WATCH: Makokoba: Home of early nationalism

The Chronicle

Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter

ONCE a small pole and mud settlement about 130 years ago, Bulawayo’s Makokoba suburb, also known as Old Location by virtue of being the oldest township and the first black African suburb in the city, is not an ordinary suburb.

It holds a special place in the history of the country’s liberation struggle.

History has it that it was named after the actions of one Mr Fallon, a native commissioner at the time, who used to walk around with a stick (ukukhokhoba in Ndebele).

The word describes the noise of the stick hitting the ground ko-ko-ko or knocking on doors.

Makokoba, the home of early nationalism, evokes memories of the country’s protracted liberation struggle. Most importantly, it became the epicentre of political activism and the birthplace of African nationalism in Zimbabwe, which ultimately led to the country’s independence from colonialism in April 1980.

It is in this suburb that glaring disparities between black and white communities in terms of race were more pronounced during the colonial era of Rhodesia.

Nationalists like Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZPRA) commanders such as Cdes Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Ackim Ndlovu, Dumiso Dabengwa, Ethan Dube and Sikhwili Moyo among others used Makokoba as a political stringboard from where they mobilised masses to join the liberation struggle.

One of the earliest and most respected of the African nationalists in Zimbabwe, Cde Benjamin Burombo came to Bulawayo in the early years of World War II and earned a living by selling biscuits in the railway compound.

He founded the British African National Voice Association, a trade union with political overtones, and became its president.

Although he had never received any formal education, he taught himself the rudiments of law by his own reading.

In 1948 he was largely instrumental in organising a country-wide strike that led to an urgent examination of wages by the Native Labour Board.

He bitterly opposed the proposed Native Land Husbandry Bill, and when the Bill became law in 1951, he successfully challenged a number of cases where the Act had been wrongly implemented by native commissioners.

His successes in this direction provided the inspiration for the next generation of nationalist leaders to mount a full-scale campaign against the Act in the late 1950s.

Reminiscing the painful days of the liberation struggle, ZPRA Chief of logistics, Retired Colonel Thomas Ngwenya (87) said as young political activists in Makokoba, they endured daily torture at the hands of the repressive Rhodesian security forces in their quest to liberate the country.

“I came to Makokoba in the early 1950s and after finishing Standard Six at St Patrick’s Mission before the buildings today in 1953, I decided to venture into politics having realised that blacks were being discriminated against. As young boys we would stage a protest and march into the city centre,” he said.

JZ Moyo’s house

“When I got my first job as a bus conductor, it pained me to see a lot of discrimination along racial lines. Blacks had their own buses and whites theirs.”

Rtd Col Ngwenya later joined the Transport and Allied Trades Union before he subsequently went into politics.

“I joined the youth league of the National Democratic Party (NDP), which was led by Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo.

I remember during those days Rhodesia police in armoured vehicles would come to Stanley Hall where we used to conduct meetings and disrupt our meetings and we would in turn throw stones at them,” he said.

“During those days, the likes of Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo and Edward Ndlovu also used to stay in Makokoba a few streets away from my house, which was Number 1099 along 6th Street and we used to cause havoc as young political activists.”

Rtd Col Ngwenya said after the banning of NDP, Zapu was formed and he joined the party.

“When the Rhodesians banned Zapu that is when Joshua Nkomo said enough is enough and vowed that they will continue and that is how I took my first bold step towards joining the liberation struggle in the 1960s.”

He recalled the period when he would travel to Salisbury, which is now Harare to convey political messages using a car belonging to an Indian businessman, who was also a Zapu member.

“I would leave Bulawayo at 2AM for Salisbury where I would deliver the message and then get the message from that end and travel back to Bulawayo to relay it to the party structures in Makokoba.

That was my first political assignment,” said Rtd Col Ngwenya.

He also reminisced how one of their cadres, Cde Bobbylock Manyonga was arrested while transporting a consignment of weapons from Bulawayo to Salisbury.

“Cde Manyonga spilled the beans under interrogation and torture and police raided my home in Makokoba leading to my arrest and I was taken to Ross Camp and later Bulawayo Central Police Station where I was remanded for three days before being taken to Grey Street Prison,” said Rtd Col Ngwenya

At Grey, Rtd Col Ngwenya met a fellow comrade and veteran nationalist Cde Velaphi Ncube.

“It was then that Cde Velaphi Ncube got to know that Manyonga had been arrested and he yelled at me saying ‘get out of here!’

Indeed, a letter was written on toilet paper, taken out by Rtd Col Ngwenya’s girlfriend, one MaNdlovu, during a visit to the prison.

The letter was given to Cde Ethan Dube who passed it on to Leo Baron, ZAPU’s legal advisor and lawyer.

Rtd Col Ngwenya secured bail through the party lawyer and skipped the country to Zambia aboard a train.

Gogo Pretty Khumalo (80) who grew up in Makokoba, said during the liberation struggle the suburb was a hotbed of political revolt and dissension against colonialism.

“It was not easy growing up in Makokoba because of the political situation at the time. Rhodesian security forces would descend at our homes in the middle of the night torture us for supporting the liberation struggle.

I remember in the mid-1960s, a lot of youths dropped out of school and crossed into Zambia to join the liberation struggle,” she said.

“Political meetings were held at Stanley Square under the guise of residents’ meetings.

I remember one-night bullets rained and we had to cover our windows with mattresses as bullet shields.”

Gogo Khumalo said during their numerous raids, Rhodesian police would force a son-in-law to kick his mother-in-law.

“It was so humiliating to be forced to either kick or step on your mother-in-law.

They would force us to do all sorts of bad things during their raids,” she said.

As part of efforts to honour liberation icon Cde Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, his house in Makokoba suburb is set to be refurbished and transformed into a historical monument.

The rebranding and refurbishment of the house, Number 141 along 10th Street in the city’s oldest suburb is in recognition of Cde Moyo’s contribution to the liberation struggle and the need to preserve his legacy.

Friends of Joshua Trust and Zanu-PF are spearheading the project of restoring the two-roomed house, turning it into a historical township attraction.

Officially launching a fundraising campaign for the restoration, refurbishment and rebranding of JZ Moyo House yesterday, Zanu-PF Vice-President and Second Secretary Cde Kembo Mohadi said the restoration of the house is in sync with President Mnangagwa’s recent visit to the city to launch the Bulawayo Heritage Trail.

Former ZPRA chief of military intelligence, Rtd Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane who first met Cde JZ in 1969, said transforming the late nationalist’s house into a museum is a befitting honour for his contribution to the liberation struggle.

“We used to call Cde JZ Makokoba because he would hardly spend a day without talking about his life in that suburb.

I am happy because his name will not be erased in the history books,” he said. Friends of Joshua Trust chief executive officer Ms Beverly Pullen said plans are underway for Cde JZ’s house to be enshrined and presented as a historical tourism attraction.

“This will be the first house to be enshrined in Makokoba and the idea is to have all other sites and houses in Makokoba with historical relevance to be refurbished and packaged in a similar way,” she said.

Ms Pullen said Cde JZ Moyo House will contribute immensely to the growth and development of Makokoba.

“Preserving the history of a place through its significant historic resources gives a community its unique character and it involves much more than simply preserving and restoring old buildings such as 141 on 10th Street.

There are also economic, cultural, environmental and educational benefits of historic preservation, all of which are inextricably connected to one another,” she said.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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