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Bulawayo, the Umthwakazi African City Concept

17 Jul 2019 at 20:57hrs | Views
Prince Zwide Khumalo
Bulawayo, the Umthwakazi African City Concept
Author: Prince Zwide Khumalo
Date: 26 June 2019
Isilo seNtuthuko
Bulawayo and the identity of Umthwakazi or the Ndebele nation are inseparable. As a City of Kings, which hangs on the rich history that it was a Palace of King Lobengula, should see itself changing very fast to a first class example of a typical African City that foremost reflects the cultural gravitas of being Royal in content and activities. Everyone residing in this city should feel and enjoy Royalty. The Umthwakazi nation have a right to claim ownership of this City to assist it to move towards an African City concept, and indeed other ethnic groups in their areas of cultural influence should do the same. This magnificent city has a rich and distinct history that is directly linked to the Ndebele norms, beliefs, taboos and cultural processes. Forty years of independency should by now have seen cities transform into an African flare and for Bulawayo the ingredients of it mutating in that direction are lying bare for technocrats in the city's structure to change it into an enviable cultural destination for all in the world. Critical in moving towards achieving this, is for the Ndebele people to unashamedly assume ownership of the city as the cradle for the revival of Ubuntu and a centre for cultural emancipation.

The politics of the right to claim ownership of Bulawayo lies in the bitter history of oppression by White colonialists. Cecil John Rhodes grabbed the King's Palace, eMahlabathini and built his house on that land. In our culture no-one builds his house on another man's yard(unxiwa) unless with the express permission of the owner of the land. The identity of one's homestead is anchored on the rituals of establishing the home (isikhonkwane). Cecil John Rhodes did not know and /or care to observe the Ndebele culture when he aggressively grabbed and occupied our land. In fact, there is no history record that indicates that isikhonkwane for our Palace was ever removed. This is the land on which our King resided and it is only natural and reasonable for our Kingship to be revived from that land. The Ndebele people are not claiming the colonial C.J. Rhodes House, currently statutorily described as State House, but the land on which it is and that has a direct relationship with our identity. The inaccessibility to that site in the process of reviving our Kingship is denying the Ndebele people the right to practise their culture and the rituals that go along with the process of reviving the Kingship. This creates undue bitterness and frustration particularly when our African Government, most members of which fought a bitter war to remove colonialism, fails to acknowledge this problem and continues to occupy the same house that Rhodes built on our land. Cecil John Rhodes committed cultural genocide in Matabeleland.

One writer, Hart, 2010, quotes The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015 when referring to cultural genocide. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is grabbed, seized and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next in its dealing with, in this case, the Ndebele people of Bulawayo. Colonial settlers did this in Bulawayo.
Technical advice that was given to Umthwakazi Heritage Trust in year 2000 when the writer raised this issue to the City Council as a contribution to the Master Plan process. The suggestion had been that an alternative site be identified in the city and allocated to the Government for constructing its State House. The respondent's advice was that a Master Plan cannot be done for a single building. This was a good point, but it did not solve our bitterness about this occupation. The City's offices have the recommendations of our interaction with the consultant that met the writer, a lawyer and a cultural leader. This is a great opportunity to follow up that recommendation and turn the City into a City that is sensitive to and embraces the culture of the local people.

The stretch of land from the City Hall, northwards bounded in the east by, now Robert Mugabe Road, and Makhokhoba Township on the west stretching for tens of kilometres up to Lupane, Shangani River Ford (where King Lobengula crossed), is a Ndebele cultural corridor. Within the corridor many incidents occurred in form of settlements and battles that relate specifically to the demise of the Ndebele Kingdom that occurred between the 2nd November, 1893 when the King vacated the EMahlabathini Palace in Bulawayo and 4 December, 1893 when the King disappeared. Just the area up to the Richmond Suburb is very rich in cultural and historical monuments associated with the Ndebele people. The King Lobengula Royal Trust and Umthwakazi Heritage Trust that spear-headed the idea in year 2000 sees through the unveiled King Nyamande Lobengula the 2nd Office as another great opportunity for shaping the future developments for the Ndebele people to be informed about the efforts that have previously been made towards the preservation of our identity as a people.  The research that was done when establishing the EPZ on the western side of the United College of Education and the Victoria Falls Road involved consultations with King Lobengula's family, that revealed important historical artefacts in the area east of United College of Education. The Royal Office of Nyamande Lobengula 11 proposes to the Ndebele people to use their knowledge about Bulawayo to enrich the efforts being made to gather up as much data relating to the cultural corridor. Outstanding aspects of the cultural corridor is the Inxwala Site, EMahlabathini Palace/ Umvutsha, Inkomo Zomhambo Cattle Kraal (current car racing course). Turning the Bulawayo City into an African City would require a gestalt approach that is inclusive.

