Masvingo is located 290 kilometres south of Harare and midway to Beitbridge on the A4, an extremely busy highway and Zimbabwe’s main link with South Africa. It is the terminus of a railway spur from Bulawayo and has a commercial airfield west of the town. Coach and bus services to Beitbridge and places further south pass through Masvingo. Good, tarred roads link Masvingo with Harare, Beitbridge, Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare via Birchenough Bridge.
Masvingo is a city in South-eastern Zimbabwe and the capital of Masvingo Province. The city is close to Great Zimbabwe the national monument from which the country takes its name. Masvingo is close to Lake Mutirkwi, its recreational park, the Kyle dam and the Kyle National Reserve where there are many different animal species. It is mostly populated by the Karanga people who form the biggest branch of the various Shona tribes in Zimbabwe.
Masvingo is Zimbabwe's oldest town; the Pioneer Column left from Tuli in the far south of Zimbabwe on 11th of July 1890 for Mashonaland; one hundred and seventeen ox-wagons making it up to Providential Pass and 'C' troop of the Police started building of the first Fort Victoria on August 14th at a site seven kilometres south of the present town. By September, 1891, Major Leonard who was riding up to Fort Salisbury had this to say; “midday found us in Victoria, which a few words will describe. A miserable lot of huts and a wretched earthwork – which to call a fort is irony of the deepest description – all falling to pieces, with one or two shanty stores standing on a large sandy plain.” This first fort was in such disrepair that construction was started on a second fort, a pentagonal earthwork. By the end of the year the water supply proved inadequate and the town moved to its present position, near the confluence of the Mucheke and Shagashi Rivers early in 1892 and was named after Queen Victoria. In 1899 the town became known simply as Victoria; however, in 1917 it reverted to its original name of Fort Victoria until 1982, when its name was briefly changed to Nyanda, but within a few months its name was again changed to Masvingo when it was discovered that Nyanda did not translate very well between dialects. Nyanda is the name of a nearby mountain about 10 kilometers south of the town on the Masvingo to Beitbridge Road. The name was changed to Masvingo after there were protests because "Nyanda" means "one who has lice." What's more the public sentiment was the Masvingo would be more reflective of the history of the city. "Masvingo" means "fort" in Shona and the Great Zimbabwe, which is essentially a walled fort, is often referred to as "Masvingo eZimbabwe" or sometime "Masvingo eVitori," meaning "the fort near Fort Victoria." So, within a few months its name was changed again from Nyanda to Masvingo. 'The Fort' as it was known then, to quote the Rev. A. A. Louw, one of the settlers who knew it in its first years, “this place consisted of a square enclosure with high walls all round and two towers at opposite corners. On each of these towers was posted a Maxim gun, and on the inside of the walls scaffolding erected to within five feet of the top enabled men standing on it to point their rifles over the wall and aim at the enemy.”
On Sunday 9 July 1893, farmers to the east of Fort Victoria were horrified to find that Ndebele warriors were in their midst on one of their annual raids of the Mashona people. Those warriors, contemptuously sparing the Europeans, said: “We have been ordered not to kill you yet, but your day is coming.” At the same time Lobengula sent a message to Doctor Jameson, then Administrator of Mashonaland, claiming his traditional right to raid when, where and whom he chose. Fearing for their lives, farmers, hunters and missionaries in the Victoria district made their way to the Fort with their wagons, laden with household goods. About 200 men, women and children gathered and for three months the garrison and their families remained in the Fort, suffering much sickness and a gradual diminution of rations, while the Matabele remained in the area.
The Bell Tower is a historical building and formed part of the Fort erected by the British South African Company in 1892 to protect settlers around Fort Victoria. Armed with Maxim machine guns, it protected Fort Victoria during the Matabele Rebellion of 1893, it was situated on the south corner of the square lager of Old Victoria. Today the Bell Tower lies on the north corner of Robert Mugabe Street and Leopold Takawira Avenue near Masvingo Post Office Building.
The Curfew Tower is another national monument and is located about 100 metres northwest of the Bell Tower and was built in 1893 as an extension of the fort. The Curfew Tower housed a gun collection from the First Chimurenga war and is situated in Hughes Street and is accessed through the District Administrator’s gate. It was from this watchtower that a curfew bell was rung each evening at 9.00pm.
The Standard Bank opened in 1911, motor cars arrived in 1913 and in 1914 the railway branch to Mvuma and Gweru was opened. During the 1930’s the first of the strip roads and low-level bridges were built making road travel easier, although the bridges would still be flooded in the rainy season. The first industrial business of significance was the Cold Storage Commission factory in 1947 for processing meat. In 1953 the town achieved Municipal status and the Civic Centre has a prominent central site.
The offer of mining claims and farms had lured the European settlers and businesses soon followed in the form of the Bechuanaland Trading Company and then Meikles Brothers. By 1891 the first Anglican Church had been built which was also used as a schoolroom and by 1894, the first form of local government in the form of the Sanitary board was established. Social and recreational activities followed; first the Gymkhana Club in 1895 and in 1902 the Victoria Sports Club and race course.
Masvingo used to be a commercial centre for cattle ranching and agriculture (grain, cotton, tobacco, fruit, and sugar) but the large-scale destruction of Zimbabwe's agricultural industry since 2000 had a serious impact on farming in the district. The Cold Storage Commission was a major meat processor in the area and there are the remnants of some light engineering, irrigation, refrigeration, printing, tyre re-treading, brewing, brick and tile manufacture. There is asbestos mining at Mashava, gold at Renco and numerous small workings throughout the district and a very large lithium deposit at Glencova.
Small scale farmers now make up the majority of suppliers of agricultural produce. The landscape in southern Zimbabwe is relatively flat, interspersed with rounded granite mountains known as kopjes (Dutch for little heads), they are often quite smooth. Msasa trees dominate the savannah landscape, with the occasional baobab tree. The weather is hot and dry throughout the year, except during the summer when the rains come. There is a range of small hills to the south of the city center. Mucheke and Shangashe rivers run close to the center and both of them act as de-facto boundaries of the central business district. Robert Mugabe Way, one of the city's main streets, is lined with pine trees adjacent to some of the oldest buildings in Zimbabwe such as the Victoria Hotel and the building opposite to it that now houses The High Court of Zimbabwe. The tallest building is the 9-storey Zimre center located in the CBD.
Masvingo Polytechnic and Great Zimbabwe University are the two main centres of higher education along with the Reformed Church University which is 25 kilometres south of Masvingo. Masvingo Teachers' College is on the campus of Great Zimbabwe University, other teachers' colleges include the Reformed Church’s Morgenster Teachers' College and the Catholic run Bondolfi Teachers' College. The major high schools are Victoria High School, Kyle College, Zimuto High School, Gokomere High School and Chibi High School.
Masvingo has a variety of tourist attractions within a thirty-kilometre radius including Lake Mutirikwi National Park (formerly Lake Kyle), Mushandike National Park, and Great Zimbabwe National Monument, a significant archaeological site.
There are hotels and backpacker lodges in Masvingo, some of which are listed separately. A Municipal camp /caravan park is situated on the Mutare Road and is useful for overnight stopovers, but facilities are basic.
Credit: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Zimfieldguide.com.
Photo credit: Zimfieldguide.com, Ethictours, Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica.