Zimbabwe — The capital of King Lobengula, popularly known as Old Bulawayo, was on Monday reduced to ashes after a veld fire erupted about 5 km from the site. Nothing was salvaged from the site, situated about 17 kilometres from Bulawayo, as the fire destroyed all the eight beehive huts, including the kings palace. Also destroyed was the kings kraal, wagon shed, a house built for him by missionaries, and the palisade. A hut built by the Khumalos to perform traditional rituals was also not spared by the fire, as well as a stone laid by President Mugabe in 1993 to commission the reconstruction of the site.
However, the ravaging fire did not affect the information centre but destroyed vast tracts of land surrounding the site. When a Chronicle newscrew visited the site yesterday, the place that stood as a symbol of Ndebele history had been reduced to heaps of ashes. In an interview, National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) western region site manager and monuments inspector, Mr Lonke Nyoni, said the fire started about 5km east of the site.
We saw a cloud of smoke a distance from the site. At that time, it had not reached the site. We then drove towards the smoke to investigate what was happening only to discover that the fire was now about a kilometre from the site, said Mr Nyoni.
He said they returned to the site and called the fire brigade.
As we waited for the fire brigade, we (him and eight other workers) were fighting the fire but because of the strong winds we failed to contain it, said Mr Nyoni.
The fire brigade came around midday and when they got to the site, part of the palisade had caught fire. They joined us in trying to put out the fire but it had already spread all over. Everything was burnt save for the information centre that was officially opened by the late Vice-President Joseph Msika.
King Lobengula and his people built the Ndebele capital in 1870. It was burnt down in 1881 in response to increased threats to his political control by the colonial forces and the mounting onslaught by missionaries who wanted to convert his people against the kings wishes. One of the kings indunas, Magwegwe, led the process of burning down the capital after which Lobengula and his people moved northwards to the present-day State House in Sauerstown, Bulawayo.
The idea of restoring King Lobengulas capital was mooted in 1993 in the run-up to Bulawayos centenary celebrations.
But construction only began in July 1997 when a team of experts from Zululand in South Africa visited the country to teach locals how to pitch up beehive huts, characteristic of King Lobengulas era.