A history fading, dying in Highfield

07 Apr, 2024 - 00:04 0 Views
A history fading, dying in Highfield The late Cde Mugabe’s house has largely remained untouched

The Sunday Mail

Veronica Gwaze

IF walls could talk, some buildings in Highfield would not just tell their story but also sing it.

The peeling paint on some of the houses in the area — which is the second-oldest high-density suburb in Harare after Mbare, having been established in the 1930s — would whisper of hushed meetings held under the cover of darkness by nationalists strategising to free Zimbabwe from the vice grip of colonialism.

Every brick and all chipped floors would groan with the weight of hidden messages passed by the then-youthful freedom fighters.

Highfield also remembers the anxious goodbyes, the tearful reunions and the weight of sacrifice that paved the way for a new nation.

In essence, the suburb was to Zimbabwe what Soweto was to pre-independent South Africa — a breeding ground for nationalists and freedom fighters, whose efforts ultimately helped to upend the racist minority establishment.

It was an intersection of many revolutionary stalwarts who defined and shaped the struggle for independence and carved the new independent Republic of Zimbabwe.

Most significantly, the suburb, popularly known as Fio in slang, was the birthplace of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which later evolved into ZANU PF after the 1987 Unity Accord signed with another liberation movement, the Dr Joshua Nkomo-led Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

In the 1960s, it was home to some of the most influential black nationalists who included Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole; the late former President Robert Mugabe; Dr Nkomo; Cde Enos Nkala, in whose house ZANU was reportedly founded; Cde Simon Muzenda; Dr Nathan Shamuyarira; Cdes Leopold and Sunny Takawira; Cde Josiah Chinamano; and Cde Maurice Nyagumbo.

The Nkomo residence is now being leased out to Passmore Private College

Mushandirapamwe Hotel — though now dilapidated — was a favoured rendezvous for some of them.

Constructed in 1972 by the late Cde George Tawengwa, it became the first black-owned hotel in Salisbury (now Harare).

The hotel’s rooms 30 and 31 were reportedly frequently used by former President Mugabe and the late General Solomon Mujuru, respectively.

In fact, in January 1980, euphoric multitudes gathered at the hotel in celebration as they welcomed Cde Mugabe upon his return from exile in Mozambique.

Similarly, the Cyril Jennings Hall, located adjacent to the Highfield Community Hall, was also a preferred meeting place for nationalists.

It, however, now screams of the fading glory of its prime days.

But it is not fortuitous that the houses of many nationalists are dotted around the suburb. It was built by the colonial government as a township to house predominantly black labourers who were employed in the nearby industrial zones of Southerton and Workington.

So, it brought together skilled black employees who ardently shared the same spirit and passion to liberate Zimbabwe.

Fading history

Despite this incredible rich history, which is a cornerstone of the Second Chimurenga/Umvukela, history is seemingly fading away and is at risk of being buried in the amnesia or forgetfulness that comes with the passage of time.

Various Highfield residents are unaware of the symbolic value and significance of the suburb, some of whose structures serve as souvenirs of the country’s struggle for independence.

House number 4510, Old Highfield, for example, used to be the home of the late Father Zimbabwe, Dr Nkomo.

Initially owned by Cde Tawengwa, the late Mushandirapamwe Hotel owner, the house was sold to businessman Toad Kanyere, before being leased out to Dr Nkomo.

Cde Nkala’s residence is where ZANU was founded

He lived there until 1987, when he moved to Matabeleland.

The 10-roomed house, under a new owner, is now being rented out to the current tenant, Passmore Private College.

So, it is now effectively a “private school”.

Passmore Ngulube, the college’s founder and principal, however, had a torrid time settling in, as the house used to be routinely raided by the police since some of the tenants were suspected drug peddlers.

“When I came here, my school was fairly new and I just had a handful of learners whom I would teach in one of these small cottages,” said Ngulube.

“The environment was not conducive for a school; police would pounce any time and I felt that my school was unsafe, hence I told the landlord that I was moving out.”

This prompted the property owner to engage the courts to evict the tenants who had for months flagrantly disregarded his eviction notices.

“We were back and forth at the courts. Sometimes they would physically attack me or even steal my school property, but in the end, they lost the battle,” revealed Ngulube.

Neighbours also felt unsafe.

“It had become a drug zone and at any given time you would find more than 30 people here who included sex workers, drug users and peddlers.

The neighbourhood had literally become dangerous,” said Shingai Bhero, a neighbour.

A few houses away from former VP Nkomo’s residence is the late Josiah Chinamano’s house, which had also been similarly turned into a drug haven.


