A long time ago, there lived a famed old man in Bishop Lazarus’ village.
He was known far and wide for one particularly notable skill — he could heal inexplicably festering malignant wounds.
They called the disease nhuta in Shona, which most believe is a cancer variant.
Desperate pilgrims would come from far and wide to have their diseased appendages cured by the hoary old man.
He was neither a traditional healer — in the strictest sense of the word — nor a herbalist.
The sought-after medicine, he used to say, had been revealed to him in a dream, and he obligingly patented it in his heart and mind.
Whenever he ventured into the bush to collect the herbs, the three-legged old-timer — who walked with a limp and used a crooked stick to balance his gait — unfailingly made it a point not to be followed.
He would ritually take furtive glances either side of his shoulder as he was swallowed by the thickets, from which he would later emerge with an armful of leaves, roots and bark.
This curious assortment was pounded into a pasty unguent that was applied to the festering wound.
It worked miracles all the time.
But the old man held tightly to the patented formula of his secret concoction despite exhortations from acquaintances.
When he died, the secret also died with him.
The village mourned the chap as much as they agonised over the loss of the invaluable elixir. It happens so much in the village, where people ordinarily have peculiar knowledge of life-saving herbs that work both as therapeutics and curatives.
Usually, medicines for ailments are only a stone’s throw away, where they can be readily collected from the “bush pharmacy” and consumed while herding cattle or doing other mundane errands.
Bishop Lazi still remembers periodically harvesting bark from bloodwood (mubvamaropa/umvagazi), which was a fascinating undertaking, as the tree would weep blood-like goo from where it had been scarred.
The bark was subsequently pounded and grounded into a reddish powder that would be taken in porridge or in any village beverage, even the popular traditional brew.
We were told that it helped prevent colds, especially during winter, and from experience, it seemed to work.
This magical tree was also used for rashes, headaches, malaria, blackwater fever, abdominal pains, piles and bilharzia, among many other ailments.
In the village, it really took a potent ailment to warrant visiting the clinic for medical attention.
And then there was zumbani.
The Bishop told you before how he dreaded concoctions made from this plant. Ugh!!!!
Whoever said medicine is bitter definitely did not have zumbani in mind — it is beyond bitter.
In fact, it is bitterest.
It was quite an extreme sport dispensing it to minors.
In some instances, it took three grown-ups to accomplish the ritual, which involved pinning the tot down to prevent it from writhing, and pinching its nose shut in order to induce it to involuntarily open its mouth. Kikikiki.
Against this background, you would not imagine how incredulous Bishop Lazi was about the craze for zumbani that has gripped our teapot-shaped country.
Some of our kinsmen and kinswomen who have received God’s grace to survive the coronavirus — which has roiled every part of the world with equal force and fury — have given testimonies of how the zumbani concoction helped them recover.
While the plant does not cure Covid-19 — there is no medicine that can cure viruses anyway — it seems to work quite well as a therapeutic.
The practice of using herbs to cure diseases has always existed since time immemorial.
Ezekiel 47: 12 reminds us: “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Isaiah 38: 21 also gives us an account of how Hezekiah, the king of Judah who was fated to die, survived after praying to God.
“Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover,” instructed prophet Isaiah.
What is, however, sad is the fact that while we might have centuries-old knowledge about these herbs, our research into their qualities, efficacy and pharmacological actions has not been well-co-ordinated and focused.
Investment into this worthwhile pursuit has also been either scant or non-existent.
We seem to regard anything and everything that is indigenous and African as perverse and abominable.
Also, centuries of brainwashing and withering indoctrination about our supposed inferiority as blacks and Africans seem to have made us a timid and unassuming people that fatally believes the blatant untruth that we will never amount to anything in the world.
And sadly, in the face of the worst existential crisis to ever face humanity in modern times, apparently the only hope that we have as Africans is for salvation from the West or from elsewhere.
Ironically, in the church, we have had clergymen and clergywomen, especially missionaries, who have been researching on herbs and trying to understand them for centuries.
But this is not always beneficial to local communities.
It reminds Bishop Lazarus of Jesuit priest Father Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles, who is considered as the first man of the cloth to be commissioned as an industrial spy.
The Frenchman was sent to China with eight other missionaries in 1698, with the express mission to steal secrets of how porcelain — invented in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen — was made.
By the way, this is how missionaries usually operated.
They travelled with the gospel and returned from their voyages with valuable trade secrets.
Well, this is a discussion for another day.
You see, at the time, Europeans, who were enchanted by pottery, plates and vases made from porcelain, had unsuccessfully tried to guess how the “white gold”, as it was called then, was produced.
However, after 14 years of painstaking espionage work, Fr Francois managed to uncover the secrets — which were tightly guarded within families and handed over through generations — and sent them to France beginning in September 1712.
But, France didn’t become the first country to produce porcelain in Europe.
Britain and Germany competed for that distinction.
This is the same with the indigenous knowledge on drugs that is stored in some of our communities.
It is high time there are concerted efforts for extensive research, patenting and manufacture of drugs that can contribute to the greater good of humanity.
It, therefore, makes it urgent for the Government to maniacally ramp up critical research to industrialise and modernise our country.
It is encouraging that President ED has been committing 1 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D) in order to capacitate institutions that are charged with this epochal role.
Further, the establishment of innovation hubs at our State universities under his administration is both instructive and encouraging.
The framework and formula for success is already there, and it needs to be vigorously pursued.
It is high time we begin reclaiming our pride of place in global trade, politics and diplomacy.
This business of Africa being content with being considered the sick man of the world is as embarrassing as it is untenable.