Jump to navigation Jump to search

Thaba e tala
Skyline of Donston
Mpho e tsoang lithabeng (Molisa)
Gift from the mountains
Country Rwizikuru
ProvinceSouth Balisaland
 • MayorCraig Muchena
 • Town68,273
 • Ranknth in Rwizikuru
 • Urban
 • Metro
Time zoneUTC+3:45 (Rwizikuran Standard Time)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3:45 (not observed)

Donston (Rwizi: Tabetala, Molisa: Thaba e tala) is a town in the province of South Balisaland, on the Mabvazuva Mountains. Established as a hill station by the Estmerish authorities in 1903, Donston was initially established to serve as a refuge for the Estmerish community from the tropical climate of Rwizikuru, but has since become a tourist destination within Rwizikuru.


The name Donston comes from Reginald D'Onston, who was an Estmerish colonial administrator in Estmere who suggested in 1897 that a hill station be built in the Mabvazuva Mountains to allow the Estmerish in Riziland to "escape the tropical heat and disease" prevalent in the rest of the country, as well as reducing homesickness among the Estmerish communities.

Originally named D'Onston, the apostrophe was removed in 1935 following the end of the Great War as the name was seen by colonial administrators as being too associated with Gaullica.

The Balisa call Donston Thaba e tala in their Molisa language, which means green mountain, believing to refer to Mount D'Onston and the fact that it was forested prior to the construction of Donston. This name came into Rwizi, where it became Tabetala, which got corrupted into the Estmerish Tabatala, which was previously used to describe the Lower Town. In the 1960s, it was suggested that the name be changed to Tabetala, but in 1965, the National Salvation Council permitted the use of both names.


Pre-colonial history

Archaeology has uncovered evidence of human habitation in present-day Donston dating back to around 100,000 years ago. While there has been evidence of forts and small agricultural communities from around 6,000 years ago, it is believed that the area around Donston was not very important to the peoples residing in the area, with periods of abandonment and re-settlement occurring frequently. This is believed to be attributable to landslides in the area which have deterred long-term settlement.

At the time of Euclean colonisation, the area around Donston was inhabited by the Balisa people, as was the case in the rest of the Mabvazuva Mountains.

Colonial history

Summer home of Governors of Riziland, c. 1910

As Estmere advanced further inland into Riziland, a factor deterring widespread settlement of varungu was the tropical climate, with the only areas of widespread varungu settlement being in Port Fitzhubert and in Crogan. By the 1901 census, there were only 11,033 Eucleans residing in Riziland, of which 5,254 resided in Port Fitzhubert, and 4,911 in Crogan, with only 868 varungu residing elsewhere.

Thus, in 1902, permission was given by the Governor to construct a hill station on the summit of Mount D'Onston, with the hill station designed to remind residents of their Estmerish home, as part of the greater White Highlands scheme. To this end, houses were built to resemble TBD-style houses, trees and flowers were imported from Estmere, shops were set up to serve the varungu with "Estmerish products or close approximations thereof," and urban planning was largely influenced by the garden city movement. As well, a church was built to serve the Estmerish community in the hill station.

In 1903, D'Onston was officially incorporated as a sui generis village: this sui generis status meant that residents of D'Onston who did not live there permanently can still vote in local elections and run for office. However, the hill station itself was restricted to the varungu, the Freemen, and the Mirites, with "natives" prohibited from living within the village. Thus, a shantytown began developing to house maids, gardeners, and other natives who worked at the hill station but were prohibited from living there, which would become the basis of the Lower Town, which at the time was known as the locality of Tabatala.

By 1911, D'Onston had a permanent population of 128 people, of whom 64 were Mirite, 47 were Estmerish, and 17 were Freemen. In contrast, Tabatala had a population of 1,033 Bahians, mostly "Balisa and Verizis." However, the census acknowledged that "the number of residents do not include the approximately 500-strong Estmerish who make the annual pilgrimage from Crogan and Port Fitzhubert to D'Onston to spend time away from the tropical heat."

With the Great Collapse in 1915, D'Onston's fortunes worsened, as many of those who once could make the regular trip to D'Onston from either Crogan or Port Fitzhubert were no longer able to do so. This had a knock-on effect on the local economy, and by 1921, D'Onston's permanent population had fallen to 67, of which 27 were Mirite, 21 were Estmerish, and 19 were Freemen, while Tabatala's population only rose to 1,102 people.

With the outbreak of the Great War and the subsequent occupation of Rwizikuru, D'Onston continued to languish, and it was only after the end of the Great War in 1935 that D'Onston began making an economic recovery, particularly as it sought to promote itself not just to the existing varungu population, but to the Chennois in neighbouring East Riziland.

By 1941, Donston's permanent population was at 485 people, of which 290 were Euclean, 151 were Mirites, and 44 were Freemen. In neighbouring Tabatala, their population rose to 4,315 people, with virtually no non-Bahians residing in Tabatala, albeit with a slight Balisa majority. During the 1940s, the colonial government began to invest in Tabatala, partially as there was not enough space to expand within the original hill station. Thus, in 1944, Donston and Tabatala were merged to form the town of Donston, although it still maintained its sui generis status. De-jure segregation was discontinued in 1945 under Zophar Bohannon's leadership, as independence loomed.


