The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
AFTER years during which it seemed to gradually become an eyesore, Makokoba’s Stanley Hall might be on the way to reclaiming some of its former glory, with the one-time nerve centre of Bulawayo’s cultural and political scenes halfway through renovations that have cost nearly US$200 000.
With the country’s Independence Day celebrations on the horizon, it is perhaps fitting that a community centre whose halls have hosted some of the country’s greatest icons before and after independence finally get a new lease of life.
The renovations, which began early this year, are set to be concluded in May. Built in 1936 as a recreational centre, Stanley Hall and Stanley Square were declared National Monuments by the government in 2017.
While it has fallen to a state of disrepair in the last few years, the centre has had an interesting double life, first becoming the hotbed for political activity among black people before independence and then transforming into a nursery for some of the finest talent in the arts from the 1980s onwards.
Veteran nationalist Cde Abraham Nkiwane, who fought for the independence of Zimbabwe and Zambia, in a recent interview with our sister paper Chronicle reminisced how in the late 1940s, he and his peers at the time met at Stanley Hall under the Gama Sigma Club, a voluntary organisation that attracted young African intellectuals.
It was there where he met the likes of Tennyson Hlabangana, a Mazibisa, a Mr Rubatika from Hope Fountain Mission, a Mr Dzviti, W Makubalo, and others. Later, they were to interact with degree holders like the late former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, Enoch Dumbutshena and Stanlake Samkange.
Cde Nkiwane said Stanley Hall became a centre for many activities of all sorts, cultural, educational, political and trade unionism with the likes of Grey Mabhalane Bango joining the fray.
In the arts, Stanley Hall served as the ideal crib for Cont Mhlanga’s Amakhosi in its infancy, as it slowly transformed from a karate dojo into a fully-fledged arts organisation that catered for all disciplines. For years, it was the venue of the internationally-acclaimed Ibumba Festival that is run by Siyaya, a group made up mostly of people who grew up watching productions at the venue.
The group, alongside others like jazz veterans Cool Crooners, were among many who have called Stanley Hall home over the years, practicing there and hosting shows.
With the centre losing its lustre over time, it had long ceased to be a worthy attraction for young people seeking top class entertainment. Change however, might be on the cards with the Bulawayo City Council initiating renovations that seek to change the face of the centre.
“The overall works for the Stanley Hall are at 48 percent. The parts to be renovated are as follows: Roof covering replacement, ceiling replacement, walls repainting, plumbing fittings replacement, fence replacement to match existing fence, stage floor replacement, doors and door frames replacement, electrical refurbishment and landscaping,” BCC’s Corporate Communications Manager Nesisa Mpofu told Sunday Life.
Mpofu said this would be the first significant renovations at Stanley Hall after a lengthy period of time, with similar developments expected in other iconic community halls around the city.
“The Hall has not had major renovations over the years but just general maintenance. The current contract figure is at USD192 917.37. We are currently working on the Mabutweni Hall. Other Halls on the list to be renovated are Lobengula Hall, Nketa Hall, MacDonald, Magwegwe, Pumula Old, Pelandaba, Beit Hall, Njube Hall, Mpopoma, Entumbane, Emakhandeni, and Sizinda,” she said.
However, while Stanley Hall is under renovation, the same courtesy will not be extended to its outdoor twin, Stanley Square, despite both being national monuments.
“The current focus is on Stanley Hall. We expect the works to be completed end of May 2023. As the building is a listed Monument, the Museums were engaged to assist on how to retain its status during the renovations,” she said.
In an interview, arts guru Raisedon Baya said they hoped that the renovations would take into consideration the need to enlighten young people on the significance of Stanley Hall.
“For me, the first question would be are we restoring Stanley Hall in terms of the structure, the building and not restoring what it used to be. For me, it was never just about the building so we need to know exactly what we are restoring. If it’s just the building, a lot of people that are staying in Makokoba, because it’s a younger generation, do not know the importance of the building.
We haven’t been teaching or telling them the importance of that place. So, if we are talking about restoring it, I think it should go deeper and it should go beyond putting new paint, fixing the chairs and putting new lights and then were done.
What is it that needs to be done?” he said.
Baya said the people of Makokoba in particular had grown detached from Stanley Hall, as to many young people it was just another venue that hosted events once in a while.
“For example, right now it is just a hollow place unless if there’s a church service or once in a while a rally but yesteryear there was a vibrancy and importance around the place for people of Makokoba and surrounding areas.
The people of Makokoba went to these places and felt at home and they also knew the importance of those places. So, if we are to talk about restoration, we need to go deeper because we need to make sure that the history of those places is also recognised, for example, a few plaques that will inform people about what the place is about. If we were to put paint only, the younger generation wouldn’t make sense of it.
“I would have loved to have seen some consultation beforehand by council or whoever is doing the renovations so that we need what is needed and what needs to be preserved. For me, without the history of that place documenting why it’s there, who has been there and what has been done, the current generation might not connect to it the way that the older generation used to connect to it.
If we just put paint and glasses, young people will ignore it, in the same way they are no longer using other community halls. Go to McDonald Hall and see what has become of it and go to Matshobana Hall and see what has become of it . . . go to other community halls and see what has become of them,” he said.
Fellow arts aficionado Saimon Mambazo Phiri said the new developments were welcome, as they hoped that renovations would drag Stanley Hall into the 21st Century and attract young people who were gravitating to other parts of the city where they took part in mischief.
“The redevelopment or development of these facilities, in this case Stanley Hall, is a welcome move in the sense the communities are the ones that make most of our public figures, be it celebrities, musicians, politicians, sports personalities.
All these people are made by the communities and it is the communities that celebrate them first before they are embraced by the world. For me, having this happening now is a very welcome move, with my only wish being that they are being renovated to a status that befits current developments.
For example, are they are going to be accessible to young people and will there be new technological developments that we will see and so forth.
“Are we going to see more of our young people going there because our youth are being taken over by the drugs. The lure of these drugs is taking away from places like Makokoba to the city centres and suburbs, far away from the community.
My hope is that the redevelopment of these places will take our youths back to these places where they can harness their talents and skills. So, yes, I am pinning high hopes on these renovations because it is these places that have made people like us, Amakhosi and Black Umfolosi among many others,” he said.