UCE, a light in Bulawayo, turns 50

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The famous marimbas of UCE

The pioneering United College of Education in Bulawayo celebrates its 50 years golden anniversary this year.

Where did the college really begin?
Colleges do not, as a rule, originate in the resolutions of committees or councils.
Usually one finds that it is an individual who has had the idea that a college (or university!) should be created and then inspires other to help them or lead them to the end result.
In the case of the United College of Education, it is not unreasonable to credit Wilfrid Gordon McDonald (Mac) Partridge.

Born in Adelaide in 1912, he was a great man — a visionary, an activist, a mentor, a missionary, educator, and a librarian.

From 1947 he had been in charge of teacher-education at Hope Fountain Mission just outside of Bulawayo, one of forty such rural training institutions at the time.
All were poorly funded, mono-denominational with inadequate resources and Partridge worked for, and dreamed of, the day when a large college for the training of teachers could be established in a city with all the advantages and resources that promised.

How did Partridge get the ball rolling?
In May 1961 he hosted three Methodist missionaries and three Congregationalists at the London Missionary Society site of Hope Fountain to form a committee to begin the planning of a teachers’ college.

By the end of 1963, there were four churches in on the scheme, the Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland and the Church of Christ (New Zealand) having come in.
Their dream was bolstered by the Judges Commission on African Education Report of 1962 which had strongly argued for the creation by government and civil society of a small number of well-equipped institutions dedicated to teacher training.

Partridge took long leave in 1964 and travelled the world in search of funds to start the college and to learn about the management and structure of such institutions from others that existed in Mauritius, Fiji, the US, UK, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, West Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

In the meantime, he also helped to coordinate the fight to get the college its land to begin construction.

What was the problem?
It was always intended as a multi-racial teacher training college.
Originally the idea was to build on a site at Hope Fountain but the black tenants there did not favour the creation of a college in their area, worried about undue influences of the “rowdy youth” expected.

The neighbouring suburb of Waterford was also considered but the residents there also objected.

Bulawayo City Council enthusiastically embraced the idea and came to the rescue with an offer of land along the road to Victoria Falls.

(They also donated R£30,000 cash to the project!) There were objections from the parents of children at Northlea School so the site was moved to its present location and extended to 37 hectares.

The Rhodesian Cabinet had to be persuaded to endorse the idea since the Land Apportionment act prohibited blacks from living in the area at that time as it was declared “European.” The full cabinet agreed to the land being opened up in 1964 and plans could once again move forward with alacrity.

From humble beginnings…
As Partridge later wrote about this time, “History does not wait for laggards to catch up; not to act at a particular moment may lose one the chance of acting at all.” So he jumped at the chance to begin work and convinced the College Council to just “start working” and they found temporary premises in Mpopoma suburb.

The declaration of UDI in late 1965 had severely affected fundraising efforts because of sanctions which inhibited several potential funders from making donations.
Partridge would not be deterred and relentlessly looked locally for help.

The first home of the United College of Education (UCE) was a six-roomed classroom block in Msiteli Government School, opened on January 25, 1968 where the following year, 23 graduates received their Infant Teacher’s Certificates.
There were an initial 127 students and eight teaching staff.

The entire school was leased in 1969 with more students admitted.
Almost immediately after this first classes in 1968, a massive grant of nearly US$3,000,000 from the Evangelical Central Agency for Development Aid in Germany was confirmed.
The directors of that German charity had been impressed by the initiative shown.
“Our risk in opening was justified.

Had we waited another year there might never have been a United College of Education,” said Partridge in 1985.

Construction begins.
If the UCE wants to celebrate anniversaries, it certainly has a plethora to choose from this year: on June 23, 1968 they received their first grants of money, while construction officially began on November 4, 1968.

The construction of the college made history in Zimbabwe because it was the first institution of higher learning in which the entire building complex was planned before the first brick was laid.

The original complex consisted of five hostels, three common rooms, classrooms and administration block and three staff houses for R£300,000.

The Rhodesian Government provided R£50,000, the Bulawayo City Council R£30,000 and the land.

Portland Cement, P.G. Timbers, together with overseas churches provided the rest of the funding.

As mentioned, the bulk of the aid came from Germany.
The “official” opening day of the college was on January 29, 1970 when 350 students and 24 teachers moved into their new buildings.

Where did the initial building names originate?
The hostels and common rooms were named after people admired by the first staff and students at the college.

Among others, we see Albert Luthuli (South African Nobel Peace Prize Winner), Bernard Mizeki (Zimbabwean Anglican martyr), Tennyson Hlabananga (the first black Zimbabwean to hold a university degree from Lovedale College), Zhisho Moyo (the first black Zimbabwean Minister of any religion), Helen Keller (inspirational blind, deaf and dumb US lecturer), Adelaide Ntuli (pioneer of education for black women) and Robert Moffat (pioneer missionary in Africa).

Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King donated a photo of the civil rights leader to hang in a hostel named after him.
Explore some of their main contributions to Zimbabwe.

United College of Education started training teachers in special education from 1983, in hearing impairment, visual impairment and mental difficulties.
Speech correction was only offered for a few years for lack of resource material.
UCE was one of the first colleges to enrol students from all over the country. Additionally it was a landmark in religious cooperation as the Anglican, Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Congregational Church united funds, efforts and faiths to make the college possible.

