Remembering Bulawayo (1966 - 1981) By Martin McGhee          - 31/7/2012      <--Prev : Next-->

What is it about Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's proud second city that still generates among us expatriates nothing but fond memories, feelings of immense pride at having lived in a town that was regularly ignored by successive governments and which at times saw its very survival threatened? If it wasn't devastating drought and a real danger that the water would run out because governments were not prepared to consider financing a life giving pipeline from the Zambesi, it was the 'Bamba Zonke' approach favoured by those who believed that Salisbury, later Harare, was the only place deserving of development that justifiably angered Bulawayo residents.

But look, from a great distance, the UK to be exact, it's very easy for me to point basically uninformed political fingers. For the life of me I cannot fully understand just how bad things became since 1980 despite having visited four or five times on 'memory lane' visits. Sure, as a journalist whose heart always remained north of the Limpopo I of course read everything I could find on Zimbabwe's progress over the years. I read between the lines on state-owned newspaper websites and yes, those of the independents too. Having been taught to examine all sides of the story I took with a large pinch of salt the negatives and positives, analysed them, applied my local knowledge and formed my own opinions.

What I decided was this: Despite the awful misgovernance, the destruction of the economy, the corruption, theft and fraud and naturally the farm invasions, the people of Zimbabwe remained the same as they always were; courageous, resilient, innovative, inventive and yes, showed their determination to get on with their lives despite the adverse circumstances (to put it mildly) and this in the face of a government which seemed oddly determined to destroy everything that had been built up by blacks and whites over the years, in the name of what they initially called reconciliation but which later became revenge.

Now then, time to cheer up and look back to the fabulous times we had as youngsters in the late 60s and 1970s in Bulawayo, army commitments and all the horrors that went with them aside.

-Working for six months as a clerk at National & Grindlays Bank in Main Street and getting fired for incompetence. Which was fine because my next job was as a trainee at RTV in Montrose, from which I never looked back;
-Brilliant New year parties at 18 Balfour Road, Bellevue where I lived with my mum and dad; Tel: 85293 - what a memory;
-Working on the annual Mayor's Christmas Cheer show on TV. We always raised an awful lot more money than Salisbury. Naturally.
-Drinking at the Web at the Southern Sun Hotel on a Saturday lunchtime and then staggering off to work at about 4 o'clock to 'work' on the children's programme, Tele5 Club. Then dashing off after the news at 8 o'clock to continue partying;
-Saturday lunchtime and evening sessions at La Boheme nightclub. Because we worked for RTV we never had to pay the cover charge, something we took enormous advantage of.
-Two other places we frequented (also for free) were Electric Circus Disco and Magic Moon nightclub, run by Bobby Fraser. His band was Jean Pierre and the Eiffels. Imagine the wordplay we employed around 'Eiffels'.
-Moviegoing at the Monte Carlo and the Palace and two others in what was Grey Street - I cannot remember their names!;
-Appearing in a wonderful Pat Schmulian production, 'Cockpit' at the Bulawayo Theatre. Mags was my 'wife' in the play (hee hee) and we received rave reviews in the Chronicle and Sunday News. Pat took a big chance on us because most of us had never appeared on stage before;
-Sitting in the car at lunchtime, when not in the pub, outside OK Bazaars watching the girls go by. A glass of coke and a cheese sarnie were essentials to help control body temperatures as these were the glorious years of very short miniskirts;
-Buying clothes at Ramjis and Paul of Carnaby Street;
-Eating at La Gondola, The cavern, The Baobab, late night snacks at Fritz Drive In restaurant, the world's best ice cream at Eskimo Hut.
-Girlfriends: Aloma, Betty, Barbara, Jackie, and others not too numerous to mention;
-Working on and producing shows for the likes of Sonia Hattin (still living in Cape Town, bless her), Ken Jackson, James Thrush, Peter Rollason, Dave Emberton, Jan Smith, Adrienne Verney, Bob Ross, Ralph Glover and others. You too, Mags!
-'Sessions' at Harker Hall with The Collection and at Queens and Hartsfield;
-Some of the shows I produced/directed: Link with Sonia; People Like This, a folk music series with Mike Stewart; Now and Then a rock music show with Ralph Glover; Sports Panorama with Norman Bisby; The Tenth Hour with James and Peter; Tele5Club; World of Sport and oh, so many, many more. Are there any Bulawayo types still around who remember any of these?
-Our regular rave ups in the Matopos (Matobo) at Maleme Dam. Unforgettable braais and booze ups, motor cycle riding around the dam. My favourite place in the whole world (still). Climbing eFifi, World's View and other high places I wouldn't dare attempt now;
-Going to school at REPS. Just thought I'd mention that because of its glorious location;
-Battered Renault taxis (still in use?)
-Drinking at the Churchill, The Blue Room upstairs, sixth floor at the Sun, Gray's Inn, The King's Head (Arms?) at the Selborne, darts at the Palace Hotel, The Carlton, The Rio and probably others but NOT the Great Northern;
-Sixty m.p.h. over Grey Street speed humps on a Saturday night;
-Trade Fair and all that went with it, especially the beer garden - oh, I also used to enjoy the old agricultural show;
-Speedway on a Saturday night with Barbara;
-Long sunbathing sessions at the Borrow St pool before going to work. We only started at 2p.m most days.
-Appearing (very badly) in a local production of Grease even though I couldn't sing/dance/act

So many memories, so many tears, so much laughter. I'd be delighted if anyone from those days who might still be around would like to add their own memories to the list. Also, if you know me, please write to

Looking forward to it.