Bulawayo, Zimbabawe: From the Barracks to the Country

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Bulawayo, Zimbabawe: From the Barracks to the Country

When I was born, my father served as a driver in the Army. This meant that we had the privilege of living in the Army barracks. I do not really recall how the place was, but I know that it was just on the outskirts of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe and the nation’s industrial hub. However, what I can recall is the food that my father regularly brought home. We could choose whether to have bacon, eggs or sausages for breakfast – after all, it was sponsored by the state.

Whilst living free of charge at the barracks, my father managed to buy a house in Nkulumane, one of the small and emerging suburbs at the time. Nkulumane was a really a small township then. It mostly consisted of the young working class and professionals. Most of the people were just starting to have families. The houses were two-bedroom and all had the same design.

Bulawayo is a city largely populated by the Ndebele tribe, and it is popularly known as the “City of Kings and Queens,” or “Skies.” The elderly liked to call it “KoNtuthu Ziyathunqa,” referring to the smoke that arose from the industrial sites. As the industrial activities continued to grow in the city, so did the number of people coming to look for work. Rural to urban migration was on the rise. This created housing problems, but it also presented homeowners with the opportunity to make extra money. As was the trend, many people in my township began to extend their homes so that they could rent out one or two rooms. My mother, being a wise woman, encouraged my father to extend the house.

My favorite period was winter time. Instead of playing hide and seek, we would sit outside around a bonfire. We were told interesting stories, tales and folklore by our elders. Sometimes, we would even play word or knowledge games. This was the period that really brought us closer together.


When the time came for me to go school, I was sent to live with my uncle in Masvingo, a small town. I arrived in Masvingo a few months before my seventh birthday. Masvingo was really a different place, but I had no problem adjusting and blending in. I had five male cousins and two of them were almost my age. We lived in a small neighborhood where almost all the people knew each other. The houses were a bit small and cozy. In no time, I made friends and I felt right at home.

In Masvingo, the people spoke the Shona language. Coming from Bulawayo, I could speak Ndebele and I instantly became famous. Sometimes, people would ask me to teach them Ndebele, and sometimes they were just happy to listen to me speak the language. I have to admit that I was not totally good with Ndebele then, but no one knew that.

A few days passed and the school term began. I was enrolled at the same school as my cousins. During the first two days, I went with them in the morning, and after school I would wait for them. On the third day, being impatient with waiting for them, I decided to go home alone after school. It was a bold move considering that I was still new to the place and didn’t know the directions very well. I guess I was trying to be independent. Along the way I did get lost, but I was determined to find my way home without anyone’s help. After a couple of hours, I found myself at home. It was a sweet victory for me.

After school, I would go home where I ate lunch. The lunch was mainly sadza, the staple food, and vegetables. After eating, I would meet up with a few friends and play soccer. We used a homemade ball made of small plastic bags or light rugs. Since there were no nearby parks or designated areas, we created our own playing fields within the neighborhoods. The goalposts were made of big stones and we played barefoot. Although we loved playing the game, it was a risk because there was always the possibility of smashing windows. This happened rarely, but whenever it did it was a nightmare for us. Breaking a window was a ‘big crime’ then and was punishable by a good beating. People had gardens in their yards where they grew vegetables. If ever our plastic balls destroyed their vegetables, they would beat us or take our ball. We also got injured a lot as we played barefoot. Sometimes, arguments arose and we would fight a lot.

Between five and seven o’clock we would rush home so that we could help with the preparation for supper. After the meal, we would go outside and meet our friends. We loved to play hide and seek. We would run, scream and shout, and our parents never seemed to care. However, it was only boys who were allowed outside, girls had to be indoors.

My favorite period was winter time. Instead of playing hide and seek, we would sit outside around a bonfire. We were told interesting stories, tales and folklore by our elders. Sometimes, we would even play word or knowledge games. This was the period that really brought us closer together.

As time went on, things began to change and we couldn’t play as freely as we used to.


Bulawayo Winter Bonfire

At the end of each school term, which lasted for about three months, I would go to Bulawayo for the month-long holiday. After spending the first four years of primary school in Masvingo, it was time to continue my education in Bulawayo under the care of my mother. Of course I wanted to be close to my mother, but I was also afraid of change. I didn’t know how to speak Ndebele very well and I knew that it would be a problem for me. However, after a few weeks, I got the hang of things and managed to fit in perfectly.

Bulawayo had really changed. Most of the houses were bigger and better. More roads were built, although they were not very wide. Just a few kilometers away from our home, a new shopping complex was constructed. It meant that people no longer had to travel far for groceries and entertainment. People would just go and sit at the complex, sometimes even watch people walk up and down. The city was slowly developing and although it is yet to become a world class city, it is a great place to start a family and pursue business interests.

Also check out Williams’ story on Living in Cape Town, South Africa.

Williams Mugwagwa

Williams Mugwagwa

Williams Mugwagwa is a passionate and professional freelance writer who currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a natural writer who loves to write about topics that stimulate his creativity and intelligence. Some of his work can be found on Peopleperhour.com. When not writing, he likes to color and brighten his world with thoughts, imagination, and ideas.

1 Comment

  • Erika

    Thank you for sharing!

    June 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm