A Blast into the Past: Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement
Located in the northeast of Zimbabwe, approximately 50 from the Mozambique border near the town
of Mutoko, The Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement has a story, like all places do. For starters, the Shona word
"mutemwa" means "you are cut off."
Founded in 1937, the settlement at one time, in the 1930s and 40s, it had as many as 1,000 residents.
At present, it serves more like 40 patients, some of whom I captured, and are pictured at the bottom of
this page. The facility is located right at the base of Mount Mutemwa, and is picturesque under the blue skies.
Just down the road is the Mother of Peace Orphanage, which is featured on another web page on this site.
Due to medical breakthroughs over the past 50 years, Leprosy is no longer contagious. There were several
caretakers, as well as the children of some of the patients living on the grounds. The residents, for the most
part, spoke no English, but were excited to have visitors, and welcomed photographs. You will note that
many of the patients have lost appendages and some have gone blind due to the disease. The reason for the
loss of toes, fingers, and some facial features is because the individual can not feel these extremities,
therefore often breaks them off accidentally. It was a day I will not forget.
The website above is as follows:
MUTEMWA LEPROSY SETTLEMENT
Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement is
situated in the North East of Zimbabwe near to the town of Mutoko, some fifty miles from the border of Mozambique.
Mutemwa gets its name from the big 1000ft rock feature close by. The shona
word 'Mutemwa' means 'you are cut off'.
Mutemwa, in its present situation, started as a leprosarium in about 1937.
A few of the patients now resident in Mutemwa were there at the time. It
grew into a huge leprosarium in the forties and fifties with nearly 1000
patients. Then with the advent of the drug Dapsone, which can cure the
leprosy bacteria, it was decided in 1962 to close Mutemwa and to treat all
patients at home. However about 200 patients had no suitable or local homes.
Many were from other countries, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.
They were part of the migrant labour force who came to Rhodesia to seek work
on The White farms. Thus Mutemwa had to stay open to care for these patients
and others who had no suitable homes to return to. People were still unaware
that leprosy could be cured and so some were not welcome at home. One patient
said that in her young days leprosy patients were left far away out in the
bush to die. Even now in primitive rural areas there is still a fear of leprosy.
Those who were left behind at Mutemwa in 1962 were not looked after. The
doctors and nurses had all gone and the Clinic was shut. They were given
scant care by the social welfare of the day. This was noticed by the wife
of the local Magistrate who went in search of help. She approached the
Jesuit Mission Superior and a few friends. A small Committee was formed
in 1968 called "The Friends of Mutemwa". In the meantime John Bradburne,
who described himself as a strange vagabond of God' found Mutemwa and at
once settled there to help in what way he could. John was a layman, member
of the Third Order of St Francis.
The first thing was to give a neglected and rejected people love in the
manner of a Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Next, to ensure that they got some
food and water and dapsone, the wonder drug. John Bradburne did all that
and even attempted to bandage their wounds. In spite of dapsone most
patients suffer from suppurating ulcers which have to be cleaned and
dressed two or three times a week.
The patients by now (1969) had dwindled to eighty and most were very
deformed with loss of limbs, noses, and even blindness. Thus they needed
considerable care. John got some help from the local Mutoko hospital and
in particular from an Italian Mission doctor, Dr Luisa Guidotti, from the
nearby All Souls Mission.
One evil which infested Mutemwa during John's days was thieves. It is very
easy to steal food and blankets from blind or lame patients. John was
always battling with those thieves. Eventually in the liberation war they
plotted to kill John to get him out of the way. The patients tried to get
John to leave Mutemwa but he refused. Thus he was killed on 5 September 1979,
ten years after discovering Mutemwa.
There were extraordinary happenings after his death which attracted the eye
of the Mass Media. Mutemwa slowly became known and help began to come in.
A new Committee was formed under the Zimbabwe Leprosy Association.
In 1980, just after John Bradburne's death, Brother Lawrence Makonora S.J.
volunteered to take care of the Settlement. He was assisted by Sr Caterina
Savini who had worked at All Souls Mission with Dr Luisa Guidotti. She
soon built a Clinic with help from Italy. After a big fund raising drive
the leprosy patients moved from their rat-ridden dismal huts to new housing
At present there are forty leprosy patients at Mutemwa, all burnt-out due
to the new drugs, but the majority contracted the disease pre-depsone days
and so are very deformed. New cases do appear from time to time especially
from war-torn Mozambique but the policy is to treat as many as possible at
home. The Government gives a monthly per capita grant and medical care,
but the patients have to be clothed and provided with supplementary rations
and medical needs. All capital development has to be provided via donations.
There is also a need for extra qualified staff and staff housing. Mutemwa
cares for about twenty destitute handicapped as well. A Mother of Peace
Community is developing an AIDS project on adjoining land.
The Warden of Mutemwa is a retired African Deacon - the Rev Cyril Kawisi
and the Matron is an African SRN Nursing Sister. They refer their problems
to the Committee of the Zimbabwe Leprosy Association, an off-shoot of the
original "Friends of Mutemwa."
After John Bradburne's death in 1979 his friends slowly formed themselves
into a society which could continue help to Mutemwa and honour his memory
in some way. Thus in 1987 the John Bradburne Memorial Society (JBMS) was
finally registered as a Welfare Organization to raise funds for Mutemwa and
to own the land upon which John's hut stands. The JBMS also look after
Pilgrims who come to Mutemwa. The JBMS has become one of the main donors
to Mutemwa, receiving funds from those who knew John Bradburne or who have
a devotion to him. Other benefactors include the late Sally Mugabe, the
President's wife, known as the 'Amai' or mother of Mutemwa. She attracted
many donors and is greatly missed. Another source of help came from a
feature article about John Bradburne and Mutemwa published in the Sunday
Telegraph on 23 April 1989. Another article was published on 28 August 1994
in the Review section of the Sunday Telegraph - written by Charles Moore the
editor, who made a personal visit to Mutemwa and undertook interviews with
people who knew John.
Many pilgrims now come to Mutemwa to visit the patients, John Bradburne's
hut, and the memorial cross on Chigona rock. There have been claims of
answered prayer and cures. Supernatural phenomena have been picked up by
camera, video and TV.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Mutemwa is the patients themselves.
They are so patient and cheerful in their sufferings.
John Bradburne himself wrote of them:
"Mime it I might and hobble lame across some stage
Rigged up to tell some philanthropic audience
What is true honour and true courage in our age,
Heaven forbid that I shall ever get the chance!
Dance me down, Fortune - saw I not this very morn
Aristrocratic spirits in their smitten frames
Go nobly on with living."
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