Bulawayo and Matobos, Zimbabwe

Bulawayo City Hall in Zimbabwe.Bulawayo City Hall in Zimbabwe.
Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe. Wide, tree-lined streets and suburban lawns make it hard to believe that the Kalahari desert lies over the Botswana border at nearby Plumtree. Equally hard to imagine is the blood that has, over the centuries, soaked into this thirsty soil. Bulawayo's name means 'the killing place,' and executions of rival tribes had long been practiced by the dominant Ndebele. These warlike descendents of Shaka and his Zulus were nineteenth century migrants from South Africa.The most recent bloodshed was in the early 1980s when President Robert Mugabe, a member of the ruling Shona tribe, violently suppressed Ndebele dissent. But the Ndebele were first defeated by the British. A subsequent gold rush gave the town initial impetus but proved to be short-lived. Finally, Cecil Rhodes, (the English imperialist) and his railway put Bulawayo on the map and it remains a transport hub today.Bulawayo welcomed the country's first train in 1897 and its Railway Museum traces the last century of rail travel. A model of an historic station complete with period furnishings, and Cecil Rhodes' own private carriage, used to carry his body from Cape Town to the nearby Matobos hills, are some of the attractions.Railway enthusiasts can arrange to ride the steam locomotives that still puff their way through the city. The National Railways of Zimbabwe publicity officer can be found in company headquarters on Fife Street.Centenary Park and Central Park are adjacent to each other and make up forty-five hectares of green shade in the city centre. Central Park boasts Zimbabwe's largest ornamental fountain which was erected to commemorate the city's seventy-fifth birthday in 1968.Along with a miniature railway, an aviary, a botanical garden and the municipal campsite, Bulawayo's theatre and National History Museum are to be found in Centenary Park. You'll find both parks on Samuel Parirenyatwa Street, east of the Bulawayo Publicity Association.

Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1901, Bulawayo's Museum of Natural History is the country's finest museum. It has the largest indigenous mammal collection in Southern Africa and the second largest mounted elephant in the world. Birds, reptiles, fish and insects are also included and, in all, the museum houses 75,000 specimens.Archaeology is represented in the prehistoric man exhibit as is anthropology in the displays of African and European culture. Geology with its rocks and minerals provide explanations of Zimbabwe's geological features and mining is explored in the replica of a gold mine. The museum is housed in a neo-Colosseum in Centenary Park on the corner of Park Road and Leopold Takawira Avenue.

World Heritage Site

However, Bulawayo, like Masvingo in the Lowveld, is primarily a stopover on the way to nearby places of interest. Khame, 22km (14 miles) out of town on a little-travelled road is another World Heritage site. Younger than Great Zimbabwe and smaller, these forty hectares of crumbling city was once the capital of the the successors of Monomatapa.The Torwa dynasty arose from the collapse of the Great Zimbabwe kingdom in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Cattle and gold brought prosperity but the area was abandoned during the Ndebele incursions of the nineteenth century and legend fingers the war-like tribe from the south as the arsonists.The stone walls are not as well-preserved having been destroyed by fire but you will probably be able to view them undisturbed by other visitors. A small musuem will guide you through.

Tshabala Wildlife Sanctuary

Once the home of a British sailor and his Ndebele wife, one of the daughters of the last Ndebele king, Lobengula, this savannah area is home to some of the less wild of Zimbabwe's wildlife. The antelope, giraffe, zebras and warthogs can be viewed on foot or on horseback.The reserve is eight kilometres from Bulawayo along the Matabos road. Mabukuwene Nature Reserve These twelve hectares of indigenous trees and aloe garden provide a convenient city escape, ten kilometres out of town in the suburb of Burnside. There is also a bird sanctuary and a good view of Bulawayo from the gazebo. Take Hillside Road to Burnside Road and turn right into Chipping Way.

Chipingali Animal Orphanage

Chipingali is now more like a zoo than the original animal orphanage intended but you won't have to sit in a hide for hours waiting for the big cats which include the rare black-maned lion. The sanctuary is home to wounded and abandoned wildlife which is cared for before being returned to the wild. Two walk-through aviaries allow the birds a look-in. It is 23 kilometres south of Bulawayo on the Beitbridge road.

Jairos Jiri Craft Shop

These outlets for craft produced by the disabled and the blind are found throughout the country but Bulawayo's shop is the biggest. Batik, macrame, wall hangings, leather handbags, crocheted tablecloths and bedspreads, beadwork and baskets, wood and soapstone carvings are all on offer.The handpainted stoneware dinner service is a popular item as are the Batonka stools from western Kariba. Once again, shop for a good cause at their premises on Robert Mugabe Way in the city centre near the eastern end of the City Hall car park.

Mzilikazi Arts and Crafts Centre

This is a non-profit, self-supporting welfare organisation which runs a commercial pottery, an art gallery and a free art school. Sculpting, carving, stoneware and ceramic pottery goes on in the classrooms where visitors can watch the artists at work and then purchase some of the creations from the office shop.

Bulawayo Home Industries

Across the road from Mzilikazi Arts and Crafts is another self-help project, this time for vulnerable women. Here, too, you can watch the artists at work. Batik textiles, knitted sweaters and crochet work, needlecraft and tapestry are on sale at prices more reasonable than formal curio shops. The money goes to the crafters themselves and is ploughed back into the business.

Cyrene Mission

Cyrene is 32 kilometres out of town on the Plumtree road. An Anglican mission school with a wholly African artistic and historic bent, the thatched chapel is covered inside and out with colourful murals painted by the students.Biblical stories and scenes from African history are depicted with generous dollops of local colour. The mission's founder was an artistic priest who supplemented the three 'R's' and vocational training with art lessons. His enthusiasm seems to have paid off.

Matobos National Park

It is the Matobos National Park that is the major attraction of the Bulawayo area. 32 kilometres south of the city, you will find a landscape as surreal as its name. The balancing granite domes gave rise to its Sindebele name meaning 'bald heads.'The Matabos National Park has the highest concentration of prehistoric rock art in the world and the fading pictures tell of forty thousand years of human habitation. This ground is sacred to the local Ndebele and is also the final resting place of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of settler Rhodesia.National Park headquarters at Maleme Dam has horse stables, accommodation and a general shop. This is the starting point for most of the National Park hikes and horse - rides.Whovi Game Park houses white and black rhino, giraffe, zebra and leopard and both horseback and walking safaris are offered. Private concerns nearby advertise elephant-back safaris and cultural excursions into a traditional Ndebele village complete with witchdoctor.Copyright Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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