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Freedom of the City of Bulawayo : Freedom of the city
Whenever we hear of the Freedom of a city being bestowed on someone, the question invariably arises

 "What exactly does it mean and what civic benefits does the recipient obtain?" "Is he exempted from rates and Municipal dues for the rest of his life, and is he admitted to all Municipal places, amenities and facilities free of charge?"

Today it means none of these materialistic things. In a word, it is the highest civic honor a Council can bestow on some prominent man or woman for meritorious service, either of a national or local character. Like many other adopted traditions it has its historical origin in Great Britain.

The history of Municipal Freedom goes far back into the past. Like so many other survivals from antiquity, it had an extremely practical origin. In the Middle Ages and a long time afterwards, there were duties on all merchandise entering or leaving a town. The Freemen of a borough did not have to pay these duties, and so they enjoyed considerable business advantages.

Sometimes there would be freedom of trade between several towns. For instance, the Freemen of Bristol, Liverpool and Wakefield had a long-standing arrangement by which they did business with one another without having to pay tolls in each other's boroughs.
In those days each borough admitted Freemen according to its own peculiar customs and byelaws. They differed to some extent but in addition to exemption from toll and duties, the Freemen nearly always had a share in the revenue accruing from Municipal property.
In the more rural parts they had the right to graze their livestock on the common lands. This last right still exists in quite a number of places - Hungerford in Berkshire is an outstanding example.
Another treasured possession of the Freemen was the right. to vote and this generally had a definite cash value. The borough of Stockbridge in Hampshire at the beginning of the eighteenth century affords an excellent illustration of this. A contemporary chronicler wrote: "It is a very wet day and the votes are wet too." He then continued - 'The ordinary price of a vote is 60 but better times may come."
The franchise in many boroughs was confined to Freemen. The Freedom could be acquired in various ways, such as inheritance. serving an apprenticeship or
. by marriage to a Freeman's .daughter; but it was always open to the Corporation to elect to the Freedom of the Borough an unlimited number of people, and they were not necessarily resident within the Municipal boundaries.
In this way, if an election appeared likely to go against the candidates favoured by the Corporation, it was possible to turn a minority into a majority at the last moment by the judicious creation of Freemen.
An incident of this sort is recorded by Edward Gibbon, the historian of the Roman Empire, in his autobiography:

". . . at the General Election of 1741 Mr. Gibbon (the historian's father) and Mr. Delme stood an expensive ,md successful contest at Southampton. The Whig candidate had a majority but the Corporation was firm in the Tory interest; a sudden
._"creation of 170 new Freemen turned the scale; and a supply wa, readily obtained of respectable volunteers who flocked from all parts of England to support the cause of their political friends."


The nineteenth century witnessed many changes in local Government and nobody was more affected than the Freemen. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 prescribed that borough councilors should not hold office for more than three years without re-election, and it deprived the Freemen of the right to elect the Mayor where that right existed. It also took away from them extensive trading privileges. Then in 1882, the Municipal Corporations Act laid down that no person should be admitted to the Freedom of the City or Borough by gift or purchase.
Three years later there was further legislation by the Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885. It laid down regulations in respect of Honorary Freemen, though it should be noted that the custom of awarding the Honorary Freedom of a City dates from the fourteenth century.

In future, they were to be officially allowed but they were not to possess any rights. Since then cities and boroughs all over the British Isles have taken advantage of the provisions of the Act to confer Honorary Freedom upon distinguished local inhabitants as a reward for their services, and upon great national figures. It is esteemed as a very high honour.

In Zimbabwe provision is made in the Urban Councils Act for the conferment of the Freedom in these words:
'The Council may confer the freedom of the Municipality upon such persons or bodies as it may consider worthy thereof.'

The Bulawayo City Council on the 6th October, 1943, passed the following resolution which is inscribed in the Roll of Freemen:

That after the elevation of the Town of Bulawayo to the status of a City, the Council shall from time to time by motion, of which due notice shall have been given and which motion shall have been passed by a majority of not less than three-quarters of the Members of the Council, confer the honorary Freedom of the City upon those persons to whom it desires to pay singular honour.

The first five persons to be conferred with the freedom of the city of Bulawayo are listed below.
Number Surname, Name

Date of Conferment

1 Moffat, The Hon, Howard Unwin, C.M.G.  4th, November 1943 
2 Adams, Henry I.  4th, November 1943 
3 Bevan, Ernest Henry  4th, November 1943 
4 Bradfield, Edwin Henry 4th, November 1943 
5 Cameron-Smith, Capt. George Walter 4th, November 1943 
A more comprehensive list is available, see the Bulawayo City Roll of Freemen here (member's area, if you would like to become a bulawayo1872.com member, click here)