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'Oh Ntuthuziyathunqa, my heritage, kindly refuse to die!'

12 Jul 2019 at 10:12hrs | Views
It is with utter dismay, sadness and inexplicable shock, to native Bulawayans and Matabelelanders in general, to hear through the grapevine, of the proposed monstrous intentions of the culturally insensitive Zimbabwe Power Company(ZPC) to demolish the iconic and legendary 'ntuthuziyathunqa' cooling towers located at the Bulawayo Thermal Power Station.

A subsidiary of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority(ZESA) Holdings, ZPC vehemently claims to own the towers. Contrary, the  'smoking towers' or 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers are essentially the cultural heritage of the people of Bulawayo and Matabeleland, and are thereby culturally owned by them.

The inconsiderately proposed demolition of the towers by ZPC is a monumental threat to the Ndebele cultural heritage and its conservation. The callous and hellish initiative to demolish the aforementioned 'smoking towers' is overtly counter-productive and a piercing stab on democracy and Matabeleland development. In that regard, the demolitions should be fervently resisted at all costs, and to the very last man standing, if need be.

Legacy of the 'smoking towers'

The 'smoking towers' are an endangered cultural heritage resource for the people of Bulawayo and Matabeleland. They are a non-renewable resource which should be jealously guarded and shielded from possible destruction. This form of heritage is the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group that are inherited from past generations(UNISA 2010). It boasts of tangible and intangible facets of heritage. Where as tangible cultural heritage entails physical artefacts produced, maintained and transmitted intergenerationally, intangible cultural heritage covers those aspects of a country or heritage resource or object that cannot be touched or seen. In that vein, the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers are  the legacy of both physical and intangible cultural aspects of heritage that the people of Bulawayo value and cherish. To  them, the phenomenon of 'Kontuthuziyathunqa'  is far greater and immeasurably invaluable than an outsider could imagine. The towers are a form of physically and socially constructed heritage by the native people of Bulawayo and is an essential part of their lives. The iconic and renowned musician, Lovemore Majaivana, in one of his songs, ably expresses it through the nostalgic words, "Umoya wami ukhatshana Kontuthuziyathunqa". In that context, one would expect ZPC to respect the legacy of the cultural values of Bulawayo, the city of the gallant king, Lobhengula kaMzilikazi. Agonizingly, the company failed in that regard.    

Symbol of Bulawayo cultural identity    

The 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers are an unparalleled symbol of Bulawayo cultural heritage and identity demanding a bulwark against destruction. The towers are an endangered cultural heritage resource yearning for protection and conservation from any sober-minded individual, group or organization. Consequently, any unilateral approach to demolition of the towers by ZPC would be the worst and primitively barbaric form of underdevelopment worth frowning upon.

What would be Bulawayo without the iconic  'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers? That would be the last straw at stripping the Bulawayans and Matabelelanders of their basic ubuntu, culture and heritage. Are we not a people because of our cultural heritage and identity? That should never be erased by anyone notwithstanding their colossal economic or political power. "A nation without a past is a lost nation. And a people without a past is a people without a soul"(Sir Seretse Khama).

An insult to modern development practice   

The unseemly behaviour by ZPC is an insult to modern development practice which the company should have adopted but deliberately ignored. Contemporary professional development approaches require, at the very minimum, extensive community consultation and involvement way ahead of any commencement of a project that affects community life, history, culture and livelihood. In that regard, it is imperative for the company to concede that  although they could be owning the towers financially(through their monetary muscle and advantage), locals culturally own them(towers) and should therefore be timeously consulted for either consent or dissent to any proposed development initiative or demolition thereof. The preferred option would then hinge on whether the need for demolition outweighs that for preservation, vice versa. Sadly and annoyingly, ZPC has chosen to act in complete defiance and collision with the dictates of modern development practice of inclusivity and mutual consideration in decision-making on matters of public interest. This is despite the fact that heritage is immensely under threat from human economic development, even at global level, thereby unequivocally calling for the intensification of protective and mitigative measures to ensure that current heritage resources like the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers will also be available for use by future generations. The fact that heritage is under threat and is a non-renewable resource, compels anyone including ZPC, to ensure its protection and conservation.

Suggested approach or methodology

ZPC could have done its reputation and the people of Bulawayo a huge favour by adopting a clear pathway leading to the proposed devilish demolitions of the two cooling towers. One would humbly suggest that they carry out a comprehensive impact assessment and produce a detailed report thereof. The report should twin with another detailed report on the analysis or assessment of the significance of the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers to the culture of local inhabitants. Such a scientific and culturally sensitive approach could provide a sound and indisputable stand-point for the demolitions or preservation of the towers.

