Roaring Into Bulawayo's Royal Treat

Ndaba Sibanda

© Copyright 2018 by Ndaba Sibanda

Rhino viewing at Matobo National Park.

It was an inspiringly cool August afternoon when the Boeing 767 carrying Ahmed landed majestically in the center of the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport runway, 25 km to the north of Bulawayo. That Friday I was glad that Ahmed, my former student from Kuwait, had finally arrived in Bulawayo. After exchanging some warm and excited greetings, he remarked,” “Beautiful airport. I like it!” I smiled, “Though small in size, it is our gateway to such amazing world heritage sites as the Khami Ruins and the Matobo Hills”.

When we arrived home, I gave him a bit of background information about Bulawayo. “This city was founded by none other than Lobengula, the Ndebele king who was a son to King Mzilikazi. Born of Matshobana, he settled in contemporary Zimbabwe around the 1840s after the Ndebeles` great march from Nguniland. As the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo has more than two nicknames. One famous one is ‘Ntuthu ziyathunqa’ — which is a Ndebele phrase for ‘a place where smoke guts out ’. Historically, Bulawayo was the country`s massive industrial base, and even today one can see gigantic cooling towers of the coal-powered electricity generating plant in the city centre. In the olden days these towers used to emit steam and smoke all over the place. Bulawayo is affectionately known as the City of Kings and Queens.” Ahmed interjected with a joke, “I`d like to be an heir to the throne too. This royal city has good quality tap water.”

I disclosed to him that not only does Bulawayo boast of pumping and maintaining the healthiest and tastiest quality tap water in the country, furthermore, it has been widely acknowledged as the cleanest and best-managed city in Zimbabwe. With one of the friendliest and humblest African citizens on the continent, the respect for visitors and all is a cultural protocol and pleasure for the locals. There are no major security concerns as the street crime levels are largely low and isolated. In spite of the country-wide economic challenges, the metropolitan’s cultural richness and service delivery to the generality of the residents and tourists is second to none. “It hardly recycles waste water. It uses treated waste water for irrigation purposes. As an integral, industrial, cultural and logistical hub, the city was known to provide rail links between Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia”.

Knowing that he loves soccer and cricket, I decided to give him a dose of sport update. I touched on local soccer teams and the current log standings, including the best-performing local cricketers in particular and the level and spirit of national cricket in general. “By the way, Bulawayo is home to the Queens Sports Club and Bulawayo Athletic Club, just two of the three pitches in Zimbabwe where test match cricket has been played. Additionally, it is home to Hartsfield on which a number of Southern Africa's prominent rugby players have participated. It is home to one of Zimbabwe’s greatest sportspersons of all time like Peter “Nsukuzonke” Ndlovu, Heath Streak, and Henry Khaaba Olonga, who was the first black cricket player and the youngest-ever player to represent Zimbabwe at international level”.

On Saturday morning we cruised all the way to the Natural Museum of Zimbabwe which is situated in the Centenary Park in Bulawayo. Built in 1962, with its spectacular exhibitions and precious research collections, it is the finest arts center in Southern Africa and rated fourth in magnitude among the museums of Africa. I watched Ahmed as his eyes were fixed on the public display galleries, the beauty of the lecture hall, the study collections, the artifacts, the well-preserved animals in the displays. “Your eyes are fixed on the displays”, I said. He chuckled,” Fixed…actually my eyes are feasting on these attractive and informative displays here. I`m awed by the magnificence and abundance of one of the best natural history museums in the world”.

Ahmed`s itinerary glimmered with mouth-watering names like the Khami Ruins, Bulawayo Railway Museum, Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage and Research Centre, Bulawayo National Gallery of Zimbabwe, The Hillside Dams Conservancy, Tshabalala Game Sanctuary, Old Bulawayo and Mzilikazi Art and the Craft center. I admired his travel programme. However, I thought it lacked one three-word ingredient to consummate a regal experience: Matobo National Park! I did not have to convince him because on Monday we drove toward the black eagles, the black and white rhinos and the scenic balancing rock formations in the heart of Matobo National Park. Ahmed was speechless.

Ndaba Sibanda is a poet and a writer.

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