The students were widely spread among these and other religions too.
Unusually, and to the present day, students are guaranteed college accommodation on campus throughout their period of study.

UCE was at the forefront of developing better minimum national standards for teacher training, pay and working conditions.
Perhaps, one can point at their strict adherence to creating a multi-racial facility with equality for all races and both genders at the forefront of all their activities that provided a beacon of what could be in Zimbabwe, once the liberation struggle was done.
A couple of lecturers were deported for their political activities and vocal anti-racial sentiments

How did it come to be a Government institution?
The Ministry of Education and Culture formally thanked the board of governors of the UCE for the offer of the college as a gift, the chairman of the board of governors at the time, Alison Ewbank, revealed in an interview.

In a letter to the Ministry, it was mentioned that, the “Council offers this gift, requesting in the strongest terms that the object of the college as set out in its constitution, shall be a Christian College engaged in the education of teachers, of practitioners in home economics and community development, and in the promotion of cultural activities in the field of African art and music.” The difficulty in meeting increasing running costs influenced the board in its decision.

UCE was officially handed over to Government by the Council of Churches on February 15, 1982.
By that time the college had trained more than 2,000 teachers and could accommodate 600 students at any one time.

What about Kwanongoma?
This extraordinary College of African Music was founded in 1960 by Zimbabwean maestro Robert Sibson with the assistance of African musicologists Hugh and Andrew Tracey to provide lessons in traditional music to the Zimbabwean population.
Its name means “the place where drums are played”, or “the place of singing.” It was incorporated into the UCE as a faculty in 1972.

At this institution, traditional African instruments such as ngoma, mbira and marimba were and are taught.
After two years of research, Brother Kurt Huwiler designed four marimbas electronically tuned to the Alpu scale, which was devised at the college and is made up of a mixture of African notes.

Huwiler explained that marimba players did not tune their instruments the same way a Westerner would and used a different scale which is not unified.
It was the appointment of Swedish missionary Olof Axelsson that really launched the college onto the international scene.

Between 1972 and 1981 he served as headmaster for Kwanongoma College, and his engagement with and enthusiasm for the music around him, is an inspirational legacy.

Didn’t they create the modern marimba in Bulawayo?
Arguably, the birthplace of the Zimbabwe-style marimba and the mainstream popularisation of the mbira ensemble as we know it was Kwanongoma.
Olof Axelsson said the marimba was “virtually extinct” in the country until the college started to make them in the 1960s.
Each marimba was originally sold for R$150.

Kwanongoma founder Robert Sibson had proposed for there to be an African instrument that could be used for instruction and to preserve local culture.
After extensive consultation, it was decided that this instrument would be the marimba – a uniquely African instrument that wasn’t specifically linked to any indigenous group in Zimbabwe.

Dumisani Maraire, the father of the USA marimba scene, trained here in the 1960’s, under the great Jeke Tapera, who developed the Nyunga Nyunga Mbira.
Several other well known teachers trained or taught here, such as Alport Mhlanga, Sheasby Matiure, and Michael Sibanda.

Did they vary the design?
The first kind of marimba redeveloped was that exported to the USA by Maraire, which continues to be built with wooden frames, but with adjustments to the build of the resonators as well as the size of the bass, which is much larger and louder.
Newer models made use of fibreglass for the resonators on bass and baritone and mukwa wood for the keys, a method that took many years to perfect.

The most common type of marimba outside of the USA was refined to its current state by Olof Axelsson, Alport Mhlanga and Elliot Ndlovu in the 1970s.
The build was made to look and sound more traditional by introducing rounded, fibreglass resonators on the baritone and bass, and giving the resonators on the tenors and soprano a bark-like finish, as well as decorating the wooden keys with burn patterns.

Eventually, for durability purposes, the wooden frames were replaced with steel ones.
The third type of marimba that came out of Kwanongoma were developed in the 1980s by Olof Axelsson.
These marimbas, found around the world, are based more closely on the Timbila of the Chopi people of Mozambique.
The instruments are lightweight and, without stands, sit much lower to the ground, with aluminium resonators.

And what of the College after Independence?
After Independence the College expanded its offerings to include Special Needs Education (SNE), a pioneering effort in which UCE remains the only college equipped to train such teachers in Zimbabwe.

In recent years there has been a sharp decline in the enrolment of teachers for SNE, falling from a high of more than 60 students to five over four years.
The College also created the Inclusive Resource centre, furnished with learning aides for the disabled and to help prepare specialised teachers with special instruction in those skills peculiar to blindness such as Braille reading and writing, use of reader services, auditory perceptual training and orientation and mobility.

The expansion of languages taught to teachers has also increased with Chishona, Tjikalanga, Tonga, Nambya and sign language now in use with plans to add more.
In 2015, the Chronicle newspaper exposed alleged corruption where influential people are said to be forwarding names of students for enrolment at the expense of deserving students although this practice is thought to have ended.

In 2017, figures revealed that since the college’s inception, a total of 15,509 students have graduated, 11,628 graduated in the General Course Programme, 2,005 in ECD and 1,876 in SNE.

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