you before they have even asked you your name. I am happy that he eventually kept the promise he had made that day. As they say the rest is history. Nhasi tiri pano. God has been faithful to us.
Paida: Indeed I can see how blessed you are. I still have more to ask you Amaiguru. Bla Bento, continue…
Bernard Sono: So after we had known each other a bit, Mitchell came back to her base, she had been doing cross-border trading but then had decided to make a semi-permanent base here in Cape Town. Back home I raised money for lobola, I gathered my elders and then we went to pay lobola for my absent wife, strange it was I tell you and people spoke of what they had heard in regards to long distance relationships and other stories they associated with women involved with cross-border trading, but then if you listen too much to people and their advises, you end up not living your dream life. As my wife has said, nhasi tiri pano, 20 years and counting.
Paida: I am truly inspired by you guys. Many people have fall short in their relationships because they give ear to bad advises. But then we all learn and people like you Bla Bento and Amaiguru make us believe. Bla Bento, let’s fast forward a bit; when did you come to Cape Town?
Bernard Sono: I came in 2006, what had happened was that, my auto technician mentor had invited me to Johannesburg, he was now running his own auto-shop. So I told him that first I had to visit my wife in Cape Town. When I arrived in Cape Town, I had my CV ready, so I decided to test waters and started applying for jobs, the first place I submitted my CV (Musical Cars), I got hired the owner of the company- Jeremy Nash, was a former white Zimbabwean, he had left Zimbabwe around the 80s. There were fourteen technicians including myself, though that time I was just a technician on paper. That was my first encounter with racism. Then, most of my colleagues were coloureds and I was the only black man and a foreigner for that matter. They treated me like a spanner boy and housekeeping, cleaning the workshop and making tea for the boss. The bullying was too much for me but then there was nothing I could do. I wanted to leave but something told me to hang on. So it happened that one Monday morning (we had been paid the previous Friday), majority of my colleagues – mostly coloureds did not pitch for work. So there was a job that needed to be done and the customer was irate. I went into the workshop then worked on the car. I called our boss to inspect the job. He was impressed and happy at the same time. For others it was a first for them to see a black man doing auto work or working on latest cars. Most white customers did not trust me with their cars, some took their businesses somewhere else because they didn’t want their cars touched by a black man. I would only work on their cars when they were absent and when they were present, either my boss or any of my colleagues will work on the car. But then the habit of not coming work by my colleagues on Mondays became the norm, my boss was left with no choice but to throw me into the deep end and would always explain to the white customers that I was really competent, I became a darling with customers and was doing the job efficiently.
Paida: Did your relationship with your colleagues improve when you started working on cars officially.
Bernard Sono: It became hostile, they accused me of being a sell-out because I could complete a task meant for two people by myself, and in half the time. Our boss saw that he had access baggage, so he was left with no choice but to shed off some of it. I went on to work at the same company for eight more years. I left Musical Cars in 2014 to start Bernard’s Auto-shop and Panel Beating. But by then I was renting inside another garage, more like renting a space. That was when my wife joined me, she became our administrator, receiving and returning clients’ calls, phoning suppliers and for quotations. Again she did show how industrious she is. The year 2015 saw us expanding, we had become too big for the rented space, so we found our own premise in Lester Road, Wynberg. Then the following year 2016 happened.
Paida: What a journey! So what happened that day four years ago in Rosemead Avenue?
Bernard Sono: It was early morning, I was on my way to collect some parts. So this young white lady cut me off, so to avoid smashing her from behind, I swerved the car to ride the curb but then in doing so I drove straight into a tree trunk. My body took the whole impact. The next moment, I found myself looking at my motionless body, commanding my body to move but my body was not listening. I remember calling my name. My body took a while to comprehend what I was telling it to, first head turned, then I could move my hand. That was a lot of effort but then I thanked God that I was alive.
Paida: Tell me about the other driver who caused the accident…
Bernard Sono: I don’t remember much on that day, but letter own when we contacted her, it is her father who picked up and referred us to his insurance company and told us never to contact him or his daughter again. He actually threatened us with lawsuit. We then left it at there.
(Paida: I excused myself then went to the bathroom, I was too emotional and did want to show my emotions in front of people who had actually moved on or who were trying to put the incident behind them. I wiped the tears away then went back to the living room, their kids had now joined them)
Paida: Bla Bento I will come back to you. Amaiguru, tell me about that day, how did you know?