The Aborigines in Australia used art to regain rights over their land. The Ngurrara 1 was painted in 1996. The painting called The Map of Living Waters done on a small piece of canvass was used in a ‘practice run' for a larger painting used in a native claim over much of the Great Sandy Desert. The painting ‘‘appears as a line with circles representing wells. Also shown are jila, the natural springs or waterholes, places important to the claimants''. These wells were used by their ancestors. It represents the artist's country and the Canning Stock Route first used in the early 20th Century on the Western Australia Map. This argument earned the Ngurrara people their land in 2007 and 2012. Ngarralja Tommy May, about 1997, stated, ‘‘[We] were wondering how to tell the court about our country. I said then, ‘‘If kartiya [white people] can't believe our word, they can look at our painting. It says the same thing.'' We got the idea of using our paintings in court as evidence. Then we painted the first one, that little painting! Simple, but with a very deep seated meaning. It is imperative and a very possible narrative to retell the history, culture, rights and identity of Bulawayo through the prism of an African City concept.  

This nation needs to congratulate one of us Cont Mhlanga and the community of Lupane in the Pupu area for spearheading the Shangani Carnival launch. The activities are very rich in culture and need the support of us all. This is an important and very tactical move in our cultural development in that it marks the end point of the cultural corridor and reminds us of the importance of how our Kingdom ended. For purposes of records, representatives of King Lobengula's family were consulted in 2017 and they interacted with the organisers and the Pupu community. The developments at that end of the Ndebele cultural corridor should be a challenge to Bulawayo City to play their positive role in making the City a truly African City. There is no doubt that the establishment of Amakhosi theatre on a site which was our ancestors' water well, many years ago by Cont Mhlanga at this end of the cultural corridor, and now the Shangani Carnival at the other end, is clear evidence that he had the vision. Those that have been around long enough will recall the township tourism efforts that he spearheaded and the recent years Inner-City-Walk-About he guided that identified the history and infrastructure that make Bulawayo a culturally unique place with artefacts irreplicable anywhere in this country. Cont Mhlanga, one likes him or not, is a HERO that has made efforts from which the spring-board for turning Bulawayo into an African City can be anchored. One other way is to celebrate such luminaries whilst they are still alive. This helps to focus on what is of value to the people than mostly personalised and activists based social media opinions.

The Ndebele people of this region are reminded of the fact that this City was built on the adoption of architectural designs from overseas that were integrated with the merciless destruction of the Ndebele pride and identity. The people should not sit back and forget that their identity lies in this City. The Ndebele were disarmed and their spear-heads were used to peg the roads and streets of Bulawayo. This must be taken seriously because it cuts across the very fabric of the Ndebele political power and survival then. The exact original dimensions of the streets and avenues are known because they were measured in between our ancestors's stolen spear-heads. The argument may be that the spear-heads were put into better use in construction than in battles in which lives were lost. This could be a good point and the point also strongly justifies and associates the Ndebele culture and no other nationality, to Bulawayo and provides the City fathers an opportunity to turn that Whiteman's oppressive history into a constructive history that can transform Bulawayo into a true Ndebele cultural destination. If our ancestor's spears were stolen and used to plot the map of Bulawayo, then it makes sense that the local culture should prevail in the City's transformation into a truly African City.

The arguments for Bulawayo's transformation into an African City Concept may not be replicable in Plumtree or Mutare. However, each area has people whose culture relates more specifically to it. One very important aspect of the African culture is a welcoming hand to strangers. The nation needs to adopt a principle of respect for the culture of the local communities. This write-up recalls an example, unfortunately that occurred during the colonial times. Police officers, who were never each less than six (6) foot tall, after training and on deployment would be given small booklets. Each booklet would be detailing the culture, beliefs, norms and taboos of the community the officer would be serving. This assisted the police to catch wrong doers quickly, but they also got to know, recognised and practised certain aspects of the local culture. Visitors to Bulawayo, in the African City concept, would contribute immensely in upholding the culture of the local people. Ubuntu is a value system that if adopted and put into practice in designing, planning and implementing the African City concept in Bulawayo would make everybody wish to get to Bulawayo at some point in time. It is possible to be in Bulawayo in time and space when one is anywhere in this country through highlighting our distinct, differentiated but welcoming culture.

The Ndebele people in Bulawayo and the rest of Matabeleland and Midlands have certain ways they celebrate their being through cultural activities that can brighten up this city's African outlook. The Commemorations that have been used to conscientise the people about the history of King Mzilikazi, (MCA, launched in 2000) and King Lobengula (UHT launched, 2006), KoGadadi Battles that Vukani Mahlabezulu started in 1984 and the Reed Dance that Umthwakazi Heritage Trust launched in 2007 and is currently talent searching to do one in conjunction with King Lobengula Royal Trust, are exclusive to this community. These and other arts activities would liven up the African City Concept. Cultural exchange trips between Bulawayo and regional cities that it is twinned with provide a world of potential cultural activities from which the Africanization of Bulawayo can benefit whilst seeking a new identity. It is the little things that we need to do as a people to have a long term social impact. Some great outcomes of this idea may not be obvious today and it is not the mandate of this article to list them.

The Office of King Nyamande Lobengula 11(Unveiled 17 February, 2018) acknowledges the contributions towards this article by the Royal Planning and Development Committee composed partly of:

1.    An Award Winning Officer at the Australian Museum in Melbourne – Ex National Museums of Zimbabwe

2.    City Manager in America – Ex Bulawayo City Planner

3.    A Doctor in Planning that is based in UK – Ex Bulawayo City Planner

4.    A Senior Town Planner in Canada – Educated in UZ, originally from Kenya with wide African exposure.

Source - Prince Zwide Khumalo
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