The Sunday News
TODAY a journey begins. It is the “Journey to KoBulawayo” and it follows the end of the “Journey to Stonehenge.”
The latter covered a long distance both in chronological and physical distances. After more than 60 weeks, it came to a successful end.
KoBulawayo refers to the current Old Bulawayo monument/cultural landscape, which was gutted by fire after it had been constructed.
The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) initiated the project following a recommendation by the UNDP/UNESCO Project Zimbabwe 88/028.
It was recommended that a theme park be constructed on the site of Old Bulawayo, which was once the capital town for the Ndebele State when King Lobengula the son of King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana was the reigning monarch.
The capital town was occupied from 1870 to 1881 following coronation of Prince Lobengula in January 1870.
The time of commencement of the project came about following the initiation of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). The NMMZ, like other Government parastatals, was tasked to come up with an economically viable project that was going to enable the heritage management body to attain economic independence.
Following preliminary studies by the Creative Consultants division of the York Archaeological Trust, the theme park was going to be an educational and tourist site. It was recommended that there be development of a site, which was going to earn some income in order for NMMZ to achieve economic independence.
There were subsequent studies by the Birmingham University Field Archaeological Unit (BUFAU) and the Geophysical Survey of Bradford (GSB). Work commenced in earnest in December 1993 with resident archaeologist Ivan Murambiwa moving on site to commence work on the topographical survey of the site.
Msindo Gideon Joyi Khumalo was engaged as a resident Khumalo descendant on the site. From that far back I got involved, albeit unofficially, with the project. I was Head of Nketa Secondary School at the time.
In my little blue 120Y car I frequently visited Murambiwa to observe what he was doing on the site. His initial work was some topographical survey of the proposed site. The project sought to throw the spotlight on the 19th century Ndebele settlement with a view to coming up with a theme park that was to be developed.
The project was envisaged to come up with a deeper understanding of the Ndebele way of life during the 19th century.
This is to say there would be people living on the site who would carry out Ndebele cultural activities of the 19th century.
It was envisaged that the site would provide knowledge on Ndebele cuisine, landscape utilisation in terms of agriculture, the various economic industries, gender, distribution of political power and the structural units, and many more.
I attached myself to the project from the very outset until its completion and commissioning when a royal Zulu delegation visited together with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. After Murambiwa left, Joseph Muringaniza took over and after him came Edward Matenga who took part in the sourcing of artifacts for inclusion in the interpretive centre which was the only component of the site which survived the inferno.
During the heyday of the Ndebele State KoBulawayo was also referred to as Enyokeni, Place of the Snake, so named after the hill to the east, which resembled a snake, inyoka in IsiNdebele.
Alternatively, the place was known as KoMkhulu, where the Head of State lived. The Indaba Tree on the site was Intenjane, some variety of fig. As a result, the capital town was also referred to as Entenjaneni.
Nevertheless, the official name for the town was Gibixhegu, close to Hope Fountain Mission established in the year of Prince Lobengula’s coronation. Gibixhegu was the name of the capital town during the conception of the Ndebele State in about 1839.
Khondwane Ndiweni was in charge of the section that brought together Amakhanda and Amnyama whose chief town was Umzinyathi under Majijili Gwebu. Later, leadership of that village fell under Mkhaliphi Khumalo, the son of Dlengelele.
It is important to appreciate why Old Bulawayo was chosen for the development of a theme park. Bulawayo, more than Mhlahlandlela, presented a broader view of Ndebele culture at a time when it was coming under the influence of European culture.
Missionaries had settled within the Ndebele State from December 1859 when Reverend Doctor Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society (LMS) was given a site at Inyathi to establish a mission station. The capital town then was at Emhlangeni, and also known as Enyathini. The missionaries sought to live near the monarch in order to get protection.
Following the demise in 1868 of the Ndebele king Mzilikazi, Lobengula went to establish a new capital known as Gibixhegu. King Mzilikazi’s last capital town was Mhlahlandlela on the Old Gwanda Road, which passed through Matobo Hills.
Once Gibixhegu had been established, the LMS missionaries went to set up a new mission station close to the new seat of power. Reverend Boden Thompson pioneered the establishment of the new mission station which, over the years, produced many leaders in Zimbabwe, e.g., Thenjiwe Virginia Lesabe, Angeline Masuku, inter alia.
In addition to the LMS missionaries there were Catholic Jesuit missionaries who too settled close to Gibixhegu.
These were missionaries who were part of the Zambezi Mission, which was tasked with the responsibility to pacify what were perceived as warlike nations to the north. Such nations, it was argued, stood in the way of the conversion of locals to Christianity.
One mission went to Matabeleland while another went to the Kololo State under Sebituane who lived in the Caprivi Strip.
They opened the Linyanti Mission beyond Katima Mulilo.
Under Fathers Depelchin and Cronenbergh the Jesuit Mission undertook a trip to Matabeleland.
Their journey was captured in a book titled Journey to GuBuluwayo. In 1879 they established a mission station close to Gibixhegu, later known as KoBulawayo. The book title in a way informed the present “Journey to KoBulawayo.”
We only need to remember that a “G” was pronounced in several different ways. The present “Ku,” “Khu,” and “Gu,” were spelt the same way. Ndebele orthography then was not sufficiently developed.
For example, outside the church at Hope Fountain it is written, “Ugutula.” Current orthography would present it as “Ukuthula.”
Besides the missionaries, there was yet another group of Europeans who were making advances on Matabeleland. These were the traders that brought new European items for sale to the Ndebele.
Thus, close to the capital town trading stores were established. That marked the slow but certain change to Ndebele material culture.
Some of the traders such as George Phillip set up trading stores and their houses close to the capital town of Gibixhegu.
Research on Old Bulawayo embraced the trading and accommodation structures that introduced a new aspect of architecture, a feature more associated with KoBulawayo than Mhlahlandlela.
There were Europeans that visited KoBulawayo other than the traders and missionaries. These were hunters such as Henry Hartley and Frederick Courtney Selous (uSilowe).
Some were no more than just an adventurous lot that enjoyed travelling through unknown regions of the world.
Initial articles will deal more broadly with Old Bulawayo before we zero in on the archaeological research finding that were made on the site.
These provide the more useful knowledge on the Ndebele way of life in the 19th century.