Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
UNBEKNOWN to her, but under the impression that she was doing her employer a favour, a house maid pulled out two boxes under a bed and threw its contents into a fire pit because in her mind, the boxes contained useless pictures and letters.
The boxes, according to the maid, had been gathering dust for a while and it was time to clear the house of stuff that wasn’t of significance and value to the family that she worked for.
Two weeks later she was fired. Her employer was livid. She was angry. She was incensed.
This is the story of Janet Gumbo (68), the elderly woman who now owns a property that is entrenched in the history of the country – from the Rhodesia era to independent Zimbabwe – but for some strange reason remains unknown to many.
Tucked away in the heart of Bubi District, some 35 or so kilometres from Bulawayo, lies a property that hosted the late Queen Elizabeth in 1947. She was a young princess at that time, when the royal family visited the country.
At the age of 21 in April 1947, the then-princess made her first royal tour of Southern Rhodesia with her parents – the Queen Mother and King George VI and her sister, Princess Margaret.
Part of that visit took the late monarch to a small establishment, by today’s standards, in Bubi District, which the community fondly calls Queen’s Inn.
Today the building is dilapidated, in dire need of serious renovations, if not total demolition but yet is still home to Gumbo, a retired health worker.
“I had gone to Nkayi on a work assignment for a health outreach programme that the organisation I worked for was conducting and when I returned home, I discovered two boxes that I kept under my bed were missing.
“I asked the house maid, and with a grin on her face, she told me that she had burnt the contents while cleaning the house. I almost fainted, I was angry. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“The incident happened around 1998, if my memory is correct,” Gumbo narrated to the Saturday Leisure.
We had tracked down Gumbo after learning that she is living in a property that played host to one of the most famous and powerful women the world has ever known – Queen Elizabeth.
Sitting on a piece of land along Inyathi road is Queen’s Inn, home to Gumbo and her brood of grandchildren. She has lived on the property since 1973. What was in the boxes that her house maid put up in flames?
“The boxes contained pictures of Queen Elizabeth, when she was still young during her first ever visit to Queen’s Inn and some documents that the previous owners of this place left my father so many years ago.
“The pictures and documents were important to me because every time tourists came to visit here, I would proudly show the pictures as proof that indeed the Queen had stayed here at Queen’s Inn when she was a young lady.
“I understand that the owners of the place changed the name to Queen’s Inn after the visit by the royal family,” said Gumbo.
Historical pictures and documents are priceless. Libraries and museums around the world can pay top dollar to be in possession of such pieces of treasure and Gumbo blames naivety on the part of the house maid for the unfortunate decision to burn the two boxes.
In its heyday, Queen’s Inn must have definitely been a prime ‘hotel’ fit to host royalty judging by architectural design that dates back to almost a century ago.
At the back of the building, Gumbo instructs her grandson to take out what remains of a steel wagon wheel, believed to have been part of a horse drawn wagon that the royal family used during their visit.
“My father kept most of the old wagon and its wheels intact back in the day but most of the wagon was stripped by amakorokoza (artisanal miners) who used the steel to make axes.
“Back in the day, Queen’s Inn had about eight rooms but over the years we have partitioned some of the big rooms and divided them into smaller ones for renting out. That’s how I make a living since retiring from the health sector,” explained Gumbo, a proud landlady to a few families on the property.
On that same land that Queen’s Inn sits, is a grave marked George Wilfred Vernon, who died on 29 October 1918, at the age of 46.
Gumbo says word-of-mouth history from her father’s generation claims the late Vernon’s son established Queen’s Inn years after his father died, making the hotel a prime establishment that had the bragging rights to host a King, Queen and two princesses in 1947.
Gumbo’s family has also for years used the grave site to bury its own family members.
The number of tourists visiting the place has dwindled over the years and the local residents simply call it ‘Queens’.
In our search for the hotel, on Thursday afternoon, one elderly villager named Mluleki Donga aptly put it: “You must be looking for Queens Inn, that old hotel that used to be a nice place a long time ago, it’s no longer what it used to be when I was a young boy in the late 1960s.
“I worked at that big mine over there (pointing at Queen’s Mine, a few metres from Queen’s Inn) and a lot of white people used to visit the place to see the room where Queen Elizabeth slept when she came here.”
A few institutions like Queen’s Mine, Queen’s Primary School and Queen’s Inn in the Bubi District are named after the British monarch who will be laid to rest on Sunday.
For Gumbo, the daily struggles to feed her grandchildren and take them to school overshadow the burial of the Queen, whose property she calls home was named after the late monarch.
“I’m a retired old lady with many mouths to feed and that thought is always the first thing I think about when I wake up. In this part of the country, we survive on artisanal mining and as you can see just outside my yard, there are guys processing gold from gold ore they dug up from a disused mine,” she said.
True to her word, the Saturday Leisure observed four young men unloading bags from their backs, filled with ore, ready to extract the little gold nuggets they can to survive. — RaymondJaravaza
Article Source: The Chronicle