Fort Que-Que (now Kwekwe)
How to get there: Following the main Harare to Bulawayo national road (A5) through Kwekwe town towards Bulawayo and at 8.4 km turn right onto the Road to ZISCO. Travel 4.2 km and turn left onto Linksway Drive. Drive 440 metres and turn right onto Sally Mugabe Way. Continue along Sally Mugabe Way past the Engen Redcliff service station for a further 2.64 km, until 100 metres past the White House Guest Villa where the tarmac road ends. Continue down the gravel track bearing right towards the Cactus Poort Dam and Clubhouse; after one kilometre take the right-hand fork and travel a further three kilometres in a southerly and then south westerly direction around the base of the hill on the right. As soon as the easterly arm of the Cactus Poort dam is reached, park your vehicle, and follow the footpath in a southerly direction across the easterly extending bay of the dam and on the other side through the riverine forest and up the hill. The fort is at the highest point of the hill overlooking the dam to the west.
This little-known fort was built in September or early October 1896, under the overall supervision of Lieutent-Col. Baden-Powell (later Lord) and is still in good condition although some sections of the walls have collapsed.
The name Que-Que or Kwekwe is onomatopoeic and it is allegedly named after the sound of croaking frogs in the nearby river.
The fort conforms to the then usual pattern in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) of being built in dry-stone walling, probably by local inhabitants although this could have also been under the supervision of the European military officers. Having a line of pole and dhaka(mud) huts which would house the garrison of about 25 men; comprised of one officer, a senior non-commissioned officer, six European troopers and seventeen African policemen. Wagons, mess huts, telegraphist and a hospital were usually also outside the fort as it was never expected that the forts themselves would ever have to resist prolonged attack. The Battles of Shangani River (Bonko) and Mbembesi (Egodade) had shown the amaNdebele the futility of trying to attack fixed positions and laagers protected by Maxim guns.
A fort represented a show of force, a stronghold only occupied as a last resort. As Peter Garlake states in his article, Pioneer Forts in Rhodesia 1890 – 1897, that it is hard to imagine today the difficulties faced by the tiny population of new-comers separated by many kilometres of difficult, often hazardous country from their supply bases. They were confronted by an uncertain climate which resulted in flooded rivers cutting the roads for weeks at a time, horse sickness and rinderpest which decimated the horses and oxen, blackwater fever and malaria which caused many casualties amongst the men, and the uncertain reactions of the local population, many of whom were hostile.
In late March 1896 many isolated prospectors and traders were killed in the vicinity of Maven’s kraal and Fort Ngwenya to the north of Gweru with their bodies lying unburied for six months until the arrival of the 7th Hussars under Lieutent-Colonels Baden-Powell and Ridley in September 1896. By this time, the amaNdebele were streaming in to surrender their weapons – 180 surrendered in one day at Fort Vungu, but being in a poor defensive position, Fort Vungu was soon replaced by Fort Ngwenya in the west and Fort Que-Que was built a further twenty-five kilometres to the north-east.
The fort is situated on the western end of a rocky hill overlooking the Kwekwe River and the present-day Cactus Poort dam is just one hundred meters to the west. The axis of the fort is east-west following the contour of the highest point of the hill. Very little is known about the fort, or for how long it was garrisoned by the British South Africa Police (BSAP) The fort was never proclaimed a national monument and Peter Garlake in his comprehensive article Pioneer Forts of Rhodesia 1890 – 1897 makes only one mention of the fort.
Below Fort Que-Que the Hunter’s Road crossed the Kwekwe river and then continued to the north-east on its route to its ultimate destination at Hartley Hills. The actual location of the crossing point and the tell-tale cut through the river banks is most likely now hidden below the Cactus Poort dam, but it would make an interesting afternoon’s walk to look for signs of the Hunter’s Road which probably still exists as a footpath, or track heading in a generally north-east direction.
Structure of the Fort:
The shape of the main fort is rectangular with two projecting corner bastions facing east and west. Peter Garlake says the first fort to feature this new design of rectangular gun emplacements projecting from diagonally opposite corners was Fort Usher No 3, designed by Baden-Powell in July 1896 and copied at Fort Que-Que. Garlake quotes Major Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts who campaigned in Matabeleland in 1896 – 1897 describes the forts by saying: “They would make a sapper snort but were none the less effective for all that. They are first, the natural kopje or pile of rocks aided by art in the way of sandbag parapets and thorn bush abattis fences – easily prepared and easily held.”
I.J. Cross in his article Rebellion Forts in Matabeleland says the rough stone walls of the main fort were in fair condition in 1972, although much of the wall at the south corner had collapsed and been piled up against the entrance to the western bastion and most of the stone from the fire-wall blocking the gate on the south had been removed. The fort’s condition appears to be much the same today with little further damage. There are still traces of the 60 cm wide fire-step around the walls, and in the centre of the fort, a stone platform which was the foundation for a single corrugated-iron hut where ammunition, spare rifles and saddles would be stored.
There is no ditch, perhaps because of the rocky nature of the terrain and its elevated position, and because the fort’s designers cut down the surrounding woodland to give the defenders a wide field of fire.