A house in the Upper Town, 1988

After Rwizikuru obtained its independence in 1946, Donston initially remained successful under the white-friendly government of Zophar Bohannon. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Donston remained popular among the varungu community, while increasing affluence meant that more people could afford to spend vacations there. By 1951, Donston had 7,391 permanent residents, with around 6,000 residents who did not reside full time in Donston.

However, after Zophar Bohannon was succeeded by Vudzijena Nhema, Donston's economic situation would deteriorate because of Vudzijena Nhema's economic policies that deterred many varungu from staying in Rwizikuru. This led to a decreasing number of tourists, as varungu who previously visited Donston left the country. While many tried to hold on to their properties, the 1962 decision by Vudzijena Nhema to permit people to be given "vacant land" owned by "expatriate landlords" led to most of the varungu-owned properties to be seized by the Rwizikuran state and redistributed, primarily to Nhema's allies.

After the ouster of Vudzijena Nhema and the institution of the National Salvation Council, led by Izibongo Ngonidzashe, Donston's fortunes initially improved as Ngonidzashe undid many of Vudzijena Nhema's socialist policies. However, his defeat in the Garamburan War of Independence in 1969 in conjunction with Rwizikuru's defeat in the Mabifian-Rwizikuran War led to Izibongo Ngonidzashe instituting isolationist policies led to Donston being more neglected.

After Izibongo Ngonidzashe died in 1979, his son, Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe would reopen Rwizikuru to the world. This led to Donston's fortunes improving, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. During this period, international tourists began to visit Donston, attracted by the architecture in the Upper Town, which helped improve Donston's fortunes and recognition. This was further aided by government investment in improving roads from Donston to the provincial capital, Chekumabvazuva, which made Donston easier to access to those visiting the Port Fitzhubert metropolitan area. Thus, by 1991, Donston's population had risen to 32,679 people, or an increase from around 15,721 people in 1981, although most of the migrants were ethnic Rwizi, leading to tensions with the Balisa.

In 1993, Kupakwashe Ngonidzashe decreed that from the 1994 local elections onward, only residents of Donston who lived there full-time would be eligible to vote in local elections. While this was criticised from some varungu who lived in either Crogan or Port Fitzhubert but had the right to vote in local elections due to their ownership, this was supported by most of the residents, who wanted "our town to represent our interests, not the interests of those who only spend part of the year" in Donston.

Contemporary era

View of the Lower Town from a hostel in 2006

In the 2001 census, Donston's population rose to 49,753 people. The population was 60% Rwizi, 35% Balisa, 3% Mirite, and 2% others, including varungu who reside full time within Donston.

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Donston has witnessed significant improvements: while in 2000, only 40% of houses in the lower town were connected to the water and sewage networks, by 2010, 97% of houses in the lower town were connected to the water and sewage networks. In the same time frame, virtually every road in Donston was paved, whereas prior to 2000, only the roads in the Upper Town and the main road to the Upper Town from the Lower Town were paved.

In addition, tourism to Donston has increased, as Donston garnered a reputation for being a popular place for weddings in Rwizikuru, as well as a popular place for upper-class families in the Port Fitzhubert metropolitan area to escape the heat. International tourism has increased, due to both Donston being a place to experience the Mabvazuva Mountains, and because of the architecture present in the Upper Town.

During the 2010s, electricity became more reliable within Donston, while after one of the oldest buildings was controversially demolished in the Upper Town to make way for a modern resort in 2013, the town council passed legislation to protect the Upper Town from development, with a goal to ensure that the Upper Town "be preserved immaculately for future generations to enjoy."

This was at the time, hailed as the strongest heritage protection laws in the country, although instances of corruption allowing for the demolition of more colonial-era buildings to make room for 5-12 storey hotels since its passage has garnered outrage from the population. This ultimately led to the defeat of long-time Mayor Bokang Kutloano in 2018, when Craig Muchena campaigned to tighten heritage laws and crack down on corruption.


Outskirts of the Lower Town of Donston, 2018

Donston is situated within the Mabvazuva Mountains, and as a consequence of its location, is very hilly.

The town is divided into two parts: the Upper Town (Rwizi: Guta reKumusoro, Molisa: Toropo e hodimo), situated on the 1,024-meter high Mount D'Onston, and the Lower Town (Rwizi: Guta reZasi, Molisa: Toropo e tlase), which is situated at around 927 metres above sea level, with the two only connected by a single road which climbs Mount D'Onston in a circuitous pattern.

From its founding until 1945, the Upper Town was restricted to varungu, Mirites, and Freemen, and functioned as a sundown town. This led to the development of the Lower Town (then known as Tabatala) to house native Bahians who worked in the Upper Town, as maids, gardeners, and other native assistants to varungu families could not live within the Upper Town.

Due to its elevation, Donston is noticeably cooler, with Donston exhibiting a subtropical highland climate. Donston has an average high of 22.1 °C, and an average low of 13.1°C, with temperatures remaining consistent year-round. However, Donston experiences similar wet and dry seasons to the rest of Rwizikuru, with the rainy season being between April and October, and the dry season from November to March.


