EMKAMBO. This is a name that invokes different memories in people who have at one time or another visited the landmark market place in Makokoba, Bulawayo’s oldest township. For a long time, actually from 1894 to 1945 this was the sole
township for blacks. Of course many Africans lived in various parts of the city such as the Railway Compound and other industries within whose premises there were residences for blacks. Many others lived at what were called “Boys’ Khaya,” the domestic workers’ quarters.
While Makokoba boasts of several historical and social sites, the one that stands clearly out is the place called Emkambo. The word does not sound Ndebele at all. After some interview with one traditional healer who has been here since 1964, I got to know that this was a marketplace. It still is and here you will gauge the economic activities that are taking place in the city’s hinterland. Emkambo used to be the place where town and reserve met. Various artefacts that are in demand in the communal lands, then referred to as tribal trust lands, were sold here. To my father a visit to Bulawayo was not complete without going to Emkambo where he bought some herbs, cow bells and other items in demand then.
I have just parked my car outside and closed my eyes. I seek to capture the noises that pervade the bustling township. A vivid picture of where I am emerges. A bird we call usibagobe tweets her song from a fig tree nearby. With one’s eyes closed one can allow the mind to wander off. I think of Obadiah Mlilo the school inspector and disciplinarian. He was a polished writer and poet. One of the poems he penned was Usibagobe which lamented the cultural decadence that was taking place. The parents could no longer control their children. Mlilo’s bird sang once and decided to maintain golden silence. I did not hear the flapping wings to suggest he had flown away.
As if not to be outdone are the weaver birds — many of them singing beautifully as if in competition with Mlilo’s bird. The birds seem to dominate the scene. The cocks give each other chances to crow. I get to know that many households here keep the free range chickens. This breed has become popular and has carved itself a permanent niche in some restaurants such as Sis Bee’s. The broiler is certainly losing ground to the bird that is popularly known as “tshikheni makhaya.” At one time these were birds that were associated with the tribal trust lands. From early days the birds were traded in urban centres. Pelandaba Bus Services bore the image of the cock. The owner of the bus fleet Joseph Mtshumayeli Ngwenya used to trade in chickens, as did Tafi Moyo who ran Try Again buses. The revived Pelandaba buses have retained the image of the cock.
Memories of the old days when we used to herd cattle at Sankonjana come to the fore. The call of the guinea fowls is what rekindles the fading memories. Traders at Emkambo are now selling domesticated guinea fowls. I first met domesticated guinea fowls in Binga. Now the guinea fowls have found their way into some homes in Matabeleland. One no longer has to snare them like we used to do. However, it is not birds alone that compete to charm my ears. Human conversations flood the air. “Rambo!” booms a call from a mature human being. There are many who I can hear chatting and chattering away — young voices probably from pupils returning home from schools.
Adding to the cacophony of human sounds is the clattering of metal. Many a hammer is hitting some metal on an anvil. When industry as we knew it closed down we began to see the emergence of indigenous small-scale industries. The finished products find their way to Emkambo and other outlets where they compete with products from Kango and Fortwell. When I drove to Emkambo I saw an impressive array of wheelbarrows. Some of the workers must have been engaged by the more established industrial companies.
It was time to open my eyes and move into Emkambo. From outside the fence I am welcomed by a colossal building with heavily rusted iron sheets. The wall’s upper section is pink in colour with a dirty maroon below. Discarded tyres are visible in their unplanned disorder. Next to the southern entrance are women roasting green mealies. My father would not have partaken of roasted or even cooked mealies this time of the year. Several cars including three taxis are parked outside Emkambo. I wonder where the occupants have gone to. There are many traditional healers here selling all manner of medicinal formulations including “vuka vuka”, isikhonkwane samadoda.
I do not have to go deep inside the bustling marketplace. To my left I see “tshikheni makhayas.” I inquire about their selling prices: US$10 for the big cocks, US$7 for hens. They are being fed on “crushes”, a curious mixture of maize, sunflower seed and sorghum grain. The “crushes” are procured from Renkini where several traders sell chicken feed and other grain-based products. Below the chicken is a lady who is making donkey harnesses. They are a better finished product than long ago when my father used to buy them. “What do you use to make the harnesses?” “We use discarded fan belts from mines,” she responds with bubbling confidence. Apparently, the discarded fan belts are used to produce many diverse products. The new item that I had not seen before is called bunga, a word I do not know — I can’t tell whether it is derived from English or SiNdebele.
I inquire about this rubber vessel whose capacity is about 25 litres. It is used by omakorokoza, the informal miners. A windlass is used to get it down the mine shaft. Blasted rock is brought up in this innovative and durable container. I am told it is also used by farm workers when they apply fertiliser to crops on farms. The item is quite heavy. Ncube the traditional healer says he saw the items for the first time this year. There are other items that are developed to cater for omakorokoza. There are a few heavy duty chisels that they use to crack rocks through hammering. My interviewee calls them ipontshi.
I realise that the fan belts are used to make many articles. I saw what in SiNdebele we call izayeke. These are used to keep the mouths of donkeys shut so that they do not consume crops when they are pulling the cultivator. Between the two layers of rubber is some thread which is orange in colour. This is used to make ropes that are used to restrain cattle as when milking the cows. Some are used as izitorobho used in conjunction with wooden yokes that draught oxen use to pull a plough.
From the tyres people make sandals. Here I see them in various colours: red, blue and black. When one cannot afford the protective shoes one resorts to “imota”, the rubber sandals. Car tyres have been turned into feeding troughs that are used on farms. Apparently, the conversion of tyres into feeding troughs is done at Emkambo using appropriately moulded drums. From discarded rubber, to new items of utility at homes, on mines and farms, the innovative and the entrepreneurial are finding unique niches and sources of livelihoods.
There is so much to sample here at Emkambo. Many seem to know me already which makes my task a lot easier. I will go back and learn more about the medicinal formulations and what the doctors are dispensing. I saw a lot of music drums, recently carved. Schools are coming here to buy drums for the wosana dance. As I leave many marketers are volunteering more unsolicited information. “See you next week, bye bye for now!” I wave my hands as I exit the market place called Emkambo.
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Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA)
Harare City Council Community Services Building,
Mbare Agriculture Market
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