ZIMBABWE 1975-1984

We move to Zimbabwe, I become a machine gun-carrying Boy Scout, and we end up spending a very decent ten years in 'Skies', or Bulawayo, the country's second-biggest city. I returned there on holiday ten years later, in 1994.

In 1975, I got the chance to live in my first foreign country when we emigrated to Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) where my father became the Chief City architect of the country's 2nd-biggest city, Bulawayo (this is a word from the local African language, Ndebele, which means "The Place Of Slaughter". Actually yes, there WAS a war on at the time, (see a collection of war images here) so this meant that we never had the chance to actually see much of the country, very green at the time but nowadays pretty dried-out because of years of drought.

Bulawayo was not a bad place to live at all and I had a nice run of interesting times there. For a quick recap (a more detailed one is here), the country was originally colonised by Britain, but was then hauled out of the Commonwealth in the mid 1960s when it decided to declare independence and go it alone (read the texts of those speeches here). This kicked off a long period of internal strife and civil war between the White government and the local Black 'Freedom Fighters' which meant that life was quite dangerous, a little like Vietnam with its Protected Villages crossed with the constant tension of the Israeli situation, with the occasional massacre thrown in for good measure.

There are quite a few places on the internet where people have posted their recollections of their lives back then. It really was a different world, and you'll see how different when you read this page, or have a look at this site, or even at this one which gives a bloody good breakdown of the variety of slang we used there. Seems like a million years ago...but here's a reminder.


Setting the example for all of my brothers, I went to Hillside Junior School in Hillside, then shifted to Gifford High on the Matopos Road entrance to the city from 1979 until 1983, when I finished 6th Form. I revisited the school in 1994, ten years after I'd left. It looked a bit run-down but surprisingly similar. I made a lot of really good friends there, and am still in comms with many of my former school muckers. I was also elected to the Junior City Council of Bulawayo in 1983, during my last year at High School, and joined the cast of the Bulawayo Theatre as a dancer in their regular big musical productions too. Why dance? Well, if you could have seen the gorgeous ballet-mad girls we shared studios with, then you would also have signed up like a shot. I went to a Boys'-only school,  remember...



Bulawayo Centre and The Lobengula Street High Court.

Our Town.

ABOUT 'SKIES'. Bulawayo is an interesting city in a number of ways but it's probably best know for two reasons: for one, it's the transport and industrial hub of the country, and for another, its streets were designed to be wide enough so that an ox-wagon could make a U-turn in town without a problem. You'll see that the place has such wide avenues that there's room for extra parking right down the middle of the main ones. It also had some of the world's best ice-cream, which used to be sold from the Eskimo Hut on the edge of town. Mmmm.

It's also a city which catches regular flak from the Government, seeing as it's a place full of people from the Ndebele tribe who are ardent opponents of their madman President, Robert Mugabe, who's a MaShona. His Army terrorised the Ndebele people in this area, being blamed for several massacres etc outside the city after Mugabe came to power in 1980, and he continued to destroy the country with his ethnic cleansing campaign against white farmers after the turn of the century. More on that here.


We lived in the suburb of Hillside, so it was no surprise that my brothers and I went to Hillside Junior School, then to Gifford High School. In terms of our actual addresses, we started off in Burns' Drive, Malindela, moved to Percy Avenue in Hillside, and then spent a few years in Pembroke Road near the Matopos Road/Barton Grange area. There's a very good website about the city's history and its placenames here.


The Matopos Hills outside Bulawayo.

The Matopos Hills outside Bulawayo.

Where We Lived.

PEMBROKE ROAD, BULAWAYO. This is a pic of the house we lived in from about 1979 to 1984. It was a really big place - 6 bedrooms - and had a huge garden, complete with its own hill in the back on which we occasionally saw monkeys. My bedroom was the one in the corner to the left of the picture - the doors on the far left lead onto the patio from one of the lounges. There was a swimming pool behind the house and a fruit orchard, which was something the monkeys on our hill liked raiding. 

Speaking of which, this is a picture of Darrell standing on the hill that was our back garden in Pembroke Road (he's waving to our Dad who'd just come home from work in the VW Microbus we'd managed to buy from some nuns). We used to sit on the hill with telescopes drinking tea and watching the tracer and RPG rockets arcing above the city during the continual flare-ups of civil unrest that followed the formal end of the war in 1980.. 



Bulawayo City Hall and Municipal Tower Block

Junior City Council.

In my 6th Form year, I became a member of the Bulawayo Jaycees, or Junior City Council. This was quite a nice year filled with Friday afternoon meetings in the City Hall's Council Chambers, arranging events, visiting interesting things, making speeches at dinners and generally getting a very valuable behind-the-scenes glimpse of the life of a city.  We would meet just behind the Clock Tower. 

My Father was the Municipality's Chief City Architect and worked in the Municipal Tower Block behind City Hall. We used to watch rockets and tracer arcing behind it at night during the war.


Boarding the Treads

At a boys only school, how were we going to meet women? The answer: go somewhere else. I joined up with a local dance studio while I was at High School and kept my fingers crossed. It worked - though all we seemed to do at the beginning was DANCE!

Things got more interesting once the local regional theatre in Centenary Park starting to sourcing dancers from our studio for its regular musicals.

I was gobsmacked to find this picture in mid 2008 on the Facebook page for the Bulawayo Theatre Club. Originally taken in 1982, it shows me (in the middle) in a publicity shot for Annie Get Your Gun. I'd cycle across the city to rehearsals two or three times a week, or else get a lift with Craig, the bloke on the left.

Women at Last!

Another Country...again.

After the political settlements and the renaming and reorganisation of the country in the early 1980s, the new powers-that-be made life quite hard for White Zimbabweans, doing things like freezing salaries while adding huge 'affirmative' surcharges and taxes on everything, especially basic services and utilities etc. Life became a little less pleasant, especially when we needed to start thinking about how to put money aside for the slew of Varsity fees that would become due now that the sons were almost ready to matriculate from High School.

<<During the war, moving around was hard, but with the end of hostilities came mobility, and I used this to spend a holiday fortnight with friends in the Eastern border city of Mutare. A very notable week, indeed. This photo shows me looking over the valleys towards Mozambique.

In early 1984, four years after former 'Freedom Fighter' Robert Mugabe became President (but before he showed himself to be the mad racist he is today), we left Zimbabwe and returned to South Africa. It felt a bit unpleasant moving to a country which was still strongly divided along racial lines (as South Africa still was back then). We had gone through all of that in Zimbabwe and it didn't feel good going back to segregated schools and suburbs but back we went nevertheless.

So on we moved to the small town of Queenstown in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province...


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