A colonial era house in the Upper Town, 2019

The Upper Town of Donston is noted for their urban plan, which is based off the garden city movement. The Upper Town is centred upon the Green Park, which serves as the main gathering spot for the residents and tourists in the Upper Town. The road surrounding it is High Street, with shops, government offices, and the Donston Embrian Church lining the High Street, with a view of the Lower Town and the coastal plains on its southern edge, with the High Street effectively serving as the grand avenue.

Four roads radiate out of the Green Park, which connect shops and institutions to the residents. Two further ring roads were built in the initial town plan, named Fitzhubert Street and Dugald Street, in order to facilitate "direct travel from one part of the town to the other" without having to go through the Green Park. These two roads are connected by four more roads that do not connect to the Green Park, although linear parks were set up so that "those wishing to take a leisurely walk to the Green Park may do so," which enabled those of the minor streets to reach the park.

Beyond Dugald Street, gardens were to be set up, with the intention of "encouraging the residents of Donston to contribute to their community." This was believed to have meant the growth of vegetables or of Estmerish flower species. However, as the Upper Town grew in the early 20th century, most of the original gardens have been torn down and replaced with houses, although the one between Summit Avenue and King Edward Avenue is preserved as D'Onston Gardens. The "garden houses" were situated on culs-de-sac, which although was more appropriate for the terrain, made it harder for people to reach these houses. The avenues go until "the geography makes it impossible for them to continue," with the idea of future growth being done in a similar pattern. Thus, in the case of Summit Avenue, the road goes to the summit of Mount D'Onston, where a sanatorium was built.

Due to its construction in the early 20th century, and its urban planning, the Upper Town of Donston has a largely consistent architectural style, using Edwardian-style architecture that was popular in Estmere, which stood in contrast to the Lower Town, which grew organically and with little urban planning involved until the 1940s, as the white population did not plan areas where their servants were going to live.

However, since the 1990s, the Upper Town's architecture has been threatened, due to the construction of modern hotels and hostels in the Upper Town. Despite passage of heritage protection laws in 2013, corruption had facilitated more old buildings to be torn down in favour of new buildings, despite such construction being in contravention to said heritage protection laws. While since 2018, heritage buildings have been more stringently protected, existing projects were allowed to be completed.


Like any town in Rwizikuru, Donston has an elected Mayor (Rwizi: meya, Molisa: ramotse) and an elected town council (Rwizi: kanzuru yeguta, Molisa: lekhotla la toropo).

The city council comprises of five members, each representing one of the city's five wards, and are elected every four years by all inhabitants of Port Graham over the age of 21, as stipulated in the Civic Decree of 1965 issued by Izibongo Ngonidzashe. The mayor is also elected in the same elections that elect the rest of the city council.

The current mayor is Craig Muchena, who was elected in 2018, after defeating long time mayor Bokang Kutloano who served since 1994 in his attempt to gain a seventh term.


As of the 2011 census, there were 68,273 people residing in Donston, of which 61,011 people live in an urban environment, and the remainder live in a rural environment.

Of the 68,273 people, 62% of the population, or 42,329 people are Rwizi, while 33% of the population, or 22,530 people, are Balisa. The next largest ethnic group are the Mirites, numbering 3% of the population, or 2,048 people, with all other ethnicities, including murungu and Freemen being at 2% of the population, or 1,366 people.

Religiously, Donston is almost entirely Sotirian, with the largest sects being the Embrian Communion, which has 47,791 adherents, or 70% of the population, and the Solarian Catholic Church, at 26% of the population, or 17,751 adherents. 3% of the population, or 2,048 people adhere to the Mirite churches. Finally, one percent of the population, or 683 people adhere to other religions or sects, including Irfan and fetishism.

Linguistically, Rwizi is the most dominant language in Donston, although Estmerish and Molisa are commonly spoken in the area. Thus, under the current Rwizikuran constitution, Donston has declared Molisa and Estmerish as co-official languages alongside Rwizi, as they are spoken by more than 5% of the town's population.


The primary economic sectors of Donston are tourism and agriculture.

As of the 2011 census, 73.58% of the town's population, or 50,240 people are employed in the service sector or with the government, while 3.55% of the town's population, or 2,421 people are employed in agriculture, with 195 people, or around 0.29% of the population being employed in other sectors. 4,551 people, or 6.67% of the population were unemployed at the time of the census.

Tourism is an important facet of Donston's economy, with most residents either employed in the hospitality sector directly, or otherwise dependent on it. Due to Donston's elevation, it is a popular tourist destination for well-off Rwizikurans to escape the heat, while it is also a popular place for honeymoons due to its beautiful scenery. Most international tourists visit Donston for a respite from the heat, or because of the urban planning of the Upper Town.

Agriculture is important to the local economy, although most agricultural produce is for subsistence farming (i.e. necessary to feed one's own family). The primary cash crops grown in and around Donston tend to be potatoes, strawberries, and plums, with these foods being popular in Donston.

Sister cities