Mrs Sono: (the atmosphere is heavy now, hard not to… ) I received a call from the police, but the way they spoke to me, it felt like there was nothing serious happened, they then told me that he had been taken to Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre. I decided to go there. When I arrived, I was directed to the Acute Spinal Cord Injury Unit , I read the sign twice not believing what I was seeing, but still I just told myself that it was minor. When I got into the ward, he had no visible injuries or at all and he was talking. It was only the following day that the doctor told us of the seriousness of my husband’s injuries. I thanked God for preserving my husband’s life. I knew exactly what life ahead was going to be like, it was not going to be an easy one especially for my husband, he is a busybody I tell you and seeing him lying there on his back was heart-breaking I tell you. But knowing my husband, I knew he was going to put on a fight and fight he did…
Paida: How was life at home while your husband was in hospital, how were you faring with kids? I mean life in general?
Mrs Sono: It was hard especially on the older kids, they at least knew what was happening, the younger one was served the grief; maybe he thought his father was away at work. On my side I needed to make a lot of adjustments, I really needed to be strong for the sake of my partner and that of our family.
Paida: I can only imagine what you and your family went through that time Amaiguru. I am not done with you yet. Bla Bento, what happened after your soul and body were together?
Bernard Sono: I never doubted that I will live, the Medics who attended the scene of accident came were just from God! They told me to keep on talking because if I stopped talking I will fall asleep and never wake up. The medics wanted to know more about me, my next of kin, where I’m from; just my life in general. Later on when they had established that I could be moved, they then put me in an ambulance and took me to the hospital. It was at the hospital that I learnt of my fate the following day. The doctor supported the diagnosis by pinching my lower body from the abdomen and I could not feel a thing, he went on to turn my leg awkwardly but I didn’t feel any pain. It was just like he was doing it to another person. Reality was that I was bound for the wheel chair. I cried and when my wife came, we cried some more. But I then started fighting it, not in denial. I accepted my fate of being a disabled person; not a cripple, whatever word people in my kind of situation choose to go with. The doctor had proved to me and it was on show for all to see that I was done walking, chances of me ever being intimate with my wife was as done and dusted. Keeping that in mind; the unseen in me, the one who had told Bernard’s body to stand up that beautiful morning in Rosemead, took over control of my body. I commanded it to accept its limitations and myself too to keep my expectations at minimum, my Doctor had advised the day I told him that I was going to walk again. But then, he didn’t know me. The Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre became my home for the following three months. I spend most of my time in the gym and warm swimming pool, they said it will help to speedy up my recovery.
It was with so much joy when I shared the news with my Doctor that I could feel my other parts of the body. ‘Now I believe you can walk Bernard.’, he had said with visible relief, he later told me that he had believed me the first time but did not want to raise my hopes too high. What actually had woke me up that day was the burning of my bladder, it was with shock, truth is I, had forgotten that I still possessed that side of my body. However I could not stand up at that time to go and do the business myself, the nurses took over again. Later on I could feel my legs then my feet.
As I was recuperating, my Wife had been running our business she became the Operations Director of our business. My wife then asked for permission that I be allowed home every Friday so that I could help with business and also to be with the kids. Being home brought tears of joy to my eyes. That too helped with my healing, just being able to hold a spanner in my hand brought back the will to ditch the wheelchair, I wanted to get my hands grease again; the smell of dirt and oil smelling made me want to attempt to walk right at that moment. But then wearing a medical collar and legs in plaster was too much to ask. I then concentrated in receiving client’s calls and most of those clients didn’t know that the person receiving their calls was in nappies or that he had all four in the air. Without my manager and his team, our business would have collapsed. They got the job done. My doctor had allowed my wife to bring me my work tablet, just to keep my mind busy.
Paida: Amaiguru, what were the first days like when your husband came home for the first time in a wheelchair?
