Suburbs, street names origin explained

SOME 120 years ago, Cecil John Rhodes’s company, the British South Africa Chartered Company (BSAC) began pegging out stands and laying out streets and avenues in what we would call modern Bulawayo.The city, with its wide thoroughfares, is located on site much larger than that occupied by King Lobhengula’s koBulawayo which was destroyed by fire as the invading BSAC armed troops moved in from the east in November 1893.

King Lobhengula had escaped northwards, never to be seen again by the invaders. Contrary to deliberately planted misinformation that he died of smallpox at Pupu in the Lupani area, the last Ndebele king, in fact, crossed the Zambezi River and sought refuge under his Nguni cousin, Mpezeni Jele, in what is now Zambia’s Eastern Province.

He died there some years later and was buried under a baobab tree near the town of Lundazi. Lying at Pupu in the Lupane District are the remains of Magwegwe Fuyana, Lobhengula’s chief councillor in the final days of his rule.

That is, however, more or less digression from the main subject of this article which is the founding and development of Bulawayo, the second largest city of Zimbabwe and known in SiNdebele as koBulawayo, the ‘bu’ being soft as in ‘bulala’ or ‘buya.’

There was a large village with the same name in Zululand during King Tshaka’s days. It was so named to express Tshaka’s feelings that he was meant or targeted to be killed (ngingo bulawayo), hence the name ko-Bulawayo, in normal SiNdebele colloquial conversation, the word is pronounced as koBulawayo.

Lobhengula chose that name because there was some opposition to him succeeding his late father, Mzilikazi, who died in September 1868. Two turbulent years passed before he was enthroned.

Among senior Ndebele (Nguni) elders who strongly opposed Lobhengula was Mbiko Masuku, whose wife was a sister to Mzilikazi’s most senior son, Nkulumane.

The story about Nkulumane having been executed together with several chiefs at what were later called ‘intaba zezinduna (Ntabazinduna) is well known. However, there was a very strong belief among some senior Ndebele chiefs that the prince had not been executed, but had been given a cow to ride and some to milk and sent back to Zululand.

So, Lobhengula should not be allowed to succeed Mzilikazi as Nkulumane was most probably alive in Zululand, argued those against Lobhengula. Mbiko Masuku commanded a regiment called Amazwangendaba which openly opposed the pro-Lobhengula’s decision to name his new seat of power “Ko-Bulawayo” when he became king in 1870 after defeating and personally killing Mbiko Masuku.

He moved to the new seat of Ndebele power in 1872. It is not correct to say “koBulawayo” means “the place of slaughter” as some very biased colonial writers, including the Rev David Carnegie of the London Missionary Society (LMS), would want the world to believe.

Yes, it is true that King Lobhengula sentenced many people to death for serious crimes, especially for treason, homosexuality, blatant cowardice, greed, avarice and incest. His explanation was that he had to get rid of the convicted people (including witches and wizards) because he did not have prisons in which to keep them.

His suspects knew and understood his laws all of which were based on African custom, tradition, practice, mores and lore.

His capital, koBulawayo, was, we are told, an orderly military village with virtually all the necessary social facilities such as wells and entertainment grounds. A large cattle byre and stable stood where the Everard Race course is located.

Wild animals, particularly buffaloes, roamed the area where Bradfield and Hillside Dam were later situated. To the West was a major road leading to and from South Africa via the land of the Batswana (BaNgwato, BaKhatla, BaRolong, BaNgwaketsssse, BaKwena, BaTawana, BaBirwa and BaHurutshe.)

White people who wished to see the king stopped their wagons at Figtree from where an official request was sent to Bulawayo.

The king’s other residence was Umvutshwa, north of Trenance, near the Umguza River. He would also spend some of his time with his regiment at  Mawabeni, hence his seldom used title: “ULobhengula waMawaba.”

His national rallies were held near the little hill at the Tshabalala Extension area where he would be welcomed by a praise singer (imbongi) shouting: “Khumalo, Ndlangamadoda, Ndlangamandla; Thonsi elikhulu; Wena okaMzilikazi kaMatshobana, kaZwide kaLanga, KaMangete!

“Wena olendlebe ezikhanya ilanga;
elaphuma endlebeni yendlovu

Amakhosi abikelana; Ngqungqulu yamadolo abomvu ngokutshaya amazolo”

He would go there on horseback accompanied by his bodyguards and the most senior councillors and chiefs. That was Lobhengula’s “KoBulawayo” which was a seat of power of one of the most powerful military states in Southern Africa in the 19th century by African standards.

As the BSAC forces, armed to the teeth, rolled into the deserted, smouldering ruins of koBulawayo on that historic November day in 1893, Cecil John Rhodes and his right hand man, Dr Leander Starr Johnson, must have grinned with inward glee for their secret plan had worked with much less loss of human life on their side than they had expected. They began to plan where to build Rhodes’s official residence (the State House), administrative offices, municipal offices, law courts, police station and so on.

