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Bulawayo Marks 120th Anniversary Amid Growing Despair

  • Ntungamili Nkomo

Zimbabwe's second capital, Bulawayo, marked its 120th anniversary Sunday amid growing despair over escalating company closures that have rendered thousands jobless.

While city mayor Martin Moyo told a gathering celebrating the event that Bulawayo’s fast diminishing fortunes can be turned around, many were not as optimistic.

"If the economy continues like this, the city will go down even further," commented Ward 28 councillor Colet Ndlovu.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association organizing secretary Ambrose Sibindi concurred, saying the future of the city that was once considered the industrial hub of the country looks bleak.

According to the local authority, Bulawayo - the heart of a tremendous wide sweep of the western parts of Zimbabwe - is the second largest city in Zimbabwe with a population of about 1, 5 million fully integrated people of different races, tribal groupings and cultural backgrounds.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency claims that the city currently has just over 600 inhabitants.

The City of Bulawayo was originally the home of Lobengula, the last of the Matebele Kings. It is the centre of the three Matabeleland provinces – North and South, and Bulawayo.

Bulawayo attained town status on June 1, 1894, and had its first Municipal Council of 9 elected members in November 1897. By 1943, due largely to its rapid growth, Bulawayo had attained city status under Proclamation 21 of 1943.

Bulawayo's location is interesting from a 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 and is strategically placed on the apex of the great Zimbabwean plateau and commands access to it from the south.

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.

It thus has the dual role of being the regional capital for Southern Zimbabwe and also a link to the interior of Southern Africa. With its proximity to South Africa, it was natural for Bulawayo to develop as the industrial hub of Zimbabwe.

It is located as a link between South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and the rest of the country. 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 the City 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, which was the 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.