Zomba City is Malawi’s old capital, after the British people that first settled in Malawi liked its climate and its picturesque nature.
Zomba’s cultural landscape itself is unique, giving both the local and visitor an experience like no other.
Located 69 kilometres from the commercial city of Blantyre, Zomba is strewn with old structures, notably the Old Parliament Building, the State House and Ku Chawe Inn.
In terms of entertainment, the city has unique structures, one of which being Gymkhana Club, strategically located a stone throw from the Zomba District Commissioner’s office.
This is where most of the British people that settled in the old capital could find time to relax after a hard day at work.
Founded and established in 1893, the famous club has lush green fairways with ‘sand’ greens and was then being run by the government until 1923.
The field in front of the clubhouse was used for sports and social activities.
The King’s African Rifles (KAR) also conducted their parades on the British Monarch’s birthday on the field.
These activities have since ceased and, today, the field is mostly used for sporting activities such as football, tennis, squash and golf.
However, activities such as hockey, rugby and darts are rarely seen despite the presence of playing fields.
People also used to watch cinemas at the clubhouse but, now, the facility is getting into a state of disrepair because it is very expensive to repair the facility, according to Gymkhana Club Board Chairperson, Shelton Kanyanda.
Previously, the clubhouse, which was called Queen Victoria Hall and was inherited from the government, used to maintain some entertainment activities, notably drama, music, bar.
Today, the club has even introduced a gym.
In history, Stack Banda was the first black man to chair Gymkhana Club.
It is also believed that, in those days, after playing golf, British people used to go for horse riding inside the golf field, where there is a path surrounded by African Mahogany (mibawa) trees.
The clubhouse has two bars, main and golfers bar.
However, the one that was exclusively for golfers’ use has been opened to the public but the right of admission remains reserved.
The club has also been popular with arts activities.
Way back, theatre maestro, the late Du Chisiza Junior, and his Wakhumbata Ensemble Theatre, as well as Kwathu Drama group used to have their day in the sun of the club, performing in the clubhouse in the 90s.
And, between 1997 and 2006, the club used to host performances of music bands, which include Joshua Generations, Malawi Police Orchestra, Millennium Sound Checks, Domasi Sounds and even Zembani Band.
This was not the case in the 19th Century.
The clubhouse has totally changed now, entertainment wise, as it has embraced more players.
Such choirs as Ndirande Anglican Voices, Kamuzu Barracks Singers, Great Angels Choir and solo artists such as Thoko Katimba, Steve Wazisomo Muliya, among others, have had performances there.
This is in addition to drama, band performances and weddings, all of which have been taking place in the Gymkhana Club hall lately.
Apart from these things, Gymkhana Club has hosted events, notably Miss Zomba, as well as talent shows and discos.
As for the club’s ground, it has been hosting political rallies, where musicians Lucius Banda, Saul Chambezi, Skeffa Chimoto and Dan Lu have given out their best.
In August 2014, organisers of the Moyo ndi Mpamba music show attracted good patronage when the club hosted their first ever show.
Ethel Kamwendo, Mlaka Maliro, Katelele Ching’oma and Andiamo Music School Band performed at that colourful event.
Fans came from as far as Namwera, Malosa, Songani, Domasi, Chingale, Jali, Govala, Thondwe, Mayaka, Namadzi and Mbulumbudzi to enjoy music dished out by the artists.
Not long ago, in December 2019, Zomba City Council (ZCC) officials even held events on Gymkhana Club’s ground, when a phungwe exit-2019-enter-2020 event was held.
Mayor Benson Bulla wished Zomba people a happy new year at that event, which was happening when it rained cats and dogs.
Mathews Nkhani, who patronized the event, does not forget how things panned out.
He is not alone. Even Leonard Mussa, a resident of Songani in Zomba District, has fond memories of the place.
“From 2005, I have enjoyed myself at the Gymkhana Club. I have seen musicians perform. I have enjoyed drama performances and what have you,” Mussa said.
Another Zomba resident, who is also a popular event organiser, Christopher Kabagi, said he could not be where he is without the club.
“Keeler Zone, our entertainment company in those days, organised a Miss Zomba event at Gymkhana Club. The event was well patronised and we got people excited. This is why I am saying the place has been good to me and others,” Kabagi said.
However, he stressed that there was a need to revamp the site.
“The place should be rehabilitated to maintain its attractiveness. That will encourage people to use it during events,” he said.
However, Kanyanda believes that the club is already revamping itself.
“We are already moving in the right direction. This is a club that has been there for some time. We would like to introduce different activities including swimming. We will have a swimming pool soon,” he said.
In 2023, Gymkhana Club would be clocking 100 years of existence.
Kanyanda says activities have been lined up in preparation for the centenary.
“A committee has already been developed and, when everything is in order, news media people would be talking to the organising chairperson for the celebrations,” he said.
The club has about 90 members, which Kanyanda says is the highest number of members in recent years.
He, however, says the relocation of Malawi’s capital from Zomba to Lilongwe affected membership of the club.
“Most members of our club had relocated to Lilongwe following the relocation of Malawi’s capital from Zomba to Lilongwe. Others joined Central Region-based clubs. Then the membership shrunk,” he said.
Maybe Gymkhana Club’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it is able to adapt to circumstances, even outlive them.