The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu and Raymond Jaravaza, Sunday Life Reporters
LAST week, it was suggested that perhaps one way of nipping the problem of violence perpetrated by schoolboys in Bulawayo was to phase out the city’s remaining single-sex schools, turning them into mixed ones.
Given the constant violence witnessed on the streets of Bulawayo between boys from Gifford and Milton High School Boys, some might have felt that this was a long overdue antidote to a headache that just simply refuses to go away.
For a city that prides itself on cleanliness and ubuntu, the ugly fights that seem to randomly erupt on any street corners are a blight that could not be ignored forever.
However, some might have felt that the powers-that-be are in danger of prescribing the wrong medicine as they do not understand the nature of the illness they are examining. Coming down with a sledgehammer on single sex schools, after a heartbreaking incident that occurred between boys from a same-sex school might seem to be a simplistic misdiagnosis of the problem to some.
To men that have come through both schools, however, the changing of the orientation of both schools might be an even tougher pill to swallow, as it might feel like a heavy-handed erasure of a part of their own history.
But if both schools are to remain single-sex, what is to be done about the violence? And where does the urge to indulge in violence come from? Last week, our reporters, Bruce Ndlovu and Raymond Jaravaza went down memory lane to revisit some of their own experiences at the two-rival school.
The Gifford Perspective
The first time I came face-to-face with the prospect of mass violence between Milton and Gifford Boys was when I was in Form 4 (2007). Before that fateful day, the threat of a clash with boys from the other schools had remained that, just a threat.
Up until that point, I had been wise enough to avoid all the “hotspots” where clashes could be expected.
For example, on Fridays I would never stray near the City Hall, but instead I, alongside my crew, would reserve our mischief to the peripheries of the city centre. The only time I would rub shoulders with Milton boys would be at Egodini (bus terminus) and usually by then, it would be too late to indulge in any form of violence.
On that day, however, I remember it was a Friday, we had decided to skip school (I can now confess this as my father cannot deliver any form of justice from his grave, MHSRIP).
It was the Eveline Girls High ’s annual sports day, and we had decided that the day belonged to us just as much to us as it did to the girls in brown serge.
Cheap alcohol and other illicit tools of the trade that our teenaged livers could withstand were gathered and we made our way to the Eveline school grounds for what we felt would be a lovely day in the sun.
What we did not bargain for, however, was that Milton Boys would on that occasion, decide to encroach on “our territory”.
In the heat of the morning, as our peers were preparing to beat each other on the sports field, battle lines were drawn. Suddenly we found all Gifford Boys grouped in one side and all the Milton Boys bunched on the other. Never mind the fact that before that, as we were not in uniform, we did not know who was who – we just seemed to know who our allies were as the war drums beat louder and louder.
There must have been over 150 of us on the field and I must admit, my stomach was doing cartwheels at the prospect of suddenly eating knuckles from boys that I did not know and would probably never meet again in my life. There was also the prospect of messing up my carefully selected outfit for that day, a piece I had selected to impress the girls sweating it out on the field.
In the end, there was no exchange of blows as a quick agreement was struck after the Milton boys agreed that they were interested in having a nice time and did not have the stomach for an unnecessary fight. A ceasefire was declared for that day.
However, before hostilities were postponed, we all knew our roles should a fight had commenced. In fact, a few of the boys whose knuckles were itching were probably disappointed that no blood was spilt.
We were the Form 4s now and the school’s honour depended on us to protect it.
This was basically the mentality during my time at Gifford. It was cowardly and taboo to walk away from a fight with a Milton boy and anyone who did this was a disgrace. From our first day as Form Ones, we had been taught to despise the Milton badge and we were “toughened” through some rough treatment for the eventual day that we would have to face Milton boys.
It is a rivalry that we found in existence and left and, if the scenes on the streets of Bulawayo are anything to go by, has gathered pace. However, like others, I feel that changing these schools, with all their history, would be throwing out the baby with the bath water. Perhaps, what needs to be investigated is how the rivalry seems to have lost its way, with violence thought of being the best way to settle scores that were decided using other means in the past.
The Milton Perspective
In the blink of an eye, a quiet and uneventful July 2019 afternoon at a street corner near the Chronicle building (9th Avenue/George Silundika Street) is suddenly turned into a combat zone by a group of marauding boys from Milton and Gifford High Schools.
The boys, numbering about 15, exchange blows and the war zone dangerously drifts into the centre of the busy 9th Avenue as fists and booted feet fly, with school bags simultaneously used as shields and weapons. It’s a war that starts and ends very quickly but the level of violence is a scary sight for any passerby.
This reporter, together with colleagues from Zimpapers, watches the drama unfold from the first floor of the Chronicle building and being an Old Miltonian myself (2002-2003), the running battles brought memories of days old.
It must be clearly stated that Sunday Life does not support violence. This article serves to enlighten readers about the unending street fights between learners of the two schools.
From my time at Milton, I know the boys don’t necessarily need a reason written in stone to mercilessly pound one another. When you’re in there, it’s all about dominance, honouring the school badge, protecting the name and reputation of the school.
To achieve this, imaginary boundaries are created by the self-appointed leaders of the violent gangs, boundaries that should never be crossed by learners of a rival school.
For instance, in our time, the Centenary Park and Bulawayo Museum area, the Bulawayo City Hall vicinity and the Haddon and Sly surrounding areas in the Central Business District are “exclusively” Milton High territory and rivals from Gifford High pay a heavy price if caught on the wrong side of town.
Wearing the wrong school colours at the Bulawayo City Hall parking lot, an area frequented by Milton High boys after school hours is an invitation for a thorough beating by the trigger-happy teenagers.
They are so obsessed by honouring the school badge that the boys literally enforce the school motto “Quit ye like men be strong” yet far from it, the motto in essence actually promotes excellence in academics, sports and not violence.
Milton Old Boys Association member Theo Weale, a student from 1993 to 1998, said rivalry between the two schools has always existed from time immemorial but violence was never meant to be part of the package. Weale played for the Milton High rugby first team during his school days.
“The rivalry between Milton and Gifford High Schools is healthy competition for dominance by two of Bulawayo’s oldest all-boys schools. The rivalry has always been settled on the rugby pitch, basketball courts and soccer fields.
“On the academic side, the rivalry is settled in debate sessions as well as which school posts the highest pass rates in public examinations, but it was never meant to encourage the boys to engage in fists fights,” said a concerned Weale.
Calls have been made to abandon the all-boys school system in Bulawayo after the death of a Founders High School student – Wayne Ndlovu – who was stabbed by a 17-year-old learner from Hamilton High School. The alleged killer has since been arrested and the case is in the courts.
However, a former student at Magwegwe High, Meluleki Mlilo said school violence is also rampant in the western suburbs and in mixed schools.
“Magwegwe High is an old rival of Amhlophe High in Pumula East suburb and the violence used to escalate when the teams met in football tournaments and played against each other. Grown men who learnt at both schools would come to watch the games armed with all sorts of weapons just to instigate the violence. Unfortunately, innocent learners would get injured when the school gangs fought to settle old scores,” said Mlilo.
The high schools are separated by the busy Khami Road that divides Pumula East and Old Magwegwe suburbs, two old townships where the schools are located.