As her mother lay dying of the coronavirus, 12-year-old Chiedza spoke to her on the phone one last time.
“I love you,” Chiedza said, “to Mercury, Mars, Venus, and back.”
Rutendo Mukotsanjera, known to many as Ru, died on April 10 in Queen’s Hospital in Burton-on-Trent, England, at age 45. She was only able to see her daughter through a glass window for the last two weeks of her life.
Chiedza and Mukotsanjera, a single mother, were “inseparable,” according to their church's pastor. With no other close family in the country, Chiedza, known as Chichi, is now living with a member of the church while conversations continue between UK authorities and her wider family in Zimbabwe about her future.
The Renew Church in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, has so far raised over £37,000 (about $45,000) to pay for Mukotsanjera’s funeral and help provide for Chiedza’s future.
One of five children, Mukotsanjera moved to the UK from Harare, Zimbabwe, around 18 years ago. She gained undergraduate and master’s degrees in human resource management and worked in various care facilities as a mental health support officer. She often took on extra shifts to support her daughter and send money back to her family in Zimbabwe, where she also had a 22-year-old son, Shungu.
Pastor Matthew Murray told BuzzFeed News that Mukotsanjera was a much-loved and committed member of the church, not only attending every Sunday but going to home group meetings during the week. She cleaned the church as a volunteer every Saturday morning and was part of the church’s care home outreach team, comforting and listening to elderly people in the community.
“I will remember her smile the most,” Murray said. “She had an amazing smile that you wouldn’t forget. She would walk into the room, and everyone would be drawn to her. She just oozed love and kindness and care. She was a beautiful person, and her faith really inspired me. She really lived her faith, and it just wasn’t a hobby or ritual — it was something which really meant a lot to her.”
Murray said it was clear to everyone how close she was to her daughter. “There were no other close family here, so those two were a team — and sadly one of the team is no longer there,” he said. “But Rutendo’s legacy lives on in Chichi. And when she smiles, you can see her mum’s smile. It’s really beautiful.”
Mukotsanjera and Chiedza lived together in the village of Rocester in East Staffordshire.
“Considering the circumstances, Chichi is doing very well,” Murray said. “She is a very brave and strong young woman whose faith in God is carrying her through right now. I can see her future panning out beautifully and brilliantly.
"None of us wanted this to happen, but our goal is to rejoice in the 45 years we got with Rutendo and do all we can to support Chiedza.”
Chiedza was one of just 10 people present in the church for the funeral, due to UK government restrictions, but the event was broadcast to hundreds of people in Zimbabwe.
At the funeral, Chiedza stood up to recite a poem she had written.
“Like birds of a feather, we were always together,” she said. “Thank you for being loving, thank you for being brave, and thank you for teaching me all your kind ways.”