A city in the motherland of Matabeleland. From Town to International Destination City Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabweafter the capital city, Harare. Bulawayo is a city rich in cultural history and a must visit for anyone coming to Zimbabwe. It is one of the oldest and historically most important of Zimbabwe’s towns. Certainly one cannot say that they have experienced the full range of Zimbabwe’s diversity if they have not been to this bustling city in the Matabeleland part of the country of Zimbabwe. Bulawayo is one of the country’s most attractive cities and a major transport hub for Southern Africa although not forgetting the likes of Gwanda, Beitbridge, Plumtree, Hwange, Victoria Falls all make up this wonderful industrious Matabeleland with its beautiful wild life and rich culture.
Bulawayo was the capital of the Ndebele state when Lobengula, son of the King Mzilikazi ascended to the throne. Lobengula’s initial royal town, established in 1872, was located about 14 miles of the present day city, on a ridge dominated by the Thabas Inyoka – “hill of serpents”. This town has been rebuilt and is known as “old Bulawayo”. Lobengula eventually moved his royal town, and the locality of the modern Bulawayo city was chosen by King Lobengula and he also named his royal town Bulawayo, which is the Ndebele word for “the place of slaughter”, in recognition of an armed struggle that Lobengula was involved in when he ascended to the throne, i.e. “He was being opposed and persecuted by his opponents- and he came out victorious”.
On 4 November 1893, a tattered Union Jack flag in whose centre was emblazoned the lion emblem of the British South Africa Company was tied one of the tree’s branches on the side of Bulawayo drive. In the distance, the huts of Lobengula’s capital were burning on the further side of the stream. The flag was raised to signify the capture of Bulawayo and the successful conclusion of the Matabele War. Dr Leander Starr Jameson was among those who watched the flag being raised above the Bulawayo Drive that day, and he congratulated himself on having conquered Matabeleland in a remarkable cavalry blitzkrieg. Annually, on the 4th of November Bulawayo remembers the flag raising ceremony by the British South Africa Company, as this represents the official founding of Bulawayo as a town.
But by one of those coincidences in which history rejoices, on that same day the City also commemorates the death and funeral of Mzilikazi, the founder of the Matebele Nation. This is wholly fitting, since Bulawayo is a city belonging to Africans and to Europeans alike, and its history cannot be divorced from that of the province of Matabeleland. Mzilikazi led the Matebele nation to the high veld around Bulawayo in 1840, and he ruled it until his death in late September of 1868. After prolonged ritual ceremonies his interment began on 2 November 1868 at Entumbane in the Matopo Hills and was concluded two days later, exactly twenty-five years before Jameson’s frontiersmen nailed their flag to a tree.
Like a phoenix, the present day multi-ethnic City of Bulawayo rose on the remains of King Lobengula’s capital, with its wide tree-lined roads (the original streets of Bulawayo were constructed so as to allow a team of sixteen oxen to make a full turn), and a distribution of skyscrapers. Present day Bulawayo, is clearly unrecognizable from King Lobengula’s capital, as it bares no resemblance. In 1894 a town of a gridiron pattern was taking shape and In 1897 Bulawayo acquired a municipal status.
Bulawayo is essentially a military town: few places of its size can have seen so many battles fought around it. It was born in battle after Lobengula had defeated the Zwangendaba regiment and it was resurrected following the vital battle of Bembesi. The town is strategically placed on the apex of the great Zimbabwean plateau and commands access to it from the south, so that in a military sense whoever holds Bulawayo holds Zimbabwe. In 1896 when the Matabele found their temper again after the defeats of Jameson’s war, Bulawayo became a symbol rather than a place, a symbol of the white men’s determination to withstand the greatest challenge ever presented to them in southern African. The Matebele uprising has come to be known as the 1896-7 Rebellion, or “the Matabele war” or “the First Chimurenga”. Geographically, Bulawayo city is located in Matabeleland, and is west of Harare. It is strategically located as a link between South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and the rest of the country. It thus has the dual role of being the regional capital for Southern Zimbabwe and is also a link to the interim of Southern Africa, with its proximity to South Africa it was natural for Bulawayo to develop as the industrial hub of Zimbabwe. Thus Bulawayo, Plumtree to Botswana then we have Bulawayo to Beitbridge to South Africa then Bulawayo to Hwange, to Victoria Falls to Zambia. The city has well established rail and road links to the whole country and its infrastructure is amongst the best in Zimbabwe.
Bulawayo’s situation is interesting from the geological as well as from a geographical point of view. The city stands on some of the most ancient rock ever laid down on earth. About 3,000 million years ago when the world was very young, a resilient belt of predominantly volcanic lavas, some thirty miles thick, which extruded there over the earth crust, and although granite intrusions, Karoo sediments, and finally” Kalahari sand later obscured much of this basement greenstone (as It is now called), a triangle of the archaic rock still remained exposed and today bears the buildings of the modem city. The northern apex of this triangular slab of greenstone lies beyond Queensdale and from that point reaches down to a granite base line running along the fringe of the Matopo Hills Located at a vantage point in the Sub-Saharan Region, Bulawayo forms the axis of a well planned road and rail network to the north, south, east and west of Zimbabwe. The first train arrived in Bulawayo in 1897, early colonial settlers using the region’s immense natural wealth turned Bulawayo into a boom town, and Bulawayo grew to become an important industrial hub of Southern Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). The arrival of railways in 1897 made it the country’s major centre for mining, ranching and industrial activity. Many heavy industrials were located in the town. The town was a gateway to Southern Africa – linking the north and south through a rail and road network. For a long time Bulawayo was to remain the country’s commercial capital while Harare was the seat of government. Bulawayo attained the status of being a city in 1943. The Bulawayo City Council was the first in Southern Rhodesia to establish a viable African Advisor Board and went further to establish home ownership schemes for Africans, being the first local authority to do so. It was the first to embark on a planned programme of water supply; the first to provide educational facilities before there was any national policy or the subject; and led in having a progressive low-cost housing programme and a comprehensive social development blueprint.
Before the collapse of Zimbabwe’s rail infrastructure, Bulawayo was an important transport hub providing rail links between Botswana, South Africa and Zambia, and promoting the city’s development as a major industrial centre. The city still contains much of what remains of Zimbabwe’s heavy industry and food processing capability. Today Bulawayo is one of the country’s most attractive cities, with a pleasing mixture of Victorian and modern architecture, which gives it a unique character. From a tourist point of view, Bulawayo has a lot to offer, either from within itself or around it. Bulawayo is located within the vicinity of Hwange National Park, The Victoria Falls (one of the wonders of the world),Khami Ruins, The Matopo Hills (where Cecil John Rhodes and as well as King Mzilikazi are buried) and Matopo National Park.
Much closer to the city there is the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo, an attraction of great interest, is housed in a Victorian era building. The complex also houses a craft shop, restaurant and several artists’ studios. There is also the Zimbabwe’s International Trade Fair (ZITF), Old Bulawayo etc. It has been said that visitors to the city describe Bulawayo as the “Jewel Beneath the Zimbabwe Sun “, well worth visiting due to its vast array of treasures located in a truly unique setting. And for sure Matabeleland and Bulawayo are the “Jewel Beneath the Zimbabwe”