If you live in Bulawayo you may have driven past Tshabalala Game sanctuary many times. Here is a little history. The first recorded settlement of what is now Tshabalala Game Sanctuary came in the 1840's, with the arrival of the AmaNdebele people, led by Mzilikazi, when they settled in the environs of what is now Bulawayo.
One of Mzilikazi's many wives, Fulata, came from the Swazi Clan of Tshabalala, and the family village was set up south of the present day Bulawayo under Chief Tshabalala. Fulata's son, Lobengula, is said to have been born in this village and is known to have spent some of his early years there. In 1883, after Lobengula had been appointed King, a European sailor, Fairburn Usher, having jumped his ship in Cape Town, arrived in Matabeleland. He became accepted by the people who gave him the name of Pondwene and later he married one of Lobengula's daughters and was given an extensive tract of land known as Tshabalala, on which to settle, by Lobengula.
Usher lived in traditional Ndebele style with his family on the banks of the Phekwe stream and evidence of this habitation can be found in the terraces made on the stream bank where Usher made a vegetable garden and in the remains of a stone wall that formed part of his cattle pens, alongside which is his grave. It can be assumed that with the occupation of this area of land by both Chief Tshabalala and Usher that a fair amount of the indigenous woodland was utilized in the construction of villages, cattle pens and firewood.
In 1897 Usher's farm was purchased from him and incorporated in the Rhodes Estate and became part of what is still known as the Sauerdale Block, Sauer having negotiated the purchase of the farms involved on behalf of Rhodes. The area of the Sauerdale Block known as Tshabalala was leased to Messrs. Hull and Betts to develop but their attempts came to an abrupt end with the Rinderpest and then the East Coast Fever epidemics, which must also have affected any wildlife in the area. Mr. Jock Brebner had arrived in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in 1902 to work on the Rhodes Estate Research station and, in 1905, after the death of Rhodes, he was asked by the administrators of the Estate to develop the Tshabalala Section on a lifelong lease, conforming with the proviso in Rhodes Will that the farms involved were to be developed for the instruction of the people of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). For many years the farm was managed purely as a dairy farm and provided the only source of milk for the growing town of Bulawayo.
Arduous bush clearing was undertaken by hand and an area of cultivation was gradually established and utilized entirely for the production of stockfeeds. In 1960 dairy operations on the farm were discontinued and the farm utilized entirely for beef production with crop production continuing to provide stockfeed. A regime of Range Management was established which included a rotational paddock system with hay mowing and controlled burning used to ensure the survival of palatable grass species and at the same time bush encroachment measures were practised. The lease given to Mr. Jock Brebner in 1905 expired in July 1978.
Tshabalala was redesignated as a Game Park under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. It doesn't have a lot of game, but is a useful escape from the city, and a convenient location for National Parks in their work around Bulawayo