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82 year-old Chinthuli breaks age barrier for love; marries 25 year-old

Written by  Daniel Kasondo
HAPPY COUPLE: Reubenson Chinthuli and his beautiful bride Zione smile for the camera - Pic by Daniel Kasondo HAPPY COUPLE: Reubenson Chinthuli and his beautiful bride Zione smile for the camera - Pic by Daniel Kasondo

THYOLO, December 10, 2017: Bizarre things do happen in life sometimes. But for people of Goliati Village in Paramount Chief Ngolongoliwa in Thyolo, nothing could beat the marriage of octogenarian and a youth.

 “It is an abomination,” some social commentators argue, while others see nothing wrong.

Such is the divided opinion as you walk down footpaths through tea fields to the village where a man and woman with the age difference of 57 years now live under one roof as husband and wife.

Reubenson Chinthuli, 82, and youthful Zione Kwatani, 25, made news three months ago when they stepped into the District Commissioner’s (DC’s) office to register their marriage.

“She doesn’t know what she is doing,” some onlookers said of the young woman as the two walked side by side to the DC’s office. Yet others insisted age was just a number and nothing else.

It is, therefore, with great apprehension that this reporter decided to pay the couple a visit.

The journey involves negotiating one corner after another on the narrow and winding footpath that leads to the couple’s home.

As you turn the last corner and step into the compound, Chinthuli emerges through the main door, probably alerted by the barking of a skinny dog. He looks very aged with grey hair all over his scalp.

His steps are labored and slow.

“Ma!” he calls out to the wife who is somewhere in the back yard and he receives a charming response of “Ba!” The term ‘Ba’ could mean father and it is, by implication, a clear acknowledgement that the husband is of mature age or simply a term out of affection for the man so dear to her.

Chinthuli, grinning, remembers this reporter who was present during the marriage registration ceremony at the DC’s office. 

“You look happy; you and madam,” I say, trying to quickly wade into a conversation of a marriage that has baffled many people who insist that the woman could easily pass for the old man’s grandchild.

"I am glad you can see that,” Chinthuli says. “People in this community see it also - including all the doubting Thomases.”

Chinthuli is a man of class and knows how to treat her queen, too. They hold hands and walk around the village together in a clear demonstration of true affection.

Born in 1935, Chinthuli is an ex-police officer who joined the service in 1955 and retired in 1970. 
Pictures of his days in police service decorate the walls of his house. If he was not posing in a group of fellow police officers, he would probably be standing by a shiny metallic colonial police car.

The man, who is all smiles for his new found love, was first married to a woman from Dowa with whom he had nine children. Unfortunately, the wife passed on and he married again. But due to some disputes, they parted ways.

He almost gave up ever getting married again until recently when he met youthful Zione. The young woman, he says, used to come to his house to help with some domestic chores without demanding any pay.

For the two, it all started like a joke until they realized it was more than a friendship.

"I didn't propose her, it just happened; just like that,” he explains.

The former traffic police officer admits that the wife is young and that he was not surprised when their union raised a storm in the village and beyond.

The relationship was sternly contested from all fronts. The wife’s relatives opposed it on grounds that the man was too old for their daughter.

Chithuli’s church offered no hope either. It refused to bless the marriage. Apparently, the huge age difference made suggestions of a holy matrimony between the two a weird idea.

The two were compelled to just register with government.

"We are happy because we are legally married and have a marriage certificate. What remains is the big day for our wedding," Chinthuli says.

The wife, who has a three-year-old child from another man, recalls how much she struggled to get her man.

Friends and relatives couldn't understand her decision. The man people said was too old, she says, had turned out to be a better companion than the first husband who was her age mate

"I never knew peace until I met my dream love,” she says fidgeting and fondly looking towards Chinthuli.

“If getting married to a man your age means trouble, then it is better to stay with an old man who cares for you."

A standard five drop out, the youthful wife says since she came to stay with Chinthuli, her life has changed for better and fellow women now admire her.

She says those who discouraged her now come to confess and apologize.

"We are living happily. He is very understanding and caring. He supports me on all my needs. People even call me a visionary woman because they didn't expect me to be this happy with him."

But what kind of issues do the two discuss considering the age difference? The young wife is quick to respond:

“I don’t see him as an old man. The only time I realize he is older than me is when he is calling me. He is full of respect because he calls me ‘Ma’ unlike my first husband who used to call me by my first name."

Thyolo District Youth Officer, Doreen Mbendera, has some reservations and faults the District Council for allowing registration of such a marriage.

Mbendera argues that the marriage would bring consequences that would affect the young woman's life.

She says the drama that ensued at the DC’s office when the two went for registration of their marriage was a clear manifestation that something was amiss.

"Young women can get married but not to very old men. We need to protect our young women from such marriages," says Mbendera.

The youth officer observes that most women who marry old men are often abused and do not have a voice because their decisions are not respected.

She adds that in such marriages, there is a high probability that a woman may not be satisfied sexually.

This, she says, could result in the young bride sneaking out in search of satisfaction and ending up contracting sexually transmitted infections like HIV and AIDS.

"Again with Malawi’s mortality rate already high, the girl may eventually have to raise children alone should she lose the husband due to old age.  We should not create problems that we can easily avoid," Mbendera says.

However, district registrar for Thyolo Blessings Gondwe sees nothing wrong in endorsing the marriage.

At 25, he explains, the woman was not a minor and that beyond the minimum legal marriage age of 18 years, there is no age limit on who to marry.

"The woman is mature enough to make her own decisions. We cannot stop them because of age gap. We only raise eye brows where the woman is below 18 years,” Gondwe says.

This marriage may continue to be a divisive element in society, but Chinthuli and his youthful sweetheart look into the future unperturbed and with optimism.

"What is wrong in marrying a younger woman if both of you love one another? Our daily prayer is to have a child of our own and we are optimistic that God will grant us our wish," Chinthuli says.


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