As part of the commemorations to mark Bulawayo’s 120 years of existence we hope to bring you snippets from life in the city in the days gone by. Our focus though will be on the African townships and the experiences of their inhabitants. There are several people alive today who experienced life in those early days. We shall seek interviews with such people so that they share their experiences with those of us who were not privy to the goings on in Bulawayo during those eventful days.
We are going to take a thematic approach as we bring to the fore the stories of Africans growing up in the townships of Bulawayo. Through that approach, we hope to cover each theme more comprehensively and we should be able to cover a wide spectrum of experiences.
Here we are thinking of themes such as recreation and entertainment, sport, in particular Highlanders Football Club, education, health, spirituality/religion, trade unionism, nationalist politics and white reaction to the same, urban guerrilla operations, industries and many others.
In the meantime, we need a bridging article which will render a brief account of King Lobengula’s KoBulawayo. It is vitally important that this be done lest we risk creating an erroneous impression that Bulawayo’s existence is traceable to 1894. To do that is to allow ourselves to fall into a Eurocentric political abyss. The Bulawayo that forms the subject of this year’s commemorations is, in actual fact, the third Bulawayo.
As pointed out in the first article, King Lobengula’s capital was KoBulawayo. There were two such settlements prior to conquest. It is these two that this article focuses on as a bridging measure. In any case, the third settlement of a similar name was initially referred to as Buluwayo and not Bulawayo. When, on October 12 1894, the precursor to the present Chronicle newspaper was first published, its name was The Buluwayo Chronicle.
The first settlement which served as King Lobengula’s capital was KoBulawayo (now being referred to as Old Bulawayo) located near a long snaking hill called eNyokeni. It was not far from Hope Fountain. The establishment of a new capital was in line with Ndebele traditions. A new king did not occupy the same settlement where his father lived. It was believed the protective charms used to fortify the settlement would weigh heavily on the new monarch, with disastrous consequences on his person.
The initial stages in the establishment of a new site were fortification of both the new king and his capital town. Accordingly, King Lobengula underwent a period of seclusion during which he was being fortified and counselled in the intricacies and etiquette of ruling and leading his father’s people. That initial stage saw the king living with a limited number of people. Only when the counselling, fortification and construction of the new settlement were done with did other people join the royal household within the Royal Enclosure and the Peripheral Enclosure.
The royal settlement had to be protected, both physically and metaphysically. The Royal Enclosure had a double-walled stockade made from mopane logs fetched a long distance from the site. The Peripheral Enclosure extended right around the Royal Enclosure where the King and his household lived. Within the Royal Enclosure there were royal queens, sons and daughters of the king. There was also the senior induna, Magwegwe Fuyana and some helpers within the Royal Palace, notably Sihuluhulu Mabhena and Sivalo Mahlangu, the son of Mveleleni. There were other personal attendants of the king such as the doctors, praise singers and several others.
The Peripheral Enclosure completely surrounded the Royal Enclosure. The entire area was within two stockades. This was the first frontline in the physical protection of the king.
Further out there was a circle of villages that constituted isiphika, the hood. In dress terms the hood is worn over the shoulders or around the neck. More importantly, it surrounds the head, here symbolising the capital town. There were a number of such villages that almost fringed upon the capital town: eNyathini, iNhlambane (iNhlambabaloyi), uMhlahlandlela, iNyanda, uMzinyathi, iNtshamathe and many others.
We need to point out that at this stage whites with various interests had started visiting KoBulawayo. Some came as traders while some of the traders built homes close to the seat of power. There were several hunters who passed through in their hunting expeditions further to the north. The London Missionary Society had since established, in 1870, a new station close by at Hope Fountain. The Jesuits were to follow suit in 1879 and they established a mission even closer to the capital than Hope Fountain.
The presence of whites at KoBulawayo and their visiting counterparts led to the changing building architectural traditions within the Royal Enclosure. A Western type palace was built for the king. Fired clay bricks were used and the structure deviated from the traditional circular design in preference to a Western rectangular one. The roof was not the traditional cone either or the hemispherical bee-hive.
The king had, by this time, acquired a number of ox wagons; inherited from his father King Mzilikazi and bought from white traders. A wagon shed was built in stone for him by Halyet. Western culture was beginning to manifest itself on several fronts: material culture including attire, furniture, utensils and cutlery.
Religious, pastoral and economic activities at KoBulawayo led to environmental degradation which prompted the king to relocate in 1881. Magwegwe Fuyana was instructed to burn the old capital. It is important to point out that this burning was spiritually inspired and is not an indicator of pressure on the king. Colonialism still lay a few years into the future. Relocation of settlements was a feature of the Ndebele way of life and was not restricted to royal towns.
The reasons were to be found in environmental degradation.
When the king and his people relocated the Jesuits remained behind for a while. They finally went to establish Empandeni Mission in the mid-1880s. The new site for the new capital was where State House stands today, not far from Northlea High School. The arrangement or layout of the town was the same. Some villages that had been part of isiphika relocated to constitute a new isiphika. As a result, for example, iNhlambabaloyi relocated from the Hope Fountain area to where Woodville is today. Queen Lozikeyi Dlodlo, okaNgogo, was the chief queen, iNdlovukazi in both towns.
The major change taking place this time was the appearance on the scene of a new breed of whites-those with a colonising motive. There was heightened interest in taking control of the interior for purposes of undertaking mining operations. Gold had been discovered at Tati (Dadi) in 1867, diamonds at Kimberley in 1867 and more gold in the Witwatersrand in 1884. European powers were tumbling over each other in their quest to partition Africa.
Many of them sent emissaries to King Lobengula with the intention of bagging a treaty that would empower them to mine the minerals. Ultimately they sought outright colonisation. The first step was to occupy Mashonaland in 1890. Once they had bagged Mashonaland without any modicum of resistance, they looked towards Matabeleland with a view to overrunning it too and consolidating it into their new emerging state of Rhodesia.
Volunteers were recruited to achieve that goal-with a promise of land and gold claims. Cecil Rhodes’ friend and ally Dr Leander Starr Jameson worked out a good pretext to attack Matabeleland. That he did in 1893. Following encounters at Shangani River/Bhonko (October 25) and Gadade/Mbembesi (November 2) the Ndebele forces were defeated, prompting the king to flee north but not before he ordered the town burnt by Sivalo Mahlangu.
When the occupation forces arrived in what had been KoBulawayo they were met with smouldering remains; the ammunition magazine and all having gone up in flames. That marked, on the 4th of November 1893, the end of King Lobengula’s second KoBulawayo at eMahlabathini or eSagogwaneni. The latter refers to the indaba tree at KoBulawayo. It was a sad end which marked the start of a third Buluwayo, since changed its name to Bulawayo, the colonial city that is turning 120 years old on 1 June 2014.