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The lost industrial glory of the city of Bulawayo

01 May 2020 at 07:53hrs | Views
AFRICAN nationalism demands that the history of British colonialism must be condemned at every opportunity and I must be counted among those who lose no opportunity to condemn this phenomenal episode in the history of mankind. But that was just one side of an incredible story.

Nostalgia impels me to pay tribute to British colonialism for its role in the creation of Bulawayo's industrial life while it lasted and created the country's industrial complex which was unequalled north of the Limpopo River.

I will in my narrative ignore the fact the industrial complex became possible because of the abundance of cheap (even slavery) labour because there could have been no cheap labour to talk about if industrial ingenuity and capital investment had not formed the pillar on which Bulawayo's industrial glory rested.

Industrial ingenuity and capital investment, therefore, were combined with cheap labour to create industries and commercial undertakings which provided employment for the general good. The inequality of labour and capital, therefore, created the industrial boom which resulted from the two imperatives working together for the general good.

My narrative is wholly based on memory and if I fail to mention by name all those who played a role in the development of the city of Bulawayo, it is simply because I can't remember all of them, and not because of spite.

My tribute, however, goes to all who made this city great. This is the story of a city that no-one can do justice to because space is a constraint. The layout of the city was designed to have two districts, separated in the east by Main Street to Wilson Street. Between Main Street and Fort Street you have all those great buildings that are hemmed in between Sixth Avenue and 10th Avenue.

Some of the major historical buildings include the Bulawayo Post Office Complex, the law courts in nearby Tredgold Building, the High Court and across the York House complex.

Opposite the south-end of the Post Office is Barclays Bank Building which includes the Bulawayo Club and further to the south, the Mimosa House, with the Palace Hotel across the road in what is the home of the Bulawayo Centre today. The roads in the eastern district of the city (the reader will notice) are double carriage ways.

It is in this block of buildings (between 15th Avenue and Six Avenue) where major trading houses like Meikles, Haddon and Sly, the Bulawayo Central Police and (nearby) Kaufman Sons and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe opposite Meikles. Diagonally opposite Meikles Department Store is the original building of R. Chitrin the wholesalers.

At the corner of Sixth Avenue and what was Fife Street (which by-passes the Central Police Station) was Johnson and Fletcher, hardware and timber merchants. I often wonder whether Johnson in this partnership was not the same man who was paid 90 000 pounds sterling to lead the historic Mashonaland Pioneers which in 1890 occupied Mashonaland.

I do know for fact, however, that the Fletcher in this partnership was for many years a minister in Sir Godfrey Huggins' government and also worked with Sir Edgar Whitehead. He is the same man after whom Fletcher High School in Gweru was named. Fletcher High was an elitist school for blacks, in the line of Plumtree High School for whites, mostly farmers' children. Both were boys' schools.

I know one great man who went to Fletcher High, Simba Mumbengegwi who was probably the longest serving Foreign minister in the history of Zimbabwe. Along what is today Jason Moyo Street, before you cross 8th Avenue, there was Preece and MacKenzie the booksellers. Opposite the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, across Leopold Takawira was Justin Smith Chemist where Dr Barnnett Nyathi's father worked as a dispenser for many years, and was later joined by Kenneth Nxumalo, a former school-mate of mine at Luveve Primary School.

One can't write the history of Bulawayo without mentioning the first motor vehicle importers, Dulys Limited in their home on Jason Moyo Street between 11th Avenue and 12th Avenue, neighbours Treger Group of Companies, the manufacturers of travel goods, enamelware, window frames and door frames now occupy a complex of buildings from their Khami Road complex that spills over to Thorngrove in an aggressive diversification move which has taken the group to the city's Light Industrial district where they are into manufacturing a wide range of consumer goods for local and export markets. The city's only firm of glaziers, C.H. Naake opposite Haddon and Sly, holds a special place in my memory because there were three relatives working there.

The two brothers Magedi and Roya Ncube and their cousin John Makiwa, whose father was my mother's cousin. Magedi and Roya's was my mother's paternal aunty. It so happened that my own son, Enos was to find himself working for C.H. Naake which now has a place in the Light industrial area of the city. With Makiwa and the Ncube brothers was Mabandhla Ndiweni, also from Kezi.

In 1894 The Bulawayo Chronicle became the first newspaper in the British jewel colony of Southern Rhodesia. Behind the window of the Editor's office, across what was Rhodes Street, was the firm of Douglas Hadfield, the toolmakers and directly opposite the newspaper's front door, was of E.W. Tarry, hardware merchants. When the Plate Glass Company in the late 1940s broke the C.H. Naake monopoly from South Africa, the new comers poached Makiwa and Ndiweni to open a new branch in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia. Ndiweni took with him two relatives, Lawrence Ndiweni and James Bhudi Ndiweni.

The reader by now has (rightly) begun to wonder why all this waffling about double carriage and single carriage roadways of the city, with which I opened the story without explaining why it was designed. Those who designed the city's layout plan had decided to create double carriage roadways to enable animal driven vehicles to deliver merchandise to the stores.

The complex of buildings (from 15th Avenue to the stream that faces Lobels Brothers) belonged to the haulage firm of Fox and Bookless.

