The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
THE clock at the Bulawayo City Hall stopped ticking at 20 minutes before the hour of 11.
No one knows whether it was night or day when it stopped ticking. No one seems to remember exactly the date when the giant hands of a clock that stands over a city went limp, as it gave up on its task of counting time.
Last week, on a busy Friday afternoon, few seemed to notice, let alone remember, as the silent, motionless clock looked over their day-to-day activities. The boys from Gifford and Milton High Schools, their fists itching for another brawl as hapless elders looked, certainly took little notice.
Neither did the vendors with one eye on their wares, and another on the sky-blue uniforms of lurking municipal police officers. The clock that now hovers aimlessly above the centre of the city at one time used to chime loudly, announcing the passing of every hour. If it had chimed on that hot spring afternoon, perhaps it could have helped a man, briefcase in hand, who rushed past a throng of school going children, vendors and touts as if his very life depended on it.
“It has been a long time since that clocked made any noise,” Mbonisi Sibanda, a flower vendor, told Sunday Life. “I remember when I was a child, we used to hear it on the special occasions when we visited town with our parents. But ever since I started working around here, I have never seen it in working order. Actually, before you mentioned it, I didn’t even notice.”
When asked for comment, Bulawayo City Council’s manager for Corporate Communications, Nesisa Mpofu said even the city fathers were not aware of when the clock went silent.
“Unfortunately, I do not have the exact date when the clock and chimes stopped working at the moment,” she said.
With wrist watches, laptops and phones all providing time on the go, it is no wonder that what used to be a city’s main source of time is now regarded by some as of little consequence. However, the clock is not just another mere time-piece that can just be eliminated from the wrist when something slicker, shinier comes along.
The clock is supposed to be one of the city’s main attractions, putting it on par with such tourist delights as the St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Natural History Museum.
In 2014, the Bulawayo City Council, the local authority revealed that it had identified 19 tourist attraction sites in conjunction with local stakeholders which could be used as a way of boosting local industry.
The sites include the Tower Clock and Chimes, the Bulawayo Hanging Tree, Mzilikazi Memorial Library, Mzilikazi Art and Craft Centre, Mzilikazi Art and Craft Centre Pottery Section, Matabeleland War Memorial Cenotaph, Memorial Indaba Plaque — City Hall, City Hall Grounds, Hillside Dams, Inxwala Festival Grounds, Makokoba Herbal Market, Stanley Square and Hall, McDonald Hall, Barbourfields Stadium, Magwegwe Water Tower and others.
According to the BCC, the town clock and chimes were presented to the people of Bulawayo as a Jubilee Gift by Mrs. E.L. Wynne, a resident of Bulawayo since 1898. The striking arrangement consists of five bells, the chime of four bells being Westminster chimes.
First used on the clock at Great St. Mary’s, Cambridge, these were originally called the Cambridge Chimes and are derived from German-British Baroque composer George Frederic Handel’s ‘Messiah’. The Town Clock and chimes were set in motion by the donor on 4 November 1940, the day Rhodesian settlers occupied Bulawayo. The clock itself cost £599, 09.
“Mrs. Wynne pressed the button which started the mechanism of the clock at half a minute before noon. After a short interval, the chimes rang out a loud and clear and the major bell struck the 12 strokes. Once again, the cheered with enthusiasm, and led by Mayor Walter Howard, gave three resounding cheers to Mrs. Wynne,” the Chronicle reported of events on that day.
At the time of its commissioning, the then Town Engineer Mr A. C. Thornton said that the clock was such a simple mechanism that it had intrigued him right from the beginning. He said that he had taken some trouble to examine the flood dials from various points and had found that at a mile away, the time could not be seen clearly. He thought that the dials should be illuminated from the inside.
The then town Electrical Engineer (J.W. Phillips) announced that it was intended to establish reflectors behind the four faces of the clock and he hoped that when this was done it would be possible to read the time that at a greater distance.
During the launch, the mayor of the city remarked that, “I refer to Mr Wynne who was the descendent of the 1820 settlers and very proud of that fact. He arrived in the Colony in 1898 and became a very critical member of this community in which he lived until his death. Today we have among us no less than 10 grandchildren of the late Mr Wynne and Mrs. Wynne”
The name Elwyn Chimes sounded Welsh so, Mrs. Wynne told the mayor, in a town in a British colony, that her husband was a descendant of Welsh parents and had as his motto, the words “I serve.” She said one day they would have to think of putting words to the chimes and she had already conceived one line – “I serve you all.”
In her speech Mrs. Wynne waxed poetical about the City of Kings and Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, at a time when most black Africans were actually still in the periphery of the real running of their country. In a poetic speech, Mrs. Wynne gave an outline of the city that was to become Bulawayo.
Mrs. Wynne said “I am very pleased to be here on this occasion to present the clock and chimes to the very town of Bulawayo in memory of my husband. It was not much of a town in the early days of 1898 – just a handful of rather uncomfortable dwellings without any modern conveniences, a hotel or two and the usual necessary public offices. Now it is a flourishing commercial town with wide streets, good shops and fine public buildings, the greatest and best which is the new Town hall of which we are justly proud.
“Rhodesia in its early days was stern and wild…Now it is a prosperous colony with good roads, many towns and well bridged rivers. Our Rhodesia is the land of fleeing species, the crystal morn, a land whose wide, trackless fields and kopjes contain countless stores of hidden, precious gold. There is a pleasure in those pathless woods. There is a rapture on the lonely hills unknown, unfelt in any other country. What is this attraction? What is this fascination? It is the claw, the powerful magnet which Rhodesia holds to draw all true colonists, whether they wander far or near.
“Have you ever stood at the very top of the World’s View in the still airs of the evening and watched the moon ride in silvery splendour through the heavens? The whole surrounding landscape is bathed in the soft fairy like radiance which seems almost too beautiful to be real. Have you been there in the early morning when the first russet hues of dawn touch the horizon and the majestic sun sails forth in all its grandeur to spread its brilliance on the waiting sky?
His giant beams like mighty flags unfurled teach the whole waking world its glory. There are every day occurrences but very beautiful to us because they are Rhodesian,” she said.
When they were first rung, the Elwyn Chimes did not sound between 2000 and 0615 out of consideration for the people staying in nearby hotels or in restaurants. Now they do not ring at all.
BCC’s Corporate Communications manager, Nesisa Mpofu, said for the chimes to sing again, they needed a 100ah 12V battery, a 24-hour time switch which sticks sometimes, resulting in time loss, an hourly drive gear, whose teeth are worn out resulting in clock jamming and a pulse transmitter which is faulty.