The ground slopes downhill from the fort on all sides except the south, where an uneven plateau exists, until the hill drops steeply to the south and the Kwekwe River. A round stone tower, with a firing step and drain on the ground had been built on a small rise to cover the dead ground south of the fort. Some of the stonework had collapsed by 1972, but large sections of the still surviving walls indicate that the dry-stone walls were well-dressed and neatly finished off and about two metres high with a fire-step around the interior. The superior finish of the stone tower to the main fort may have been necessary because the steep drop-off needs a more compact shape supported by a solid foundation to prevent the walls from collapsing. The scattered dhaka (mud) remains of seven huts extend across the small plateau; the stone foundations of a tent site (so-called because no dhaka remains were spotted here) near the round tower can be seen and the track to the fort can be traced following the contour of the hill north of the tower. The tent site is the largest non-military structure and may have been the site of the administration office. Charles Castelin, found a farrier’s tool in the hut base nearest the main fort. Below the fort on the slope facing the Cactus Poort Dam is a levelled site some 7 metres by 7 metres which has dhaka (mud) foundation remains and which may have contained another hut.
Conditions at the various BSAP forts varied considerably. For instance, Fort Umlugulu in the Matopos Hills received four Bulawayo newspapers daily and tobacco, jam and groceries were stocked for sale to the troopers. No liquors or beer were allowed at any of the forts, but from the number of broken whisky bottles on the northern slope of the hill, this rule appears to have been ignored at Fort Que-Que. Few complete bottles survive, as empties were invariably used as shooting targets, but there is scattered thick green and black glass. A considerable amount of occupation debris survives on the slope to the north and the south of Fort Que-Que consisting of the remains of ration tins and broken glass. A tin still marked Crosse & Blackwell, London, indicates that the troopers bought sauces and tinned foods to supplement their basic rations.
From the quantity of occupation debris found around the site no attempt appears to have been made to bury any of the rubbish which has proved to be a great windfall for visitors one hundred and twenty years later.
A telephone connection between the BSAP at Fort Que-Que and Gwelo after 1897 was one of the first telephone lines in the country. Made of No 14-gauge baling wire reception was said to be poor. Presumably the telephone line followed the track from Gwelo (now Gweru) so any breaks could be easily repaired.
Stone age artefacts:
The site above and close to the Kwekwe River would have made an ideal stone age camp site and several discarded points, blades and scrapers were seen lying on the ground. They were made from various stone types including quartz, flint, obsidian and chalcedony which may have been collected from the nearby Kwekwe riverbed. Most Stone Age tools were fashioned through “knapping,” the process of flaking off small pieces of stone from a larger one.
In an article on the role of the Loyal Women’s Guild in 1909 – 1910, a letter from the BSAP Supervisor at Gwelo dated 23 December 1914 to the Assistant Commissioner in Salisbury was found stating: There are two isolated graves in the bush near Que-Que Old Police Camp. One has a broken iron cross on it with “Sgt Charles Brown B.S.A.P. Aug 17th, 1897” inscribed. The other has nothing on it and is I believe that of a trooper Corporal John Cox who was drowned crossing the Que-Que river in 1899. I recollect this occurrence vaguely. Have you any particulars in the old records? A cross might be erected; Is there not a fund for this purpose?
The above contents of this letter led to research being carried out looking into pre-1900 graves in the area and there were indications of burials in the nearby cemetery. In June 2017 at the request of Charles Castelin, Chris Machona asked two colleagues to search for the cemetery; they were successful in their search and subsequently guided Charles Castelin and Paul Markham to the site. In a short period, the team of four located twenty-two grave sites ranging from a child’s grave to a large circular grave with a radius of three metres and a large oblong grave. Two had the Pioneer Memorial crosses erected by the Loyal Women’s Guild in 1909-10 and originally would have had the details referred in the letter above.
Both of the brass plaques on the Pioneer Memorial Crosses had been removed so the team were unable to identify the individual graves and one of the graves had been partially excavated.
British South Africa Police – the men who occupied Fort Que-Que between 1896 – 1897
James Appleby, BSAP Commissioner 1950 – 1954 in the Introduction to Blue and Old Gold said that every European recruit started as a trooper and needed to work their way up the junior ranks. By carrying out long patrols visiting kraals and villages in the remote areas by horse, mule and bicycle they developed a close friendship and knowledge of their African constable colleagues and an understanding of African customary law and traditions.
(A shortened account from Thomas Baines’ book The Gold Regions of South Eastern Africa).
Most recruits came from England, driven by a sense of adventure to join a unique Police force that gave both civil and military functions to the country. When they retired, many stayed on in Rhodesia and went on to become leading personalities in industry, commerce, mining and farming. Sir Godfrey said that the BSAP, together with the nursing services, were the major source of citizens in the then Rhodesia. From the earliest days, BSAP outposts in the outlying areas of the country, such as Fort Que-Que, constituted the sole representatives of law and order and of Government.
Credit: Zimfieldguide, Charles Castelin, Chris Machona, Salani and David Suluma.
Photographs: Zimfieldguide, Charles Castelin.