Bulawayo’s colonial buildings need some TLC

Zimbabwe’s second biggest city, Bulawayo could be mistaken for an old European city if judged on its architectural landscape. The Central business district features wide streets and buildings modeled on Victorian architecture, which is a combination of ancient Roman architecture with newer designs such as pillars, arches and domes.

The urban colonial architecture dominates the city, as the cash-strapped government of Zimbabwe has failed to build new infrastructure since independence. One of the first buildings to be erected in the city of Bulawayo is Eesons, where Gold Fields Limited, a gold mining firm, listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange, was headquartered.

The Eesons building also housed the first bank in Zimbabwe, African Banking Corporation, established by Cecil John Rhodes. Just a stone’s throw away from Eesons, another building which housed the first ever stock exchange under the British South African Company still stands. Both Exchange and Eesons have strong links to the former colonial master Rhodes. Today, the buildings have been rented to tenants who sell cheap phones from China and other electronic wares.

Exchange building

The Exchange Building in Bulawayo. Thulani Ndlovu.

Following the removal of the Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town in April, after it had been the focus of protests, the spotlight has fallen on colonial buildings in the city. Are they colonial monuments or do they add value to the built environment?

“You cannot deny the beauty of the so called colonial-era buildings and how much they add to the environment,” said Peter Moyo, a senior lecturer at Bulawayo Polytechnic College. “If you count them, there are more [of them] than the number of buildings that this government has built in the past 35 years.”

He added, “A building is different from a colonial statue. A building shelters and protects one from the natural elements. Moreover, the majority of commerce and trade in Bulawayo is taking place in the so- called colonial buildings.”

Despite the fact that majority of government business is conducted in the “colonial buildings” government and the local municipality have willfully or negligently failed to maintain the buildings. In some of them the windows are broken and the ceilings are peeling off.

Bulawayo Acting Town Clerk Sikhangele Zhou said many monumental buildings were privately owned and the duty was on private owners to maintain them. “We do recognize them as part of the city’s cultural heritage and we continuously engage their owners to give the buildings a facelift so that there can improve the image of the city,” she said.

In spite of their bad condition, the buildings still attract a sizeable number of tourists. Tourism is a viable industry in Bulawayo. And in order for tourism to register growth in a manner that is both competitive and effective, there is a need to undertake work in critical areas such as the rehabilitation of all buildings in the city that could draw tourists, said Bulawayo City Council economic development officer Brian Hlongwane.

“The city does not discriminate against any building,” he said. “We are working with private owners of the buildings to rehabilitate their buildings so that the city can improve its revenue be it through tourism or another form of commerce. In fact, in terms of the city bylaws buildings have to be adequately maintained so that there are safe to the inhabitants.”


Thulani Ndlovu is a programmes manager for Blessed Hope, registered journalist and a member of the law society of Zimbabwe. He obtained a diploma in media studies in Bulawayo and Bachelor in Law (honors) at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. His research interest lies in Public Administration, Local Government, Environmental Law, and Sustainable Development.He can be contacted at [email protected]

Main photo: Bulawayo’s Eesons building. Thulani Ndlovu.

Read older posts from this section

Leave a Reply