Establishing significance

At the outset, consideration of the significance of the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers from all cultural dimensions would help gauge their significance, perceived importance  or value. This would imply mutual respect and consideration of the people of Bulawayo and their cultural heritage. In that regard, the learned company could effortlessly adopt the following format(adapted from South Africa 1999) of a report to establish the significance of the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers by analysing their:

a)    importance  to the Bulawayo  community or pattern of Bulawayo and Matabeleland history

b)    uncommon, rare or endangered aspects, for example, the cultural heritage aspect which is endangered globally

c)    potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Bulawayo and Matabeleland's natural or cultural heritage such as Dr Joshua Nkomo's house in Phelandaba

d)    importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by the Bulawayo community or cultural group

e)    special association with the life of individuals, groups or organizations in the history of Bulawayo

f)    creative or technical excellence through their demonstration of a high degree of creative and technical achievement at a particular period

g)    strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

Notably and interestingly, the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers qualify under the majority of classifications stated above in assessing their significance. With that in mind, even a layperson can effortlessly deduce that ZPC's actions have not been above board in its approach and attitude towards the demolitions. Naturally, that should sprinkle the company with smelly owl-egg stuff on its face!

Impact assessment report

It is common knowledge that any development initiative or project should be preceded by an impact assessment and a relevant report produced thereof. Such an assessment should basically cover an archaeological impact assessment(AIA), a social impact assessment(SIA) and an environmental impact assessment(EIA), at the very minimum. Even herd boys in my rural village, Zwelabo, would expect that. Shockingly, no evidence has been provided to that effect by ZPC, unless it has been arrogantly kept private. The company's press release of 21 June 2019, haughtly announces the demolitions but shamelessly  shies away from providing any other relevant information or detail. As a solution, one would suggest that ZPC diligently adopt the following format of an impact assessment report(adapted from South Africa 1999) to approach the demolitions project:

a)    Identification and mapping of all heritage resources in the area affected by the demolitions

b)    Analysis or assessment of the impact of the proposed demolitions

c)    Evaluation of the impact of the demolitions relative to sustainable social and economic benefits

d)    Consultation of the community to establish consent to the demolitions. (Their participation and involvement is crucial).

e)    Consideration of alternatives if heritage resources will be negatively affected by the demolitions

f)    Recommendation of mitigation measures to ameliorate any adverse effects during and after the completion of the proposed demolitions.

One should be forgiven to expect that the company has ample and able human resources in the form of social scientists and anthropologists to advise it accordingly. The report proposed above could either provide unquestionable justification for the demolitions or lack thereof. Resultantly, the involvement of the affected community could be the fitting settlement of the bill. Unfortunately, the culturally insensitive and uncaring ZPC chose the default mode in that regard.

Back to the drawing board

Basically, ZPC, inescapably has to go back to the drawing board and reconsider their haughty, arrogant and retrogressive attitude towards the people of Bulawayo and the demolition of the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers. It is inevitable for the esteemed company to exercise extreme restraint, caution and respect as it approaches this very sensitive subject. It is noteworthy that to the native people of Bulawayo, the 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers are what the pyramids are to the Egyptians, or Great Zimbabwe is, to the Wezhiras.

One wonders where those running the rings in the company originate from as they appear to be devoid of any respect and awareness of the fame and cultural value of the legendary  "Kontuthuziyathunqa" phenomenon. ZPC's hazardous approach calls for decisive action! An all-stakeholders approach is unavoidable to stitch the ugly patches on the company's embarrassingly worn out underwear. Significant others that should be involved in the decision-making include but are not limited to, the Bulawayo City Council(BCC), residents and their associations, culturists, the business community, NGOs, civic society groups, environmentalists and or development professionals. Any failure to be inclusive, whether deliberate or otherwise, would be foolhardy, to say the least.


Consequently, it cannot be overstated that heritage conservation should be top priority for sustainable development to be achieved. Cultural heritage is the lifeblood of any community or society. Therefore, ZPC and other like-minded individuals and organizations should ensure that they show respect for local cultural heritage resources and communities, including the deliberate recruitment of local human resources, specifically from Matabeleland. Ultimately, an unequivocal call is made for the unconditional tail-docking and head-clamping of the ZPC from attacking Ndebele cultural heritage through the unilateral demolitions of the famous 'ntuthuziyathunqa' towers.

 The message to the iconic, though lifeless, 'smoking towers' is: 'Oh Ntuthuziyathunqa, my cultural heritage, kindly refuse to die!'.

Those who can, let them hear!

Nhlanhla Moses writes in his capacity as an ordinary Nkayian and ardent heritage conservationist, and can be contacted on:

App: +27 73 386 2303

Source - Nhlanhla Moses
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