Bongani Ndlovu and Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Chronicle Reporters
A red robe trimmed with black velvet and mock sable fur worn with lace frill, a hat and gold chains have for years made up the city’s mayoral regalia.
Be it under the hot October sun or the freezing winter cold, the ceremonial insignia has been worn from at least the 14th century.
It is an English tradition dating back to the reign of Edward III when livery companies, which were heads of civic districts, assumed a distinctive uniform type of dress.
According to research, livery companies and in turn the municipal corporation, arose out of the merchant and craft industries of the towns, as these possessed both wealth and property and had organisational and administrative ability and potential.
It is this connection and the dominance of livery members in local affairs and administration that the familiar robes owe their origin.
In 1960, the two outfits for the Bulawayo mayor and town clerk arrived from England, costing £240,19 (about $482) and were expected to last at least 50 years.
But following the country’s independence and the ushering in of Bulawayo’s first black mayor, Naison Ndlovu, the mayoral regalia stuck on.
It has never changed since; which many find as some form of colonial hangover.
“Somehow I feel like when the whites were removed from these offices, we blacks couldn’t wait to get into their clothes and shoes,” said one Memory Nobuhle Zikhali following a Facebook post by designer Nomakhosazana Ncube (Zana Kay) citing rejection of her proposal to redesign the mayoral regalia.
Zana Kay said she had expressed interest to redesign the mayoral and town clerk ceremonial dress as the current one represents a colonial era.
“I was told that uniform will never change because it adheres to Commonwealth standards and maybe one day, we will rejoin the Commonwealth. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe he meant common victims of colonialism,” she said on her post.
Zana Kay said she had given up after so many follow ups at City Hall but her last fighting chance will be a petition to have the regalia changed.
She envisions that the mayor be in a ceremonial dress that incorporates cow hides, which “represent Zimbabwean people”.
“Cattle have always been important for our people. I’d also add cow horn. It is a ceremonial garment after all. We need something that celebrates our culture and amplifies the lustre, authority and power that comes with being the mayor,” said Zana Kay.
Sheep skin, which represents stewardship, empathy and gentleness, she said, could also be part of the ensemble.
“I would also include brass which symbolises riches of the city, royalty and the power of the seat,” said Zana Kay.
Despite her zest and enthusiasm for a non-colonial dress for the mayor and town clerk, former Bulawayo mayor Councillor Thaba Moyo said there were more pressing issues to worry about.
“It (mayoral ceremonial dress) can’t change because someone said it should change. We’ve had similar calls with the judges’ regalia which is said to be colonial and ridiculous. Before you change the mayoral regalia, find out why that design was chosen in the first place. If the robe doesn’t reflect the feelings of the people then it can be changed,” said Clr Moyo.
He said there were also budgetary considerations to make before such changes could be made.
“Consultations have to be first made with the 29 wards in the city. If you talk about mayoral regalia now when people have gone for 14 days or more without water, it won’t make sense. If we’re going to change it, let’s first go back to why it was adopted in the first place,” said Clr Moyo.
However, issues of culture and representation, particularly after independence, remain central to the hearts of many.
Bulawayo resident Prince Bhalaphansi Ndlovu said: “Kanti what’s the point of independence if we are going to promote the culture of our colonisers. And again, why are we worried about upholding the Commonwealth uniform when we are no longer part of it? We need attires that talk about us. Our identity.”
Renowned historian and cultural expert, Mr Pathisa Nyathi said it was sad that there were some who were proud to be still wearing the colonial regalia 40 years after independence.
“All that is totally uncalled for. We shouldn’t be still putting on that kind of regalia which has no relevance to us. It’s the same with what you find among magistrates, judges and lawyers. All that is very colonial.
“It’s as if there is nothing we can do, we forgot to reverse certain things and one of those we forgot to reverse when we attained independence was this regalia that carries that very colonial image. To this day, there are some of us who are very proud of that regalia which is sad,” said Nyathi.
He suggested that the mayoral robes should be redesigned to depict the cultural heritage of the city.
“What we don’t want is something that is universal, but for each area to have something distinctive and meaningful that can be easily associated with the area. Bulawayo has its own traditions its own heritage. We as a people have not dressed up for the first time, so it won’t be hard to come up with the regalia,” said Mr Nyathi.
Deputy mayor Councillor Mlandu Ncube said they had not received the letter from Zana Kay.
He said changing the robes would erase the history of the city.
“We haven’t come across that request, maybe she left it with the management but it hasn’t reached us as councillors. We saw it on social media,” said Clr Ncube.
“It depends on what the intention of changing those robes is. Those aren’t just robes; they reflect to something which I’m not so sure. But what I know is that there’s some issues of transparency, commitment and the like. But when it comes to our attention, then perhaps we shall discuss.
“It’s not good to change everything. We need history, history is very important. I’m not saying we can change or not change the robes, but I’m, saying we need to be very careful in changing this, as we’ll be destroying history which is important to the coming generation.” — @Yolisswa