Why the Name: Bulawayo ?

Zimbabwe2
Map of Zimbabwe

I always loved the sound of the name Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, after the capital Harare, and the largest city in the country’s province of Matabeleland. BU-LA-WA-YO… Doesn’t it roll on your tongue? Doesn’t it sound like thunder ? … like something big must have happened there? Well, …

Flag of Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe

Bulawayo was founded by the Ndebele king, Lobengula, son of Mzilikazi, when he settled in Zimbabwe in the 1840s, after the Ndebele’s people great trek from northern Kwazulu, in South Africa. The name Bulawayo comes from the Ndebele word bulala which translates to “the one to be killed.” It is said that at the time of the city’s founding, there was a civil war due to a kingship succession dispute. The dispute was between Mbiko ka Madlenya Masuku, a trusted confident of King Mzilikazi and leader of the Zwangendaba regiment, and Prince Lobengula who he (Mbiko Masuku) thought was not a legitimate heir because Lobengula was the son of the king born to a Swazi mother, of a lesser rank.

Lobengula1
King Lobengula of Matabeleland

At the time Lobengula, was a prince fighting to ascend the throne of his father Mzilikazi. It was common at the time for people to refer to Bulawayo as KoBulawayo UmntwaneNkosi, “a place where they are fighting or rising against the prince” or the “the place where the prince shall be slain“. The city of Bulawayo coincidentally has the same name as the capital of the great Zulu warrior king Shaka ka Senzangakhona in Kwazulu, where Mzilikazi and his Khumalo clan and other Nguni people came from.

In the 1860s, the city was highly coveted by Europeans, because of its land, wealth, and strategic location. Cecil Rhodes tried different tactics to trick King Lobengula. Lobengula once described Britain as a chameleon and himself as the fly. The fact that Lobengula was a force to reckon with is not to be ignored. Cecil Rhodes himself confided to Rothschild saying, “I have always been afraid of the difficulty of dealing with the Matabele King. He is the only block to central Africa, as, once we have his territory, the rest is easy … the rest is simply a village system with separate headmen …” So trickery was the only resort for Rhodes in order to get Lobengula. Thus, the treacherous Rudd Concession – 30 October 1888 (British Colonial Treaties in Africa: The Ruud Concession in Zimbabwe 30 Oct 1888).

Zimbabwe_Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes

During the 1893 Matabele WarBritish South Africa Company (BSAC) troops invaded and forced King Lobengula to evacuate, after first detonating munitions and setting fire to the town. BSAC troops and white settlers occupied the ruins. On 4 November 1893Leander Starr Jameson declared Bulawayo a settlement under the rule of the British South Africa Company. Cecil Rhodes ordered the new settlement to be founded on the ruins of Lobengula’s royal kraal,a typical action by a conquering power. This is where the State House stands today.

Zimbabwe_Bulawayo principal street in 1905
The principal street of Bulawayo in 1905

Historically Bulawayo has been the principal industrial centre of Zimbabwe; its factories produce cars and car products, building materials, electronic products, textiles, furniture, and food products. Bulawayo is also the hub of Zimbabwe’s rail network and the headquarters of the National Railways of Zimbabwe. Thus its nickname: “City of Kings” and also “kontuthu ziyathunqa” – meaning “smoke arising” in Ndebele, because of its large industrial base, and the large cooling towers of its coal-powered electricity generating plant situated in the city center which once used to exhaust steam and smoke. Today, as the rest of Zimbabwe, it slowly pushes through the steam.

Zimbabwe_Bulawayo in 1976
Bulawayo in 1976 (Wikipedia)

Bulawayo is seen as the door of tourism to the Matabeleland province, as its capital. Matabeleland boosts of Victoria FallsMatopo National ParkHwange National ParkKhami Ruins and a bigger share of Lake Kariba. As a side note, the infamous Cecil Rhodes‘ grave is said to be at World’s View, a hilltop located approximately 35 km (22 mi) south of Bulawayo, which is part today of Matobo National Park.

Well, if you visit the city of Kings, remember King Lobengula, remember his fire, and his fight for his people’s freedom from western domination… remember the greatness of the Ndebele king, and remember the fire that burns dormant in the people of Bulawayo, fanned by their ancestors. Enjoy the video below on Bulawayo.

6 thoughts on “Why the Name: Bulawayo ?

  1. Joseph Phillip

    Whats the Zimbabwe economy today (2020)? From all appearances the economy seems to be in ruins. I am concerned about the lives of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. What is the government doing to the lives of the people?

    Like

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