He once lunged from his seat at a Cabinet meeting to stop Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga going physical over a heated argument. Eliud Ngala Mwendwa who was Minister for Labour at the time has taken the final bow.
Mwendwa, 93, died at the Nairobi Hospital on Wednesday, June 8 at 6 am after a long battle with old age complications that culminated in a heart attack according to his eldest son, Kitavi Mwendwa. Ngala breathed his last while under treatment at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
As Minister for Labour, Ngala chaperoned formation of the Industrial Court to resolve labour disputes, but curiously lived long years in retirement and died without pension. Other institutions that sprouted under his watch are National Social Security Fund (NSSF), National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Youth Service (NYS).
During a chat with him at his Ithookwe home in Kitui County slightly over a year ago, Mzee Ngala regretted that some of the institutions he started for the good of Kenyans had been turned into cash cows. He cited the NSSF and NYS. The latter has of late dominated news headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Ngala was part of Kenya’s delegation to the Lancaster House Conference in 1960, served in the 15-member first post-independence Cabinet in 1963 and held the Labour portfolio for a record 11 years (1963 to 1974).
He was 92 when I interviewed him and his bitter complaint was the fact that the Government had never considered him for pension.
I had to get loans
“I have done so much for this country, yet it is like I will go to my grave without pension,” he said, his voice loaded with bitterness. He was a man of means though, having at one time owned the land on which Nairobi’s Githurai 45 sits today.
“Pressure from an ever bulging Nairobi population forced me to sell the bulk of my original 948-acre land there, leaving only 33 acres where I have a house and some businesses managed by one of my sons,” he said.
He said the land was largely a bush when he bought it in 1965 for Sh330,000 from a white poultry and cattle farmer called Smith.
“You cannot believe it, but I had to get loans from the Agricultural Development Corporation and Agricultural Finance Corporation to raise the money. My Cabinet minister’s salary was Sh8,000 per month,” he divulged during the interview.
Ngala used the proceeds from sale of the Githurai land to relocate from the Mwendwa ancestral land in Matinyani north of Kitui town to Ithookwe where he owned a ranch not far from the airstrip and practised mixed farming.
Born in 1923 to the fifth wife of Kitui Paramount Chief Mwendwa Kitavi’s 17 wives, Mwendwa taught for years after graduating from Kagumo Teachers College before he joined politics in the 1960s and was elected member of Legislative Council (LegCo) for Kitui alongside Fred Mati, Kenya’s first African Speaker of the National Assembly.
He was elected first MP for Kitui Central in 1963.
The veteran politician is brother-in-law to Kenya’s first woman Cabinet Minister Winfred Nyiva Mwendwa, currently the Kitui County Women Representative and brother to the late Maluki Kitili Mwendwa, Kenya’s first African Chief Justice and Kyale Mwendwa, a former director of education and Cabinet minister.
Ngala lost his first wife, Agnes Kana in 1960, and later married Priscilla Kavutha with whom he lived until his death. The Ngalas were blessed with 12 children, eight boys and four girls. Kitavi said the veteran politician will be laid to rest at his Ithookwe home, Kitui County on Saturday, June 18.