The Sunday News
Ngqwele Dube, Features Correspondent
THE country’s second largest city, Bulawayo last Tuesday held celebrations to mark 125 years of existence and like any other birthday milestone it was done amid pomp and fanfare.
The day was punctuated by a procession in the city led by drum majorettes and the police band which graduated into festivities that included poetry, traditional song and dance, cutting of cake and a dazzling fireworks display.
While it was all pomp and fanfare at the City Hall, some residents were questioning the logic of counting the city’s age from the time it was declared a town by colonialists, instead of using the time King Lobengula established it as the capital of his Ndebele State, made up of various ethnic groups that were swallowed along the way.
King Lobengula set up his first capital at the present day Old Bulawayo site in 1871 after assuming the throne before he moved it, to where the present day State House is situated, in 1881. Following the Anglo-Ndebele War in 1893 that led to the fall of the Ndebele state, the settler regime took over the running of the settlement and the then Administrator for Matabeleland, Dr Leander Starr Jameson, declared Bulawayo a town 1 June 1894.
Bulawayo remains one of the few settlements whose name preceded colonisation but was maintained by colonialists. While it has become tradition, even after the attainment of independence in 1980, to celebrate the city’s years in accordance with Jameson’s declaration, renowned historian, Pathisa Nyathi said it was more a celebration of conquest as the period marks the time the town was taken over by white invaders.
He said it clearly means that the city was not taking into consideration the period the town was King Lobengula’s capital and only considering the time it came into the hands of the colonisers.
“Marking the city’s years from 1894 is clearly a misguided move as we are undoubtedly commemorating conquest and saying King Lobengula’s capital was not fit to be considered a real capital. We are clearly saying anything that was there before white conquest was a mere village not worth of any recognition and we are uplifting the colonial narrative while downplaying the efforts Africans did in creating their settlements making them look inconsequential. Remember when it was King Lobengula’s capital it was called koBulawayo but there was a slight change to Bulawayo but essentially the settlement is the same,” said Nyathi.
Veteran arts practitioner and culturalist, Cont Mhlanga concurred with Nyathi expressing anger and disappointment at the way the Bulawayo City Council had structured their celebrations, adding it was clear they were celebrating a colonial narrative. He said continually negating our own narrative as black people 40 years after gaining independence was a travesty.
“It’s sad that the majority of such celebrations are dominated by the white narrative as the central theme. Why are we celebrating something that was declared by others and not what was created by us Africans? Are we saying King Lobengula’s Bulawayo is not worth mentioning? After all he is the one who gave the city its name.
“We are essentially celebrating Cecil John Rhodes and Alfreid Beit’s Bulawayo, applauding them for declaring it a town. We are simply celebrating our conquerors and conquest,” said Mhlanga, who added that the mayor and the councillors were not deserving of their positions as they don’t respect African cultural heritage.
Educationist and theatre practitioner, Thabani Moyo said the commemorations were a sign of tacitly uplifting the fallacy of white supremacy.
“Critically thinking, celebrating 125 years is more like an acknowledgement of the supremacy of what is done by whites over what blacks achieve. KoBulawayo was already there when the modern day Bulawayo was established by whites. As a people we should be celebrating our own African heritage, which is the establishment of Bulawayo by King Lobengula. This goes on to explain why less emphasis and recognition is given to Old Bulawayo today,” he said.
Town clerk Christopher Dube however, defended the city fathers saying they were using legally binding documents. He said the tussle could be similar to a contestation of birth dates for a person with one date being said to be the real date, while the other appears on a birth certificate.
“We understand Bulawayo was King Lobengula’s capital but as council we do not have valid evidence that it was there in 1881. We have a paper trail, records at council that shows the city was declared a town in 1894 and we are basing our celebrations on that. I think it is a subject open to discussion on how we can move forward on it and with evidence I do not think council would refuse to alter the dates,” he said.
Skyz FM disc jockey Benkosi Maphosa was of the opinion it was not a big deal that we use colonial dates to celebrate the city’s age as there was a litany of colonial celebrations that black people were taking part in.
“It is just the day it was declared a town so for me what is important is marking the occasion and not really looking at the people who declared it a town. For me it is ironic that we have a lot of Christian holidays that we celebrate such as Easter and Christmas when that religion was one the biggest tools that was used in the colonisation of black people,” he said
Arts practitioner Mhlanga said there was need to use the celebrations as a marketing tool for the history and ensure festivities surrounding the commemorations reflect our history.
“I think its downright laziness the way the celebrations are structured and we need to be creative and design them in a way that will tell our unique story to both local and international audiences and also use them as a selling point to market the city as a tourist destination. It means we have to amplify our Africaness and stop having a procession led by drum majorettes and the police band,” he said.
Nyathi concurred saying there is need to conscientise people on the issue if there is to be any lobbying for the council to change the celebration dates, adding Mhlanga previously raised the matter but was ignored.
Former mayor, Martin Moyo said he believed the two dates could be incorporated and celebrated as one.
He said during his tenure as mayor the issue did not come to the fore, but he believes once people raise the issue it should be imperative upon council to consider the matter and incorporate the period it was King Lobengula’s capital into the celebrations.
“During my term as mayor we celebrated 120 years of the existence of the city and it is an important milestone that we cannot ignore. At the time no one raised the issue of recognising the time the city was King Lobengula’s capital but I believe if it arises it should receive serious consideration and the two should be married into one celebration,” he said.
Moyo said it was critical to decolonise the mind and appreciate “our” own systems and be confident that African values and heritage have value, adding this mindset stems from the colonial education system that undervalued what is African.
Mhlanga said the celebrations were a manifestation of a bigger problem that was afflicting black people which was a mindset problem created by colonialism and manifest in the education system and religion forced down on us by whites. He said the education system and religion were created to keep blacks as underdogs.
“We are struggling as a continent because we are adopting foreign solutions to local problems. We see Europeans using certain strategies to succeed but with us they are not working. We were told that our indigenous knowledge does not work, it was suppressed but it is the one we should look to for solutions to our problems, whether economic or otherwise,” he said.