Mrs Sono: We didn’t wait for him to come home, we were to pick him up, the reunion with Baba was just an emotional one, we all cried, more so Baba, I could feel his happiness and his relief was palpable. On the way home I found myself praying for the elevator at our apartment to be working, as you can see we stay on the sixth floor. Some of those changes one undergo without even noticing, some extra consideration on your part, I found myself to be conscious of place that needs wheelchair access. For me those were the days I remember the most, the change in many ways, even changed rooms, our lounge became our bedroom. Baba didn’t like much changes, he asked us not to change things on his account but then, as much as we liked not to disappoint his wishes, for medical reasons we had to deny him some of his wishes preferring that he observes medical instructions. But then, all of a sudden I started noticing a new Bernard, he became such a determined man, a fighting spirit he had before was of no comparison to my new husband. The bond with the boys became strengthened, it had been there before but this time it had some completeness in it.
Paida: Truth be told Amaiguru you actually saved your husband’s life…
Bernard Sono: I actually owe her more than my life, more than a life actually, there is nothing in the world worth what she did for me. It was painful letting her wipe me at forty years of age. Yes indeed my life Begins at Forty, there I was, my new life on a wheelchair. Then I said no, for some reason I used to pass by the spot I nearly lost my life, I could not help but see the tree healing, then I told myself that I should heal with the tree. I had asked my family not to change their routine for my sake, the first time I had to wheel myself from our 6th floor apartment to my work place under my wife’s watchful eye. From that day on, I would wheel myself to work and at 7 am the staff would find me waiting by the door because my wheel chair made it impossible to unlock the door. I convinced her that I was capable of manoeuvring myself, she then at least relaxed a bit but would ground me if I show any signs of pain. Yes the pain is there and I have learned to live with it. At least I am now able to control my bowels. There was one other time when a client had come to pick up his car, that day I was smartly dressed. The client asked that I accompany him to the garage and just catch up. We arrived at the garage nice and easy. The client went into the shop to get some cigarettes, when he came back I had done number two right in his car and right where I was sitting. I then told him my story, he understood, we opened windows and he took me home, luck was on my side since it was midweek, the elevators were deserted. I got home, washed myself and the clothes that I had soiled. That day I realised how much my wife had gone through for my sake, an old person’s refuse is too much I tell you, it stinks and the stench will stay on you for some time. At that moment I asked myself if I would have done that for her if situation was to be reserved or I would cut and run just like what my father had done when my mother fell sick. Like said, together with my wife we are raising responsible men, the narrative on African women should just change. My grandmother and my mother showed the other side of women, I then got blessed to see it and experience it in my wife. Women given a chance will make the world we live a better place.
(Paida: I got to speak with their teenage sons, Zvikomborero (Chicco) looked a bit shy but to be expected since he is into IT, both software and hardware. He says he loves computers and mathematics, his eyes have the intelligence for it, on the whole Chicco has this natural confidence. Tatenda Moses is their second, he is more outgoing, of-course he is a soccer star in the making; he is going to be a tall left back, probably for Liverpool one day, Boss Tawa as Twananyasha – Boss Tawa is their last born, super energetic for a seven year old, as for him and his siblings, time will tell for this blessed family)
Bernard Sono: As you know I recently turned 4, (actually Bla Bento celebrated his 44th birthday), and looking at what I have accomplished so far within these four years of my rebirth; I have big dreams, first I want to open a technical college for youngsters from backgrounds like mine, I want to equip them with hands on skills. I have designed my own Volvo timing tool; a certain client had brought his Volvo to my workshop, I could not turn him away, but then the Volvo timing tool is expensive. So I searched on google how the tool works, and I then created my own version of the tool; my tool worked perfectly. I am still to decide what name I should give it; Bernard Timing Tool or Sono Timing Tool, but then I feel it in my 44 year old bones and my four year old spirit that I have more inventions coming. My other biggest dream is to build my wife a church, not only is she religious, she is a Prayer Warrior too. Like I said, I owe her more than my life. Yes I am feel the pain, but it will not stop me. My special gratitude goes to public transport operators and the love from people in general when they see someone in my situation. During the time I moved around in my wheelchair, I could even go clubbing by myself in Long Street, socialising helped me, it took the position for counselling that I am still to go. My gratitude is extended to my customers; Wynberg Police and my African brothers from Congo, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. My garage is situated on 29 Lester Road, Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa.
(Paida: Here we are people, Bernard Sono, aka Bla Bento’s life transforming story is not complete at all and we are not even halfway through considering the man just turned ‘four’, for the meantime I will stop here while we wait for Sono Technical College to open its doors. Thank you Bla Bento, thank you Amaiguru, many young women will definitely learn from your love, strength and faith. Until then, stay Blessed people.)