Us who saw him, lived with him and got loved by him will never stop remembering. Throughout our remaining lives and in the silent nights, a void will always be in our hearts, a memory clearer than crystal will always linger in our minds. Because we were his children and our children called him mzee.
Nathan Wycliff Mugabira, born 23 January 1937 in Kananage- Kamuli district to the late Yekoyasi Mpaata Mugundho and the late Felekitansi Bakyekose Namulondo, died at his home in Namulesa, Jinja City, on June 16 2023. He was 86.
A jolly man. Mentally strong. Forgiving. Seldom angry. In his younger healthier days, he was a figure of reconciliation in his clan, the Baise Kaibale.
His father, our grandfather, died of prostate cancer. Therefore, when he had difficulties with peeing, he first assumed it was because of enlarged prostates. After a series of herbal medication, and medical tastes, it was confirmed he didn’t have prostate cancer.
Despite clearing the prostate cancer doubts, his health never looked up again. One day, as he was standing off the toilet, he got a back muscle spasm and that was it. He barely left the bed again… his appetite continuously shrunk and nothing we did could help to fully get him back to proper eating and to his feet.
“I will die taking juice,” Sarah Mugabira, our elder sister who was nursing him quoted him as she narrated Mzee’s last moments to us.
The day before he passed, I sent home more fruits. Fruits he would never live to take. On Tuesday preceding is death, he had predicted he would die in four days and asked the caretakers to stop giving him food.
On Friday morning, after being bathed and dressed, he asked if the sun was out so he could sun bathe. While out in his wheelchair, the village loud speaker ran a death announcement.
“Joshua, I do not like that noise. Switch off that radio,” he told one of his caretakers. “That radio is not here. It is the village announcer,” Joshua replied.
“Ohoo,” Mzee replied that way, three times, as if to accept what Joshua had told him; then started taking deep breathes. He was dying. He asked to be taken back to his bedroom. They summoned the nurse. She confirmed mzee was ‘behaving different this time’. As she started preparing a cannula, a WhatsApp message was sent to the home group. ’Mzee is not fine again. Mbu conditions turned when outside sunbathing.’
“Should we call Isaac and Fred to come,” our sister Sarah reportedly asked him. “What will they do,” he replied, and asked for juice.
As Sarah was hastily making the juice, the nurse called her, “come and pray for your dad. He has died.”
“Sarah has called me and told me Mzee has passed on. May his memory be a blessing,” Anthony Mugabira, his youngest child, posted in the family group.
Nathan had last worked in 1984 as a bursar at Kiira College Butiki. as accountant/Auditor by training, he had worked in several companies including the Ottoman Bank, Crusader Insurance, and Uganda Schools Supplies Limited.
The second born of the two children Namulondo Felekitansi begot with Mugundo, Nathan was educated at Masese Primary School, then went to Busoga College Mwiri before joining Kyambogo College to study accounting.
He was so proud of Busoga College Mwiri and his House Wilson, that we made sure a Mwiri Old Boys Sweater was put inside his casket.
He believed in family and collective success. Through his actions, one can deduce that he held a view that the success of just one family member can only make sense if it is used to influence the success of the rest of the members.
Therefore, when he still had the financial capacity, he helped educate many extended family members and indeed many who spoke at his burial attested to having benefited from his generosity.
Records show he led efforts to open Nakalera Properties Limited, together with his father, his uncle Mugabira of Budondo, and his elder brother Cranmer Mamioni Sajjabi. The company was dealing in poultry, real estate among other things.
Through that company, where he was the major contributor, he acquired property including the biggest part of the Wanyange Lakeside land. He bought cows and set up a farm on the Wanyange Land.
After his job loss as Bursar at Kiira College Butiki in 1984, however, depression set in, giving way to alcohol. Life started being the exact opposite of how he had known it.
Once in a while, a clan member like uncle Imaka Charles stepped in to help with school fees and a few other necessities here and there. Out of sheer love and probably in remembrance of what mzee had done for him when he still had it all.
When he stopped drinking in 2005 after a late-night convulsing episode, Nathan withdrew from the public. Didn’t visit his clan, rarely visited friends, seldom visited Wanyange-his father’s home.
He however simply watched in silence as his children, against all odds, grew into men and women; as they started bringing him grandchildren. A smile of contentment would flash on his face.
Even when he had any arguments with any of his children, his humility always made him the winner in the end. A keeper of friends, regardless of age. He taught his children the importance of friendships. Picking on his eternal friendship with the late Mzee Munyegera, the children from the two families have kept that brotherhood growing and going.
He loved his wife, Jennifer Aliyinza. An artist in Namulesa shared a video of Mzee ordering for an art piece of his and her wife’s totems shaking hands with the words Obusoga Bulaire (Busoga is at peace) and telling him to deliver and name the price so that his team (his children) pay. The artist never delivered. Apparently, he didn’t get the instructions clearly.
A video taken on his last birthday, January 2023, shows a frail mzee singing through a birthday song with his then three-year-old grandson Ethan Nsibambi.
“Happy Birthday to meee,” he sang, then lit up with a painful smile.
All his seven children lived to see him off at Wanyange on June 18, 2023 and the youngest, Anthony Mugabira, was picked to pick on the mantle as his heir. A lover of the written word, he always had a pen, a note book, a dictionary, and a text book by his side, he always shared what he had read with children and grandchildren. His wisdom was always at play during village Local council meetings where he volunteered as the secretary for a very long time.
His grandchildren will live with memories of him teaching them their first English words. The poems they used to recite together and the books they always read together.
Nabacwa Gladys, one of his granddaughters was especially devasted on learning of his passing. She had prepared poems to read to him during her Primary Seven vacation. Another one, Siyalo Jjunju will live to remember the moniker mzee gave him: Cyrus the Moneylender. A character in a children story he always told them; because Siyalo is the corrupted English version of Cyrus.
As he rests in Wanyange, near his father and sister Namaganda, his epitaph will eternally read:
Ah, you are so great, and I am so small. I tremble to think of you, Nathan, at all;
And yet, when I said my prayers to-day, A whisper inside me seemed to say, “You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot:
You can love and think, and the Earth cannot!” A quote from Great, Wide, Beautiful, Wonderful World, a William Brighty Rands 1823 poem; one of mzee’s favorite poems he used to recite to his children and grandchildren.
Memories from Children
Sarah Mugabira- Elder daughter
He had a great sense of humor. Even when you are angry, he would calm the situation with a joke. He really loved peace. And singing. Always mindful of our well-being. He longed for us to be successful and our little achievements really made him happy.
He loved English language so much da reason he always carried his dictionary and loved the Law arguments. He always helped me write my application letters.
Deborah Nakiduuli- Daughter
He loved his family warned us about people’s hypocrisy He could make fun out of sad moments He didn’t want people to be sad.
Fred Mugabira- son
I remember him for his tolerance and calmness. A character I both admired and hated in him. There were incidents I told him your strong voice is needed here and he would be calm and silent
Anthony Mugabira- son
I remember his love for his family, and especially his wife. Mzee respected his wife and always sought for her view in everything.
Juliet Mugabira- Daughter
Mzee liked making jokes, he was a peace maker and he loved people.
Isaac Imaka- Son
As I left to start University, as he bade me farewell, he gave my life long lesson. ‘In life my son, never have a grasshopper mind like Bevis (a character in a book he had read who never finished his tasks). Always finish what you have started before jumping onto something else. Otherwise, you will never accomplish anything.’
Rebecca Nankumbi- daughter
When I was going to start working, as he bade me farewell, he told me to ‘go and work for a good name, not for money because a good name will get you money.