JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
ELIAS Jere is 104 years old, but he is not an old grumpy man. In fact, he likes to laugh, a lot.Mr Jere is seated in a folding chair outside his house in Matero township in Lusaka. It is the same house he was given in 1962 by his British employers.
For his age, he still has a sharp memory and keen senses. And he refuses to be aided when he wants to get up from his seat.
Why some humans live longer than others has always baffled scientists, but a new study, whose findings were published last Friday in the journal Science, suggests that any maximum lifespan has yet to be reached, and that human longevity is actually increasing.
According to the study, when a person reaches 105, they have a 50 percent chance of living another year, because the risk of death slows.
“The increasing number of exceptionally long-lived people and the fact that their mortality beyond 105 is seen to be declining across cohorts – lowering the mortality plateau or postponing the age when it appears – strongly suggest that longevity is continuing to increase over time and that a limit, if any, has not been reached,” the researchers wrote in the study.
The study also talks about the high risk of death in humans in their 30s, but this risk is said to reduce in people above 50.
Whatever the reason for longevity that science provides, to Mr Jere, long life has been due to his lifestyle.
“I have always lived at peace with people and I like to laugh with everyone, that is why I have lived long,” he says with a slight smile.
Mr Jere also attributes his long life to a happy marriage.
“Marriage is not slavery. I made sure I lived at peace with my wife and I never beat her,” he says.
Mr Jere and his wife, Jesnala, had been married for 89 years before she died of cancer in 2013.
“I lived with my wife for 89 years. I never married another woman,” he says.
He still remembers the day she died and the time he received the news of her death.
Mr Jere says he also never tasted any alcohol in his life.
“But I used to smoke,” he says.
He still remembers some of the brands he used to smoke.
“The most expensive was Springbok,” he says.
Mr Jere decided to quit smoking because he says he used to spend a lot of money on cigarettes, sometimes at the expense of his family’s needs.
“I bought some tablets which helped me to lose interest in smoking,” he says.
Mr Jere was born in Eastern Province in January 1914, six months before the start of World War I.
In 1935, Mr Jere moved to Lusaka, which had just been established as the new capital of Northern Rhodesia, in search of job prospects.
He lived in the flood-prone Chinika area in a place called African Village and worked as a house servant or houseboy as they were called at the time.
“I came here because of work. I began working as a house servant for a white family, but after working for some time, I realised that working as a house servant was such a bad thing. I realised that it was a job for women and not a man,” he says.
Mr Jere also hated being scolded by white mistresses.
“I feared that one day I would hit my mistress and get arrested,” he says.
“They pleaded with me to continue with my job but I told them I could not manage to work under a woman. That woman was the same as my wife at home so how could I get instructions from her,” he says.
He later moved to Kitwe on the Copperbelt, which offered better prospects because of the copper mining industry.
His first job in Kitwe was at Nkana Hotel, cleaning rooms, but later he joined the mines.
Like many young people in the mid-19th century, Mr Jere was drawn southwards to work on the mines in Salisbury, now Harare.
After a few years, he returned to his home country and worked for a company called Bearing World. He worked there for 34 years before retiring in 1987.
Growing up, he did not like politics and avoided taking part in the struggle for independence prior to 1964.
“I never wanted to take part in politics because I feared for my children and my wife. I didn’t want to get arrested because of politics,” he says.
Mr Jere had nine children, but only three survive.
And 55 years after the country got independence from Britain, Mr Jere still thinks life was better under the British rule.
“Young people then used to fear doing wrong things because they would get arrested, and the Rhodesian government never wanted people to move about aimlessly. But now people move about anyhow, and people kill each other a lot these days,” he says.
He advises young people to be obedient to their parents in order to live long.
JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka