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From KoBulawayo to Bulawayo @ 125

31 May 2019 at 07:30hrs | Views
No sooner had Dr Leander Starr Jameson sauntered into the Maxim Hotel located just west of the Market Square did he pronounce Bulawayo a town. That happened on June 1, 1894, making Bulawayo 125 years old tomorrow.

The historic significance of the declaration lies in the demise of the erstwhile Ndebele State KoBulawayo and its succession by colonial Bulawayo. What had been King Lobengula Khumalo's seat of power witnessed its loss of political and economic power to the invading colonial forces.

The colonial project was being powered by an insatiable desire for wealth in the form of minerals, in particular gold which was believed to be lying in abundance somewhere between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. Somewhere between the two rivers lay the famed King Solomon's mines, so it was believed.  

Not very far from Bulawayo, in the Tati area south of Francistown, gold had been discovered. Diamonds were then discovered in the same year at Kimberly in South Africa, followed by the discovery of gold at the Witwatersrand. Colonial appetite was immensely whetted.

Cecil John Rhodes, who had already struck it rich at both Kimberly and the Wits, was itching to colonise the lands north of South Africa. Indeed, Mashonaland was occupied in 1890. However, gold was not found in the quantities that had been anticipated.

A plan had to be hatched to find a good excuse to launch an attack on the Ndebele State with the hope of finding gold. The Victoria Incidents of July 1893 gave Jameson, the confidante and agent for Rhodes, a golden opportunity for the attack. The Anglo-Ndebele War that ensued saw the crack regiment, Imbizo commanded by Mtshane Khumalo fall on 2 November of that year.  

The fleeing king ordered KoBulawayo burnt, which Sivalo Mahlangu duly did. The invaders were welcomed by the smouldering remains of the erstwhile royal town, KoBulawayo. On the hot ashes of KoBulawayo, Bulawayo was built and was growing fast so that by the following year there was some sizeable settlement worth declaring it a town. This article seeks to throw the spotlight on some labour and settlement issues pertaining to Bulawayo.

It has to be realised that the motive for colonisation was economic. It was the same motive that prompted the enslaving of blacks and the related slave trade for several centuries, starting in the 15th Century CE. Consumption of the fruits of the emerging Bulawayo economy was to be the reserve of whites.

Blacks were to provide cheap labour. Black labour was to be accommodated in separate settlements, notably the Location, later known as Makokoba after the Native Superintendent Fallon who used to walk with a stoop and a walking stick to eavesdrop on conversations in the shanty houses meant for black labourers who were not expected to bring their families into Bulawayo.

The infrastructure, in its varied forms, was being put in place. Roads were being constructed. Buildings were sprouting. Bricks were being moulded. Firewood was being collected from the Commonage-the area surrounding the built up area.

The Western Commonage in Mpopoma, represented by the Magistrates' Courts and a police station – remains as an enduring legacy of that fringing zone where bricks were moulded, firewood collected and horses and cattle grazed. The brickfields were where Nguboyenja Township stands today and the township was nearly named Brickfields when it was established.

Accommodation for black labouring 'bachelors' was provided in the Location and worksites such as, in later years, the Railway Compound, the Cold Storage and Portland Cement. There were some pockets of black settlements in the Central Business District (CBD), such as where the OK Supermarket alley exists, close to where Rhodes' office was (a plaque marks the site of CJR's office). In order to maximise profit margins, wages for blacks were kept low.

Accommodation was squalid, characterised by overcrowding, diseases, antisocial activities such as playing cards, street brawls, prostitution, and consumption of what was termed illicit brew, skokiaan (isikokiyana).  Makokoba, as a black settlement, was not planned, hence its marked difference in comparison to commercial Bulawayo which was pegged on a grid-iron pattern with wide streets and avenues to accommodate planted trees.

Patrick Fletcher used spear heads from broken Ndebele spears when he marked out the town. Some of the black residents were former settlers at KoBulawayo.

Indeed, some royal queens, including senior Queen Lozikeyi Dlodlo (umfaz' otshay' indoda; she possessed a sjambok), upon return from the north, settled to the north-east of where Amakhosi Cultural Centre stands today.

The majority of the Ndebele people fled when occupation forces arrived at KoBulawayo. Be that as it may, there were some that were absorbed into the burgeoning town of Bulawayo where they did not wield any power. Some of them were engaged as labourers, sometimes conscripted-izibhalwa.

Tax laws such as the Hut Tax were applied to force the Ndebele and other Africans to sell their labour on the labour market in exchange for meagre wages. These became local migrant workers who, at the end of each month, rode their bicycles to their rural homes -the reserves created for their exclusive settlement away from Bulawayo.

Bulawayo became, to them, Enkomponi which was perceived in the same vein as mine compounds. Many of them still relied on seasonal agriculture and were thus not a suitable lot in terms of providing continuous employment.

When Rhodes decided to import into Southern Rhodesia, the AmaMfengu people from the Cape Colony, he was driven by a few selfish considerations.  He desired peace and security for white settlers in the growing town of Bulawayo so that they could go about their business without molestation as had happened in 1896 when Imfazo I broke out prompting the Bulawayo white settlers to erect a fort around the Market Square. Fort Street and a disused well, dug and fitted by Engineer F Issels inside the Market Square are constant reminders of the time when the whites were beleaguered.  

The AmaMfengu had declared loyalty to the British crown during their "Fingo Oath" of 1835. They had, by then, Christianised, adopted western education and culture, in particular with regard to dress code. They were thus an ideal people to provide some cordon or buffer against the perceived warlike Ndebele.

Indeed, the plan was to settle them all around Bulawayo; at Mbembesi, Nyamandlovu and Matobo. Further, AmaMfengu had already been introduced to various work disciplines back in the Cape Colony.  Indeed, they were preferred over the indigenous and defeated blacks of Southern Rhodesia. They provided the second tier of workers below the whites.  

They were engaged as porters within the Rhodesia Railways (now the National Railways of Zimbabwe), clerks and shop assistants, inter alia.

Their wages were a lot higher than those of the local blacks, even where sometimes they were doing the same work. Indigenes provided the lowest rung in the hierarchy of workers in Bulawayo.

The high wages period for them was between 1893 and 1906. However, the days of glory were short-lived. Between 1906 and 1922 wages plummeted. As a matter of fact, the level of wages in 1922 was lower than that of 1904.

That was the period when the Rhodesia Native Labour Bureau (RNLB) was created. Its responsibility was to recruit cheap labour from the British colonies north of Southern Rhodesia, that is Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi).

Secondly, there was an influx of white settlers whose arrival saw white labour increase by 68 percent between 1907 and 1911.

The AmaMfengu were displaced from their earlier privileged position in the labour rung by the whites who occupied higher positions as shop assistants, railway enginemen, clerks and other somewhat more sophisticated forms of labour.

Indeed, when a polytechnic for blacks was built at Luveve, there was an outcry from privileged and recognised white labour bodies. In any case, the Labour Relations Act of 1934 did not recognise blacks as workers.

The result of their lobby was the termination of the Luveve Polytechnic. Some of its graduates became headmasters of the then F2 secondary schools in Bulawayo, such as Ihlathi, Sobukhazi, Njube and Msitheli. Khanda P Dube and Mweneziko were some of these school heads in Bulawayo.

In fact, it was the discrimination in the labour market between whites and blacks that ignited the first flames of protest which in the fullness of time transformed into nationalist politics and ultimately the armed liberation struggle culminating in Zimbabwe's independence in April 1980.

Source - chronicle
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