Fort Hill: Forgotten home

15 Jun, 2018 - 00:06 0 Views
Fort Hill: Forgotten home Old Umtali Central Offices built in 1893 and were used as the courts. Source — Internet.

The ManicaPost

Sharon Chigeza Post Correspondent
Moving into a new town, city or home is associated with a mixed bag of feelings. New homes entice feelings of anxiety and at the same time excitement of a having a different breath of air.

Having to move once has its joys as one looks forward to new experiences and the meeting of new people, but the thought of having to move more than once in a space of less than 10 years has its frustrations.

The mention of Rhys Fairbridge and his family house as well as the extensive work Rhys and son Kingsley did in the surveying, mapping and planning of the city of Mutare as we know it today might get one wondering . . . where were these people relocating from. And why?

Folklore has been known to pass down fact that the city of Mutare had its origins in Old Mutare.

But beyond this lies a forgotten or surpassed heritage of the city of Mutare, the original and first settlement by the colonial forces that led to the urbanisation of the ‘‘Manyika’’ area that was under the chieftain-ship of Chief Mutasa.

Historically the first permanent settlement of Umtali now Mutare was at the camp site of the British South Africa (BSA) Police in November 1890. The British had settled here to negotiate a treaty with Chief Mutasa over gold mining concessions. This however, came at a period during which the British and Portuguese were struggling for dominance over Manicaland.

Although many of members of the Pioneer Column were disbanded after October 1 1890, about 200 BSA Police were stationed at Fort Hill following the tension with the Portuguese over the territory of Manicaland, forming the largest concentration of men on the eastern borderlands.

The settlement named Fort Hill was located close to the confluence of the Tsambe and Mutare rivers and close to the mining town of Penhalonga.

The word ‘‘Mutare’’ originates from the word “Utare” meaning iron (or possibly meaning gold). The name was probably given to the river as a result of gold being discovered in the Penhalonga valley through which the Mutare River runs.

The area dubbed Fort Hill was originally the site of Chief Mutasa’s kraal where early prospectors and both the Portuguese and BSA Company had tried to win the Chief’s favour and permission to prospect for gold in the Penhalonga Valley.

The BSA Company however, managed to win a mineral concession, oust the Portuguese and soon after establish Fort Hill near the present site of Penhalonga to “protect” the Chief from the Portuguese.

The remains of Fort Hill are still just visible, a square enclosure with an entrance on the north surrounded by a ditch. Inside the enclosure is a hole 2 x 3 metres neatly lined with stones that presumably sheltered the ammunition.

Once the border dispute with the Portuguese was resolved, the BSA Company was not required to stay within the narrow confines of Fort Hill.

The numerous gold mining claims pegged in close proximity led the decision made in December 1890 to relocate the settlement due west to the site of Old Mutare.

The relocation was proposed for health reasons and because of local mining activities that threatened to interfere with future expansion of the settlement. The buildings were also too flimsy to survive the narrow confines of the fort and any corrugated iron roofing and doors and windows were moved away to Old Mutare. Nevertheless, Fort Hill remains an important part of Manicaland’s early colonial heritage.

After just seven years in 1897, Old Mutare was again abandoned in favour of the present site of Mutare.In 1896 the construction of the railway between Beira and Bulawayo led to the town being moved a third time so that it was closer to the railway line.

Compensation was however, paid by the British South Africa Company to the townspeople for the cost of moving. The town was proclaimed a municipality on 11 June 1914 and in 1971 it was granted city status. The name was officially changed from Umtali to Mutare in 1982.


Fort hill is home to the Indaba tree under which, Machera weHondo, Chief of Staff to Tendai Mutasa, made war medicine for Chief Mutasa at the time of bargaining for gold concessions with the Portuguese.

Under the same fig tree, three nurses established the first official hospital in Zimbabwe.

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