How the City of Bulawayo cares for its African Population

Bulawayo’s African townships, with their model homes, sporting facilities, African-run businesses, and welfare centres, are of absorbing interest to the tourist who wants to see another aspect of the Rhodesian way of life.

An aerial view of part of Bulawayo Municipality’s Mzilikazi Township shows:

A – Mpilo African Hospital, the second-largest in Rhodesia;

B – White City Stadium, a well-equipped centre for African sport in Matabeleland;

C – Mzilikazi School for township children.

All the well spaced-out semi-detached houses have small front and back gardens, and there are open play areas for children within each group.

COUNTRIES alive to the social consequences of slums have adopted various policies to prevent or eliminate them.

Rhodesia has her own system.  Here, municipalities are the main housing authorities for Africans.  Housing is financed by loans from central government and from the profits of the municipal liquor undertakings, and employers, through a levy, provide a subsidy.

As Bulawayo has shown, this policy has been remarkably successful.

The city’s population of nearly a quarter of a million is about 20 per cent European, 2 per cent Asian and Coloured, and the remainder African. This last group has the greatest need for housing, as its vast majority are new to urban life, and to the demands, costs and complexities of urban living, and above all, because, as a whole, it is the less skilled section of Rhodesian society.

Since the national policy was first implemented by the City Council 19 years ago, a continuous programme has provided hostels for single men, and 17 000 houses for families. For a small community starting practically from scratch, it has been a tremendous effort, although it is far from finished.

Most Africans come to town as strangers from the country. They come to a new life, to unfamiliar surroundings, to new restraints and freedoms. They lose or loosen their traditional kinship ties, they work a regular routine instead of following the vagaries of the seasons. They must pay for water, fuel, accommodation and food, instead of drawing from their fields and forests, and so must needs plan and budget. Their clothing requirements are more exacting, their food is more varied and cooking arrangements are different. Various means have been introduced to help them adjust to all this.

Personal guidance is offered through a family casework service that attends to some 10 000 investigations and enquiries each year. Women’s clubs have been established – 14 of them with a floating membership of 700 – where they can learn homecrafts, cooking, sewing, knitting and home-economics which are appropriate to their new environment. More important, perhaps, the members build up new relationships and develop personal resources to cope with urban life. Pre-school children are not over­looked, and each club also has a nursery centre.

Men are less receptive: their spare time goes in sport or entertainment, but the more sophisticated use the modern halls that are available to form their own cultural associations. Many, especially the younger ones, study hard, at night school or by correspondence. For the boys and girls there are 13 clubs which offer everything from football, weightlifting, boxing, tennis, camping, canoeing and athletics, to indoor games, arts and music.

Sport is an important part of township life, for both adults and children.

Facilities provided are excellent, and as these schoolboys show, even the European art of fencing is enthusiastically practised.

For boys and girls of working age, there are eight senior “16 plus” clubs with 650 members, and there are two placement centres for young work-seekers, serving some 3 000 youths each year.

There are five public libraries for the studious, and, for sport lovers, two swimming baths, three stadia, tennis courts, football and basket­ball pitches. Considerable help is given to adult sporting bodies and one of the happiest outcomes has been the success of the Alpha Athletic Club, which has provided one Olympic and one Empire Games representative to date.

Encouragement has also been given to people to put their roots down and feel Bulawayo is their home. The first home-ownership in the country was pioneered here. So cautious were the authorities at the time that the original one was for a 10 year lease only – this has been followed by leases for 30 years, and then for 99 years, and, finally, freehold tenure.

Over 6 000 houses, more than a third of the total, are now privately owned. Most of them were built by the Council, but all the larger ones were privately built, some of them costing some thousands of pounds.

Thirty-eight houses belong to the Mhlahlandlela Housing Co-operative, financed by the Rowntree Memorial Trust. This is of particular interest, as it is probably the only housing co-operative in Africa. It provides valuable experience in housing and estate management, and an opportunity for self-determination and self-expression.

Types of accommodation in the townships vary from:

semi-detached houses in Luveve Government Township:

African housing in Luveve township, Bulawayo


detached houses in the  Mhlahlandlela Housing Co-operative:

African housing in Mhlahlandlela Housing Co-operative, Bulawayo


privately owned and built residences:

Privately owned and built African housing in Bulawayo


and hostels for single men:

Hostels for single African men in Bulawayo


There are many other community organisations directed at these basic social and human needs. There are over a hundred so-called burial societies. These are really mutual-aid groups that strengthen the ties of kinship and neighbourhood, and help one another in times of difficulty and distress. The Jairos Jiri Association for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled and Blind began here, and has now spread all over Rhodesia.

Recently, too, the people have begun to take over the management of their clubs and creches, and have even founded new ones, self­financed, apart from a small municipal annual grant.

All trading in the township is in African hands. A municipally-built £30 000 hotel is leased by an African, who is a most excellent host. The Marisha, a privately owned cocktail bar, is one of the most attractive in town. There are three African-owned garages and a host of other businesses, including a commercial block worth upwards of £22 000, in which premises have been leased, inter alia, by the Government for a Post Office and by a bank.

The £20 000 Mapendere Building (above), completely African owned and financed, is an example

of the degree of businessmen’s participation in investment in the townships


Finally, and especially encouraging, is the participation of the residents in the administration of their areas through elected representatives.

The African Advisory Board, which is more influential than its name suggests, parallels in its composition the City Council, follows its procedures and works from a similar agenda.

by Dr. E.H. Ashton

Director of Bulawayo Municipality’s Housing and Amenities Department


(prices shown are as at 1968)