Re-imagine Bulawayo: City turns 125 years

Source: Re-imagine Bulawayo: City turns 125 years | Sunday News (Opinion)

Vusumuzi Dube, Municipal Reporter 

“IT is my job to declare the town open. Gentlemen, I don’t think we want to waste any talk on it. I make the declaration now. There is plenty of whisky and soda inside so come in.”

These were the words of Dr Leander Starr Jameson, the Administrator for Matabeleland, on 1 June 1894 on the occasion to declare Bulawayo a town.

According to historian, Pathisa Nyathi, the speech was made at the entrance of the Maxim Hotel along Fife Street between Eighth and Leopold Takawira Avenues, just next to where Pick n Pay Supermarket is currently located.

On Tuesday the City of Bulawayo in conjunction with the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) and other stakeholders in the city will be officially launching the city’s 125 years celebrations, with a number of festivities lined up for this prestigious occasion under the theme; “Re-imagine Bulawayo.”

Most people know the city as just the country’s second capital, others know it as just the City of Kings and Queens while others have gone on to coin various phrases to describe the city, from KoNtuthu Ziyathunqa (a place where smoke bellows) in reference to the city’s one time status of being the industrial hub – to Komfazi utshay’ indoda (where women beat up their husbands).

Others also know Bulawayo for its colourful jacaranda trees that line up most of the roads in the city centre and low density suburbs while others know it for its famed landmarks, these including; the historical Stanley Hall and Square, the National Museum, the Inxwala site, the statue of the late Vice President, Dr Joshua Nkomo among others.

Others will tell you of the big names associated or born in the city, from the late nationalist; Dr Nkomo, sporting legends; Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwaru and Bruce Grobbelaar, music gurus Lovemore Majaivana and the late Dorothy Masuka and internationally acclaimed outfits Iyasa and Insingizi Emnyama to mention but a few.

Most importantly, the mention of Bulawayo as a city will be incomplete without the mention of one of the oldest football teams in the country, Highlanders, also known as Bosso, Ithimu yezwe lonke or just Umantengwane.

According to and a research article by Pathisa Nyathi, the town of Bulawayo was founded in 1894 after the defeat of the Ndebele army in what is popularly known as the Ndebele uprising, in 1897, the new town of Bulawayo acquired the status of municipality with Colonel Harry White becoming the first mayor, and in 1943, Bulawayo became a city.

The name Bulawayo comes from the IsiNdebele word Kobulawayo meaning “the place of killing.”

It was named after a civil war where a group of Ndebeles not aligned to the then Prince Lobhengula were fighting him as they felt he was not the rightful heir to the throne, hence he gave his capital the name “where he (the prince) is being killed”.

“Given in the locative form, the name is koBulawayo, and not Bulawayo which is the English version or corruption of KoBulawayo. That change in name came about in 1871-72 after the Ndebele civil war.

“The meaning of the name has hitherto been given, in some quarters as “the place of slaughter”, that came about as a result of failure to appreciate the figurative rendition of the verb ‘bulala’,” wrote Nyathi in his research.

Lobhengula’s initial royal town, according to, established in 1872, was located about 14 miles of the present day city, Lobhengula eventually moved his royal town, and he personally chose the location of the modern Bulawayo city.

“Located at a vantage point in the Sub-Saharan Region, Bulawayo forms the axis of a well-planned road and rail network to the north, south, east and west of Zimbabwe. The first train arrived in Bulawayo in 1897, and as a transporting centre in Southern Africa and its immense natural wealth, Bulawayo was easily turned into a boom town, and eventually it grew to become an important industrial hub of Southern Rhodesia.”

Looking at present, in terms of service delivery, Bulawayo has been continuously touted as the best run local authority in the country.

It is one city with a lot of firsts under its belt; it was the first to embark on a planned programme of water supply; the first to provide educational facilities before there was any national policy on the subject; and led in having a progressive low-cost housing programme and a comprehensive social development blueprint.

It is also the first and only city with a call centre where residents can phone in 24 hours to report matters of service delivery, be it complaints or updates.

However, it is unfortunate that over the years the city has been faced with perennial water challenges – currently the city is going through a 48 hour water shedding schedule.

A lot of solutions have been tabled from the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, which is said to be the long term solution to the city’s problems, the Epping Forest borehole project that will increase the water being pumped from the Nyamandlovu Aquifer and the duplication of the Insiza pipeline to complement the current pipeline and increase water being pumped from Insiza Mayfair.

Further, the city’s industrial sector has over the past few years had a negative performance ebbing the city of its past status of being the industrial hub. The smoke that used to bellow from the industries have since disappeared and if one sees any smoke it will be most probable of rubble and dirt being burnt.

Now that we have look at the past and present, the question then becomes where is the city headed as we celebrate this milestone.

Mindful that the theme is inspired by a need to link the past, the present and the future, it is imperative that the city also define a new course of action that will transform it.

City mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni, hinted on the re-imagining part of the theme at the Bulawayo @125 public lecture when he said some of the pertinent questions that individuals should answer were, “Where are we going and how do we get there? Most importantly, what is my role in the future of Bulawayo.”

Academic and professional archaeologist, Mr Paul Hubbard, who delivered the keynote presentation at the public lecture, said it was important for the city to look back at where it was coming from, and take advantage of its uniqueness to build a positive future.

“Most of us sit back and don’t realise how important our city is, this is the city where the now famous kwela music was established by the likes of Dorothy Masuka. This is where skokiaan music was also established, a fete which saw world acclaimed jazz maestro, Louis Armstrong travelling to the city to learn.

“Talk of the National Museum which is the first of its kind in the country and one of a kind in the world, among other things it has the largest collections in African birds, snakes and mammoth specimens in the Southern Hemisphere, among other unique valuables. All these should now be taken together and used to market our lovely city. When we talk of re-imagining the city, I say the best route to take is taking our historical standing and use it to infiltrate the tourism market,” said Mr Hubbard.

He said what was essential was for the city to know where it was coming from and use it to shape its future to become bigger and better.

“Bulawayo already had the blueprint in place. I would like to see us going back to that. As Nelson Mandela put it we are who we are because of who we were, however what is important is that history cannot be changed but we learn from history, we make history, history shapes our future but it is not the future, so the question that matters is what we are doing to shape our future as Bulawayo,” he said.

In one of his research articles, Pathisa Nyathi notes that there is a need for City Fathers to realise the richness the city has in terms of cultural heritage and put in place structures to revive and maintain these.

The historian said it was not about the availability of funds but it was all about setting priorities straight and ensuring that the City Fathers adequately invest in the arts and culture industry as this was one sector with a possibility of putting the city on the map.

“Back then there was a time when the African department was under one Hugh Ashton, together with his team they led the establishment of the youth centres which became the epitome of arts and culture in the city.

“We really need such dedication from our leaders because this is another way of creating employment and boosting the city’s economy and status, even during these celebrations you will note that culture will be put upfront hence I believe it is time to further boost this status of ours of being on the apex of culture in the region,” said Nyathi.

So as Mahatma Gandhi once put it; “The future depends on what we do in the present.” 

Emphasis is therefore on getting the people of Bulawayo together to work towards re-imagining their future to ensure further growth and development.