The new town’s streets had to be given names of people respected by the colonialists, that is to say Rhodes and his colleagues.

From the East, the first street was called Barrow, named after a senior Pioneer Column army officer. It is now called Samuel Parirenyatwa Street in honour of the patriot, Dr Parirenyatwa. The second was named Wilson Street after Major Allan Wilson whose patrol tried to follow and apprehended Lobhengula but was wiped out by the king’s rearguard commanded by Mtshana Khumalo. It is now called Josiah Tongogara Street.

The third was named Grey Street after a British aristocrat, Earl Grey, who was a member of the board of directors of the BSAC. It was named Robert Mugabe Way a few years after the country’s attainment of independence. Rhodes’ name was given to the street that was on the western side of Robert Mugabe Way. It is now called George Silundika Street in memory of a prominent Zimbabwean nationalist, Tarcissius George Silundika.

George Silundika Street is followed by Fife Street, so named by the colonial authorities in honour of another aristocratic ally of Rhodes, the Duke of Fife who was a son-in-law of the Prince of Wales. The Duke of Fife, Earl Grey and the Duke of Abercorn were highly respected British politicians who used their official influence to get Queen Victoria to grant Rhodes’s company the BSAC, a charter to colonise a part of what is now Zimbabwe.

They were members of the board of directors of the BSAC’s way of thanking them.

Fife Street retains its colonial name, unlike the one on its western side, formerly called Abercorn Street, but now known as Jason Moyo Street in  honour of another Zimbabwean patriot, Jason Ziyapapa (JZ) Moyo

On the western side of Jason Moyo Street comes what the BSAC administration named Main Street. It was so named because it was Mafeking Road (now Plumtree) a very important means of communication with the Cape colony where Rhodes was the prime Minister at that time, 1894.

Main Street is now Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street. Nkomo’s statue stands patriotically at the intersection of that street and Eight Avenue, and was officially unveiled by President Mugabe on December 23, 2013.

After Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Street, we move on to Fort Street. It was given that name and it is still called by it, because the BSAC administration built and maintained a military fort at some spot along it.

Some oral historians say the fort was located where TM Hyper now stands, that is between 10th and 11th avenues, opposite the premises of the former general or Memorial Hospital.

After Fort Street was Jameson Street now Herbert Chitepo. Dr Leander Starr Jameson was Rhodes’s most trusted aide. He, in fact, started, or rather provoked the 1983 Anglo-Ndebele war that led to King Lobhengula’s downfall.

After Herbert Chitepo Street there is Lobhengula Street. Named after the last Ndebele monarch, it retains that name up to now.

That gives us a complete list of names of streets in the city’s central business district from the east to its western limits. From the north we begin with King’s Avenue, now Masotsha Ndlovu Avenue.

With the exception of King’s and Selbourne avenues, the rest and they were 14 of them, are still called according to their numerical sequence from First to 15th Avenue. Selbourne Avenue is now Leopold Takawira, a name of an eminent Zimbabwean revolutionary who died in Salisbury’s Maximum Security Prison on June 15, 1970.

Lord Selbourne, after whom the avenue was originally named, was at one time the British High commissioner to South Africa. He officially toured Southern Rhodesia (and visited Bulawayo) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1906 another avenue that bears a colonial name is Connaught.

Connaught was one of Cecil John Rhodes’s colonial colleagues and was influential on the BSAC board.

Among Bulawayo’s first commercial enterprises, we find TM Meikles, Haddon and Sly, McCallough and Bothwell, Grand Hotel, Standard and Barclays banks. The railway station received the first train soon after its completion in 1897. The city thermal power station became operational in the early 1950s.

Trains to or from Salisbury (now Harare) went to or from the east, past the Ascot area with Heany Junction as their first or last but one stop. The present line that passes near Mpopoma was inaugurated in the mid-1950s.

The city’s residential areas were located separately according to the people’s races: Europeans, Africans, referred to at that time as “Natives,” Indians and Coloureds. All European suburbs were sited either to the eastern, southern or northern side of the city’s industrial area: Suburbs, Kumalo, Hillside, Matsheumhlophe, Riverside, Famona, Waterford, Douglasdale, Burnside, Four Winds, Eloana, Montrose, Bellevue (pronounced “Bel-view”), North End, Sauerstown, Queens Park. Others, built during the now defunct Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and later during the Rhodesia Front era, include Bradfield.

Those for Coloureds were Barham Green, Thorngrove, and freehold plots at Rangemore and Trenance.

Initially, the Indian community did not have a special residential area, unlike in Salisbury (Harare) where Belvedere was primarily meant for them. However, in Bulawayo, Highmount, adjacent to and on the western side of State House, was initially meant for the Indian community during the Rhodesian Front period.

Before that, virtually all Indians in Bulawayo lived either behind or above their shops.

