Soldiering on: WW2 veteran looks back on 118 eventful years

2013-04-24 00:00

HAVING married a royal family member, fought in WW2 and raised 13 children, Themba Bernard Mkhize has lived a long and eventful life.

To honour him, Premier Zweli Mkhize handed over a rebuilt house to the war veteran in Ezakheni outside Ladysmith yesterday.

Mkhize claims that he will turn 118 on May 12. He was raised to have the strictest respect for his elders, which he believes is key to his long life.

In 1932, when he was 37, Mkhize said, he married a woman from a royal family known as “Kwa-mbekwa” in Matiwane near Ladysmith. He had enough cows to pay for his royal bride who gave him 13 children, including three pairs of twins.

In 1939 when WW2 broke out, Mkhize signed up to help the British Army.

“The British army noticed that it did not stand a chance to fight the Germans, and called a meeting with anyone willing to help. In return we would get a farm. People came in their numbers.” Mkhize recalled.

Mkhize fought in many countries. “I first saw the army in 1941 when General King Kaiser from the British hired me and others as scouts. We also fought in Egypt and France. There was no racial discrimination in this war; it was either you belong to the Germans or to the British.”

Mkhize was captured and was in a prisoner-of-war camp when the war ended.

“One day in prison, we heard a sound like rolling thunder. At first we thought it was war again, but I guess we were wrong. It was a gunshot symbolising the end of war … Later that day we were released from prison and this was how I got back home alive,” Mkhize said.

He received many medals for his service, but did not receive his promised farm.

Mkhize has put his life on the line in other ways.

“One day I was just walking in Soweto. I heard people screaming for help. As I approached them, I noticed that they were inside four or five tyres put together and all tied up. I was scared. I found out that some people were trying to burn them to death. Even if I did not understand why this was happening, I rescued them.”

From then on, he said, people respected him.

Mkhize will move into his new house with his remaining children and grandchildren.

A spokesperson for the premier, Reggie Khumalo, was unable to verify if Mkhize is the oldest person in the province, but if he is indeed 118, he could claim the world record. According to a report on News24 on April 19, the oldest recorded man in the world turned 116 years old five days ago.

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