History of Bulawayo

Published on 3rd April 2007

Located in South-west of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo is the second largest city in the country. It is located in 439km south-west of Harare (20°10′S 28°34′E) and is treated as a separate provincial area from Matebele land. The city is home to approximately more than a million people.

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. Eventually, Lobengula moved his royal town, and the locality of the modern Bulawayo city was chosen by King Lobengula and he named it 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; that is, he was being opposed and persecuted by his opponents but he came out victorious.

During the 1893 Matabele War (this is when the Ndebele revolted against the authority of the British South Africa Company), the advances of British troops led the king to burn his capital and flee north and troops occupied the town. The American Scout, Frederick Russell Burnham, witnessed the burning of old Bulawayo and later encountered Lobengula while serving as lead scout for the Shangani Patrol. On 4 November 1894, Leander Starr Jameson declared Bulawayo a settlement under the rule of the British South Africa Company and Cecil John Rhodes ordered that the new settlement be built on the ruins of Lobengula's royal town, which is where the State House stands today. In 1897, the new town of Bulawayo acquired the status of municipality, and in 1943, Bulawayo became a city. 

The city has wide tree lined streets and is surrounded by beautiful parks. The city has  many examples of early Victorian buildings which are maintained by the Bulawayo City council and landlords as heritage sites.

The liberation struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe was started in Bulawayo. It is a welcoming multicultural city with residents able to speak English, Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa, Kalanga, Suthu and SeSwati. The city has long been regarded as the business capital of Zimbabwe and is home to the National Railways of Zimbabwe because of its strategic position near Botswana and South Africa. It is the nearest large city to Hwange National Park, Matopo National Park and Victoria Falls.

The city also houses the country's main museum, the natural history museum, a railway museum, the Bulawayo Art gallery, which is housed in a most attractive turn of the century building, theatres, the Mzilikmzi Art and craft centre, good hotels and one of the finest caravan and camping parks in Zimbabawe. Bulawayo is also home to the Chipangali wildlife orphanage and the Kame Ruins. The city is served by Bulawayo Airport.




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