The Sunday News
On Tuesday Bulawayo the city existing in an independent country celebrated 125 years of being declared a town by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, a key figure in the colonisation of Zimbabwe and the desolation of the Ndebele Kingdom, a once thriving society which the British South Africa Company under the stewardship of the iconic coloniser Cecil John Rhodes decisively and brutally disintegrated.
The celebration of 125 years brings about questions within spaces of history and logic.
The choice of history to be celebrated tells a lot about people and it also exposes their contributions to public contradictions and perhaps some of the reasons to understand identity crisis.
It is least expected of independent states to expend public resources celebrating how their space was occupied and how thriving culture and economies were destroyed to impose a new social organisation
After indulging Tim Marshall’s 2016 book, Worth Dying for: The power and Politics of Flags and revisiting David N. Beach’s War and Politics in Zimbabwe 1840-1900, one remains wondering that from the history of the brutal process of Zimbabwe’s occupation and the bloody war of liberation in a quest not only to liberate the African people but to effectively decolonise imposed culture and re-imagine identity and social reorganisation, public institutions such as the Bulawayo City Council expend public resources and time to celebrate a façade of 125 years of assumed and imposed modernity which misrepresents history of the black people, particularly the AmaNdebele who had already established themselves here.
The celebration of the day perpetuates and sustains a fallacy that has been held for centuries by the colonisers; that they “found” places in Africa. Bulawayo existed way before white people came here. King Lobhengula in1870, had named the place KoBulawayo so what Jameson simply did was to appropriate the name and reposes it, giving it new English meaning — “their” town in 1894.
It then boggles the mind why the local authority, guided by the flag and its meaning is not celebrating 149 years of KoBulawayo as declared by King Lobhengula as a symbol of reigniting the very purpose of independence. It is further worrisome that many adults, respected and occupying important offices danced and ululated in traditional dance to celebrate declaration of the desolation of their tradition and society.
The celebration confirms another debilitating discourse. Like many prospectors, Jameson’s declaration affirmatively implies that there was no town, yet there was a capital already named KoBulawayo, furthermore, their declaration and our continued celebration sustains the imperial notion that there was no commerce, religion or civilisation so they declared a town which had industry, religion and civilisation — that is a blatant lie that does not deserve revision.
The economics of the Ndebele prove that commerce existed that is why they traded among themselves, with other clans and the Portuguese. There was industry, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, leather tanners, and numerous artisans and agronomists existed in that society.
They had vibrant politics and religion and all of that was destroyed and celebrated on 1 July 1894 at the declaration of Leander Starr Jameson — Bulawayo which was already there was announced as if it did not exist before, so what do you mean when you celebrate 125 years of being a town? Do you even understand the underpinnings of that declaration?
My reference of Tim Marshall’s book is poignant in explaining the social reorganisation of Zimbabwe through hoisting of the Zimbabwe flag darning the Pan Africanist colours and depressing the Union Jack on 18 April 1980.
The new flag symbolises the death of colonisation, its culture and renaissance of African identities which should inform the operations and politics of its public institutions like local governments. It can possibly explain the identity crisis in a nation and a failure to successfully move out and away from foreign and brutal culture.
It further destabilises the meaning of independence and the flapping of the National flag at the City Hall where we expect that the Zimbabwean flag symbolises African autonomy, an institutional delinking with traditions and cults that mark and celebrate African occupation and the collapsing of a thriving Kingdom.
Let the celebration of 1 July 1894 be a reserve for Rhodesian essentialists, they are present, the have fond memories of how black people were not allowed to walk beyond Lobhengula Street, that day is for them, not us — chinhu chavo! David Beach’s clear narration of history again is poignant in providing us with a classic analysis of coincidence or deliberate preparation of the future by Leander Starr Jameson.
It is suspicious if not horrendous that Bulawayo was declared a town in July 1894, a year whose summer marked the final collapse of the Ndebele Kingdom by a coalition of the BSAC and other societies.
Not to delve much into history nitty-gritties, the fact that remains is that Bulawayo was declared a town in 1894, the very time the British South African Company decided to protect its interests by aiding an on-going strife and establishing itself in Matabele Kingdom through conquest. Symbolically, the British kingdom flag was hoisted and the expansion of the crown realised — 1 July declared a successful conquest, not only of the military but culture, politics, economics and space occupation and use. At that point, it successfully destroyed a Kingdom and its culture — that is what 1 July celebrates.
What Leander Starr Jameson did on July 1 1894 is to announce that on that very same day for future years to come, it should be remembered that a few white colonialists who successfully conquered a state, annihilated it and reorganised that society to their liking.
This was marked to be a day to be remembered so long white rule exists. It declared Bulawayo as “its town” not for the blacks; that meaning never changed and will never change as long as the 1 July declaration celebrations continue.
Jameson, in 1894, made the announcement to mark that since 1893, they had been fighting a resilient and well organised Ndebele military, and their perfected strategy of decentralised despotism as the revered African scholar, Mahmood Mamdani, loosely called it in explaining how colonisation became successful.
In 1980, when the country became independent, it came with the opportunity for indigenous people to celebrate who they are, not the other way round.