Mutare (formerly Umtali)

Why Visit?: 

How to get here: 

From Harare on the A3 national road, Mutare is 263 kilometres.

GPS reference: 18⁰58′22.09″S 32⁰40′15.68″E


Mutare (previously known as Umtali) is Zimbabwe's third largest city with a population of 188,243 (2012 Census) and is the provincial capital of Manicaland Province, the most populous province in Zimbabwe, having more than a million people within its hinterland. Often called "the Gateway to the Eastern Highlands", many Zimbabweans refer to it as Kumakomoyo “place of many mountains” as it is located within a bowl-like valley south of the Imbeza Valley and north of the Bvumba Mountains which divide Zimbabwe and mozambique. The border is just eight kilometres away and Mutare has always been considered the country’s gateway to the sea with the Beira Corridor linking Zimbabwe to the Mozambican port of Beira, only 290 KM away. Good tar roads connect the Mutare with the rest of the country, the A3 route to Harare going over Christmas Pass on the road to Harare and historically the town connects Beira with Harare and Bulawayo via the railway network.

The origins of the word Mutare may be from the word 'Utare' meaning “piece of metal” being the name probably given to the Mutare River as a result of gold being discovered in the Penhalonga valley.

Mutare’s original location was at Fort Hill [See the separate article under Fort Hill] but in 1891, for health reasons and because of local mining activities that threatened to impede future expansion, the town moved to a site now known as Old Mutare, about 14 kilometres north of present day Mutare. The Police camp and Government buildings were erected on this site on the Mutare River and by 1895 the new township included 78 men, 13 women and 9 children. [See the article on Old Umtali] In 1896 it was established that to detour the Beira - Harare railway line through the new township would cost £66,000 and add ten miles to the route. At a public meeting on the 26th March 1896, Cecil Rhodes proposed that the township move for a third time to its present location in the valley of a stream known as the Sakubva, from the shrubs of that name which grow on its banks. The BSA Company paid for the cost of the move and R.S. Fairbridge prepared the new town plan and the citizens moved in 1897. The town was proclaimed a municipality in 1914 and in 1971 it was granted city status. The name was officially changed from Umtali to Mutare in 1982.

One of Mutare’s architectural gems is the Mutare Club, designed by James Cope-Christie in 1897 which still looks very stylish at the junction of Herbert Chitepo Street (formerly Main Street) and Fifth Avenue. This was originally designed as the Stock Exchange, a sign of the exuberant spirits of the time when 160 gold mines were in the early stages of development in the Penhalonga / Mutare area. There are signs of previously chic 1930’s homes in the Avenues, the brilliant scarlet blossom of the flamboyant trees lining the streets, but many now look faded and uncared for. The Marange diamond money has evidently flown into the Banks of Dubai, or Singapore, rather than Mutare.  To soak in some historic flavour, try the old Hospital at The National Gallery of Zimbabwe at the corner of Third Street and Eleventh Avenue, or Utopia House on Jason Moyo Drive, opposite St Dominic’s Girl School.   

The 1896 settlers, had to contend with hazardous roads before reaching the new site, and on arriving, buildings of every conceivable size and shape were already being constructed on the ten acres stands that were allotted to them; wattle and daub with thatched roofs were most prominent, as these materials were easily obtainable, but any available piece of iron, wood and timber went into the buildings. Public buildings for the Civil Commissioner and Magistrate were speedily erected in 1897, initially a small thatched hut, beside it a building of wood and iron. Other wood and iron buildings included Mrs. Hayne's tearoom, Corderoy & Reynolds Store, the Cecil Hotel was a plain block building without a verandah, the front portion being a bar.

The Public Works Department supervised the building of the Adams Hotel and eventually the hotel became the Umtali Club in 1900, which remains to this day. Construction of Government Offices, the Residency, the Drill Hall with all its stables, and the Stock Exchange were started. The Goal seems to have had priority, the workmen being inmates were allowed out on parole during the day. In the evenings they were obliged to report back, and often could be seen knocking on the goal door seeking admittance. The Kopje House Hospital was also started in that year, a great necessity for the sick men constructing the railway from Beira. It is worth noting that the Odzi Railway Bridge was also being built at that time.

Many malaria cases developed into blackwater and the original stream acquired the name Black Water spruit because it was thought that the water from the stream was responsible. So the Sanitary Board sank a borehole in Market Square, and this became the old-time village pump, and was very much in demand.

Lions and leopards remained a serious menace; a donkey was killed in Main Street in front of the newly erected Post Office. They often came at night when all was quiet, taking dogs, hens and pigs and the occasional cow and a calf near a homestead. One Umtali resident set a jaw spring trap tied by a chain to a paraffin tin, a lion or leopard caught its foot in the trap and went tearing terrified down Main Street, the paraffin tin making an unearthly din, and waking all the inhabitants.