Africans were originally confined to the “Old Location,” popularly known as “Makokoba”, a stone’s throw west of Lobhengula Street. Oral tradition has it that the name “Makokoba” was derived from a white superintendent of that high density suburb who would crouch in the bush to frighten the location’s residents from relieving themselves in the bush.

“Wayekokoba etshwaleni . . .” The reader will note that modern SiNdebele orthography spells the word with an “h” (Makhokhoba).
Other high density suburbs that were built after Makokoba were Nguboyenja, named in memory of King Lobhengula’s son of that name.

Mzilikazi high density suburb also came up soon later, and so did Barbourfields, built on land formerly owned by a colonial settler called Mr Barbour.

Soon to follow were Luveve, a government urban housing project for what were regarded as middle class black people.

Njube, also called West Commonage Number Three, followed. Njube was also one of Lobhengula’s sons. It is said that he was a fearless man, and would ride into town, dismount at where Exchange Bar is today, leave his horse on the pavement, walk into the hotel lounge and demand service where only white people were legally allowed to be served.

Near Njube high density suburb the city council built West Commonage Number One (Iminyela) and West Commonage Number Two (Mabuthweni).  Further to the north west, Old Pumula was also launched, and so was Hyde Park. At both those places, black people were living in but, of course, not the ground on which the houses were built.

Mpopoma and Tshabalala high density suburbs were built in the middle of the 1950s and early 1960s. The name Mpopoma was chosen because the area was wet land, with more or less perennial springs (impopoma zamanzi) at a number of places.

Tshabalala is the totem (isibongo, ntupo, mutupo) of King Lobhengula’s mother, Fulatha, a woman of Swazi extraction. Incidentally, one of the reasons given by those who were opposed to Lobhengula succeeding his father, Mzilikazi, was that his mother was not a pure Nguni, they claimed.

The Swazi’s belong to a linguistic class of Nguni’s called “AmaNtun’wa” but linguistically belong to a class referred to as “abazundayo”. Swazis call “umuzi” (villages) ‘“miti” and”‘izinto” (things) “itinto”.

Whether or not the Tshabalala clan is originally Swazi or only Swazi by adoption is not clear. But what we know as a historical fact is that the founder of the Swazi nation, uMswati Dlamini was of Tonga (Zambian) extraction. So, the Dlaminis are Ngunis by socio-cultural assimilation. They acknowledge this fact in their traditional rites and ceremonies.

After ascending the throne, Lobhengula rightly treated his mother as the queen-mother. The honour is, therefore, most appropriate. Other high density suburbs are Nkulumane, Matshobana, SIzinda, Entumbane, Makhandeni and Mganwini.

Matshobana was Mzilikazi’s father. Sizinda was a regiment’s name, so was Makhandeni. Entumbane is the name of Mzilikazi burial place.
Mganwini refers to a Marula (mpfula, isihlahla somganu). The last tree where traders and missionaries from the south usually stopped and outspanned their wagon-pulling oxen and spent the night before getting into Bulawayo before the railway reached the city in 1897.

Other trees where there were similar stops were Plumtree, Syringa, Marula and Figtree. Railway stations or sidings named after those trees were 16km (10 miles) apart.

The first Christian denominations to establish themselves in Bulawayo were the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the Methodists (Wesleyans) and the American Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC), the last of which did not make as great an impact as the others because of financial constraints.

The nearest London Missionary Society (now United Congregational Church of Southern Africa —UCCSA) although closely associated with the Ndebele royal house since Mzilikazi’s days was at Hope Fountain Mission, some 16km south of Bulawayo.

The Njube LMS church was opened there by the late Rev Paul S King in the late 1950s.

Most of the other denominations came later as the city developed and the number of the congregants of the respective denominations increased.

Bulawayo at one time was the centre from which railways communication to and from various central, eastern, and northern Africa radiated.

Incidentally, its formerly whites-only low density suburbs were given names of towns or villages found in either Britain, the United States or those of some prominent white colonial officials.

One exception is, however, Famona, named after one of Lobhengula’s daughters, Mfamona. Pathisa Nyathi tells me that the name was corrupted to Famona. That suburb was the only one bearing a black person’s name when Bulawayo was a city of two racial characters, one black and the other white.

That double-faced socio-economic nature of Bulawayo was changed to a single face during the era of Mike Ndubiwa and soon after that of Moffat Ndlovu as the city’s town clerks.

Lastly, the city’s Mahatshula medium-density suburb, a very recent addition, bears the name of a senior member of the Ndebele royal circle, Mahatshula Ndiweni, who lived in the Hlambabaloyi village at that time in the Woodville area

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  • Brian Holder

    Interesting thank you, but I think that maybe the historical society should edit and correct inaccuracies. For example I believe that Kumalo and Malindela should be included as suburbs with names of African origin.
    I think there may be some other inaccuracies but I’ll leave those for the historians to point out.
    Thanks again.