The complex of buildings lies between Main Street extension and Fort Street Extension. One of my father's brothers, Dokotela was a mule driver of one these vehicles for many years and later his son Mhlatshelwa joined him.

Their work was to collect merchandise from the Railways and deliver to the stores in that eastern district where it was easy for the mule vehicle to-turn in front of the stores where goods were to be delivered. But as motorised vehicles increased, mule vehicles used the sanitary lane to deliver goods.

Every contingency had been carefully planned for to forestall expected increase in the number of motor vehicles, when mule wagons were phased out in the early 1950s.

The home of what today is Lobels Brothers was an outspan where I remained with our wagon and donkeys while my father drove our goats to what was called "esibayeni", near today's Department of Veterinary Services, to be sold to raise money so that we were able to buy mealie meal and other necessities to take back home. The mealie-meal came from Harris Bothers on 13th Avenue Extension and the millers later became Palte-Harris when Palte Brothers moved to join Harris Brothers to become one organisation of millers.

Palte Bros had been operating off London Road on the way to the Cold Storage Commission.

One can't tell the story of Bulawayo without mentioning the fact the city was the home of Rhodesia Sugar Refinery whose base today is a timber yard opposite ZUPCO depot on Khami Road, and consumers are now using foreign refined sugar. My father knew only two white men by name: one Pilo and Harry Schuur. Pilo was in fact Reuben Pilossof's father, a cattle buyer who used my father as an "agent" who told villagers in Kezi when Mr Pilossof would next be visiting the area to buy their cattle.

Mr Schuur, a skin and hide merchant who, I can say without hesitation, was the founder of the city's tanning industry which in turn serviced the shoe-making industry. He operated from a complex of buildings between Grey Street and Rhodes Street, and 9th Avenue and Eighth Avenue.

Mr Schuur (the African people called him Shuwa) was a short round man who wore expensive clothes and sported a Buttersby hat and liked smoking cigars which he hardly removed from his mouth. He was a great friend of the people of Kezi and left them a hospital when he died.

We have to this day the Harry Schuur Memorial Hospital to remember. It was great fun to watch Mr Schuur and my father haggling over the price of a skin or hide and when Mr. Schuur removed the cigar from his mouth, with two fat fingers open like a fork, the deal was done and everyone went home happy.

In Bulawayo's heavy industrial life was the heavy structural engineering firm of Hogarths and further down Steelworks, in the left corner after Ingwebu Breweries, is the firm of Turners Asbestos whose products provide roofing for every home in the city's high density suburbs.

Opposite Ingwebu Breweries is the firm of Zimplow, the makers of animal-drown ploughs for the region since those pioneer days. Along Khami Road you had the iron and steel engineering firm of F.Issels' the iron and steel engineering firm which was known by the people of Bulawayo by the telling name of "ensimbini". There were many, many other firms that qualified to be named by that telling description of what in fact was the backbone of Bulawayo's heavy iron and steel industry. Many of these industries worked double shifts.

If you turned on Khami Road to face east, you had O. Connolly & Sons before they moved to Kelvin Industrial site where they were into all sorts of iron and steel engineering and foundry where rolling stocks were made. Still on Khami Road, opposite Western Commonage Police Station, there is the firm of quarry masters, Davis Granite, the sole suppliers of quarry stone products used in construction and building industries. They remain the major suppliers of quarry stone and related products since the 1800s.

Bulawayo was the home of the country's textile industry which employed tens of thousands of people and, in turn, provided livelihood to untold numbers of African people. There was one man, Delma Lupepe who tried to save part of this industry but failed. The onslaught against the industry was simply beyond human salvation. He ended making formidable enemies in high places and today can only be a broken hearted man whose noble efforts to save the industry for Bulawayo failed.

When Minister of Local Government July Moyo last year addressed a packed Bulawayo City Hall on devolution, a young woman amazed those who were gathered in the hall by demanding: "Where are our machines? Bring back our machines", she demand. I doubt if the minister knew what she was talking about. She went without anyone answering her question. She was too young to have been working in one of those factories suffered untold plunder as sewing machines, spinning machines and motors that drove the machines were stripped and sold for a fraction of their real value as this mad plunder of the industry went unchecked, and her parents were thrown out of work.

The former workers went without their weekly pay packets, never to recover their pensions of years of hard work. Today some of those factories are producing music and salvation for members of religious organisations that now occupy them, and there is no one to answer the girl's question.

Bulawayo was the home of tyre makers for the region in the trade name of Dunlop Ltd, until the investors decided Zimbabwe was not a favourable investment destination.

Bulawayo was the home of Directory Publishers for the country's telecommunications industry, and subscribers to the telephone service got a free copy of the directory. Such prosperity was for this country for the taking.

A division of Rhodesia Printing and Publishing Company, now Zimpapers Group of Companies, was the sole printer of bank cheques for the region, but the machinery was moved to Harare during the shake-up that destroyed Bulawayo's contribution to the country's economy.

The sad story of the lost glory of the city goes on and no-one wants to remember the invaluable corporate taxes that went with the wanton destruction of the city's economy. Where are our machines? Bring back our machines.

Jonathan Maphenduka can be contacted on 0772 332 404

Source - chronicle
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