The Stock Exchange, an imposing double storey building was begun in 1897 as mining was thriving and some mines in Penhalonga were exceptionally good. The Stock Exchange thrived right up to 1924, but then market declined, when it was realised that Umtali was not going to be a second Johannesburg. Today the building serves as The Mutare Club.

Mutare once boasted of the only tramway in Zimbabwe which transported passengers from the Railway station up the centre of Main Street where the palm trees now stand to the Mutare Club. The necessary capital was raised, but work was not started until July 1901 by George Hall, the contractor. He carried out the work smoothly and with plenty of labourers, the line was laid in a month, from the Railway Station to the top end of the town. The day following completion, Hall invited the residents to journey over the new track on trolleys, and thus the first passengers were carried on a street tramway in Rhodesia. The passenger cars were supplied by an American company, Jackson Sharp & Company, each nineteen feet long and seating eighteen passengers, and drawn by two mules; but as these cars were too heavy for the track and too slow, most passengers preferred to walk. One time a visiting football team pushed the tramcar all the way up Main Street to the Club, where their thirst got the better of them. The tramcar was forgotten and remained outside the Club for a very long time. The Sanitary Board considered it was the duty of the Club to return it to its quarters; the Club put the onus on the Tramway Company. However, after about a year the tram car was somehow returned. The tramway operated until 1914, when motor lorries appeared on the streets to cart goods.

The first travelling theatre to visit Umtali in 1904 was the Sass & Nelson Company, a tremendous thrill for Umtali. The Royal Hotel boasted a fairly large stage and when the theatre company arrived announced their intention was to stay a week in Umtali and put on a new play every night, many people booked for the whole week. Plays such as "The Bell of New York", "Merry Widow", with a change of scenes, were much appreciated by all. After a week of intense excitement and enjoyment, the town returned to normal.

Brick-fields were laid out on the site now known as Riverside. On one occasion a lion chased a donkey over some freshly made bricks spread on the ground to dry, before it was killed. A great bricks were spoiled, but some very good specimens of the lion's spoor remained and after being baked, were displayed in the Club.

There were some unusual homes. A man called Engelbrecht built a house from bottles, which were easy to come by as the hotels were only too pleased to get rid of them. The only drawback to living in a glass house was small boys throwing stones at it. Eventually Engelbrecht was forced to plaster the walls. The building remains standing today and is still being lived in.


Despite Mutare's tropical location, the city has a temperate climate, with an average annual temperature of 19°C; this is due to its sheltered location amongst the mountains. The coldest month is July (minimum 6°C and maximum 20°C) and the hottest month is October (minimum 16°C and maximum 32°C). Most rain falls in the months December to February, although showers occur outside this period.

Main Economic Activities
Forestry - Mutare is situated in the heart of Zimbabwe’s timber growing areas. The timber grown locally includes softwoods, such as pine, blue gum and black wattle and hardwoods on a smaller scale and from this derives timber based industries such as board and paper, joinery, roof trusses, and furniture manufacturing for local and export markets.

Local Agricultural products include apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, tomatoes, peas, and beans. Large commercial operations produce tea, coffee, wheat, cotton and tobacco which give rise to agro-processing industries for canning, freeze-drying and packing these resources. Two large food producers in Zimbabwe, Cairns Foods and Tanganda Tea, have their headquarters in Mutare.

Mutare has some of the finest education and manpower training facilities in the country including The Zimbabwe College of Forestry, SADC Forestry Technical College, Mutare Technical College, Africa University, Mary Mount Teachers College, and Mutare Teachers College.

Mining has contributed much in the past; production has been estimated at 73 tonnes of gold in the Mutare Gold belt, but apart from Redwing and some smaller mines and illegal mining, this activity has dwindled in recent years. There are high yielding diamond fields in Marange, but the country has benefited very little from these recent finds whose output remains secret and unaccountable. 

Tourist Attractions
Manicaland, including the hinterland of Mutare, has a wide range of tourist resorts and facilities including:

  • Nyanga Mountains for scenic views, mountain climbing, hiking and horseback riding

  • Bvumba Mountains also for captivating scenery and lush botanical gardens

  • Mutare Museum

  • Utopia House Museum dedicated to Kingsley Fairbridge

  • National Gallery of Zimbabwe

  • Murahwa Hill - Iron Age village and rock paintings

  • Cross Kopje - memorial to Zimbabweans and Mozambicans killed in World War I

  • The Courtauld Theatre


C.M. Hulley’s Memories of Manicaland


When to visit: 
All year around
Entrance free