A couple of years ago, the property was sold to a new owner, who did an overhaul and turned it into rental apartments.

“We are happy with what the new owner did; the community is now safe. Lives were in danger with the drug dealers who used to live here. However, the revamp of the building means we are losing a part of history,” said Reverend Nyasha Mafukidze, one of the occupants of the apartments.

Cde Mugabe’s house

While a lot has changed around the community, former President Mugabe’s house, which still has bullet hole pockmarks from the struggle, still stands.

The former president reportedly bought the property when he was still a teacher.

However, the current inhabitant of the house is not known.

“We used to see a lady driving out in the mornings and back at dusk; we do not know who she was, but it has been close to a month now since we have seen her,” said a neighbour, who elected to remain anonymous.

“There is also a cleaner who comes for maintenance works . . . so, we do not know what exactly happens at this house . . .”

Enduring Legacy

Dr Shamuyarira used to stay opposite Dr Nkomo’s former Highfield house.

He was the country’s first Minister of Information, who later served as ZANU PF’s Secretary for Information and Publicity.

He died in 2014 and left his sister, Evelyn Tombana, in charge of the Highfield home.

The property still tells a rich story through pictures and other visuals.

Gogo Shamuyarira’s daughter-in-law now lives at the house.

“I came here as Gogo Shamuyarira’s nurse aide, four years ago. She was ill, so I took care of her until she died before I then became her daughter-in-law’s domestic worker,” said Susan Hamano.

“Whenever Gogo heard war songs, she would sing along or even burst into tears; she would even tell us stories of the good times she shared with her brother.”

Along 40th Street, nationalist Murongiwa Stanislaus Marembo left his wife, Gogo Marian, who turns 99 in May.

She still has memories of the difficult times she had to endure while her husband fought the liberation struggle.

Marembo, who was assassinated at his house on February 6, 1981 with a bomb, was understood to be one of the first people to be arrested and detained for political activism.  He was held at many prisons across Rhodesia and spent about 17 years in detention.

“Baba had four wives and I was the first one, so it was my responsibility to care and provide for my co-wives. Life was tough. Our husband could not send us money often, so we had to fend for ourselves . . . we would go to the village head for food and in return, we worked in his fields.

“He would come back for a short time and be jailed again, so I never got to enjoy life with him.

“In 1981, he was bombed at home, right at the gate.”

Through the help of her children, Gogo Marembo later extended their home.

The late Cde George Bodzo Nyandoro also left a house along 40th Street, which is now home to his son, Michael.

As one of the founder members of the early nationalist parties, his struggle against colonial domination dates back to the 1950s.

Cde Nyandoro would also be in and out of prison, leaving the burden of raising his seven children to his wife.

Although he was young, Michael would see his mother struggle to feed and take them through school.

“When baba came back from exile, I had just started working; it was a difficult process to create a bond with him,” he said.

He has memories of the day they were attacked by the Rhodesian forces.

He had to hide under the bed for safety.

Cdes Leopold Takawira, Enos Nkala, Daniel Madzimbamuto and Josiah Tongogara also had houses along Jabavu Drive in Highfield.

Most critically, the story of President Mnangagwa’s exploits during the liberation struggle cannot be complete without an account of how once faced the hangman’s noose after he and the Crocodile Gang bombed a train near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) in 1965.

The then-18-year-old was arrested by Rhodesian authorities in Highfield, before he was later imprisoned for 10 years at Khami Maximum Security Prison, west of Bulawayo.

Preserving Zimbabwe’s rich history

While the concept of township tourism could have been the solution to preserving and memorialising the rich history of Highfield, nothing much has been done since its launch in 2012. Through the plan, families of the nationalists were to be part of the process of honouring their legacy.

“It is an important issue that needs to be looked into. Museums (National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe) are the ones responsible for monuments and heritage, while we do the documentation,” said Chipo Mahovo of the National Archives.

“We will engage them for a way forward since we jointly manage heritage.”

Heritage manager and museum practitioner Confidence Tongofa said Highfield historically nurtured a sense of unity and became a breeding ground for nationalists and freedom fighters.

“The suburb is intensely interwoven with Zimbabwe’s struggle for freedom, so there is no way we can talk about Zimbabwe’s independence without mentioning Highfield,” he said.

“Such history is not something we can just ignore. Further, tourism is an important contributor to the economy and cultural richness of any community.”

No doubt, the country’s independence, which will be celebrated in Manicaland in 11 days’ time, was, to a significant degree, achieved because of the political activism that can be traced back to Highfield.

Share This: