“The empire had another indirect side effect on the history of southern Africa. Gold from the empire inspired in Europeans a belief that Mwenemutapa held the legendary mines of King Solomon, referred to in the Bible as Ophir.” – Wikipedia
THE most disappointing thing about Zimbabwean history literature is its blatant disregard of critical issues such as that, before colonialists set foot in the country, Zimbabwe was already a mining hub with the most advanced technology of that time.
George Orwell taught us that ‘the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history’.
He was right and in many ways too.
Ours has been a history that has been deliberately obliterated to sideline us from taking control and ownership of our land, economy and abundant natural resources like what the mercurial Munhumutapa and his forebears did.
Instead, the narrative has been that it was the whites who not only ‘discovered’ the many minerals we have in the country but exploited them on our ‘behalf’ to develop the country.
This is the same narrative which tells us that it was one David Livingstone who discovered Victoria Falls, when the truth is that the ailing Briton had in fact gone to those blessed waters for healing when he stumbled upon that marvellous natural wonder.
But in typical British fashion, he claimed to have discovered that great place as if no one lived there!
As the late great writer Dambudzo Marechera would say: “Where are our bloody heroes?”
The question that will perpetually confront us who don’t want to tell their own story is: “Where is our bloody story?”
The iconic aspect of our story, which is yet to be fully told, is that we were one of the few countries that had value-addition and beneficiation facilities as far back as some 2 000 years ago.
This value addition saw the country becoming one of the most powerful nations during the pre-colonial era.
“There were many gold mines and evidence of solid trade with many nations from as far as China and India during that period,” a National Museums and Monuments official told The Patriot this week.
“It is also important to note that the levels of pre-colonial production were high and evidence has been found in areas such as Masvingo and Nyanga showing that there were blast furnaces which were used to process the iron and steel they would have mined.
“Also, take into consideration that their mining methods were not primitive but included, among other things, highly sophisticated prospecting skills which they were never taught by whites.”
The locals had metallurgical skills which they developed in the mining and processing of iron, copper, tin and gold.
This promoted regional and international trade.
The anchor of that trade was gold mining, iron, copper and tin, with soapstone being quarried.
There was metalwork too.
Tools and weapons were made out of iron and copper, bronze and gold for jewellery items.
But there was more.
In Zimbabwe, we always talk about German mines.
A book titled Rhodesiana Publication No. 7 of the Rhodesiana Society that was published in 1962 lays bare the closely guarded Rhodesian secret that it was not them who introduced mining in the country.
“Jacob Viljoen, Plet Jacob and Henry Hartley came as far as Umfuli in 1865 but they valued their hunting rights to go any further.
It was on this trip that Hartley saw the pits and shafts which he suspected were ancient gold workings — perhaps his ‘most important pioneering feat’.”
A couple of years later he came back with the German geologist, Carl Mauch, to confirm the discovery and the gold rush began.
In 1868, a book appeared in London with the title To Ophir Direct which gives a fair idea of the Old Testament visions which hypnotised the early prospectors.
Perhaps the most significant thing in all this is the knowledge of how pre-colonial Zimbabwe was a mining giant which traded not in raw but processed minerals.
Government has availed opportunities to the majority to exploit their mineral resources but emphasis must be placed on value-addition and beneficiation.
Our forefathers did it and there is no reason we cannot.
A 2011 paper titled Entrepreneurship Strategic Document Module 2011 Mining lays the path for the country’s return to the apex of mining.
It says: “Zimbabweans have been great miners way before the arrival of the British in the 1880s.
Entrepreneur-miners extracted iron ore from the ground.
Mining rights were given by the King and his advisors.
The minerals mined included gold, copper and iron, for instance.
Metallurgist and Iron smith (Mhizha)
Entrepreneur-metallurgists crushed iron ore and smelt it with very hot fire.
At Great Zimbabwe there is still evidence of clay furnace, forge and bellow.
This smelting separated the metal from the stone.
As the pure iron cooled, it hardened again and the village smiths could hammer it into (the) shape of hoes, axes and knifes.
This was a revolutionary development in the way of life of Africans.
These were the most skillful technicians, engineers and business people who had the role of processing, the iron, copper and gold into useful products.
The farmers needed hoes (mapadza) and axes (matemo) etc.
The hunters needed spears (mapfumo), bows and arrows etc.
Jewellery such as golden necklaces was also needed by the wealthy people and the royal family.
These products could be traded to other kingdoms for other products.
The ironsmiths were usually very wealthy.”
Our dream to return to the top as an economic giant is not far-fetched.
Our mining history has taught us that we can do it.
We have been there before and soon we shall be there again.
We should not be retrogressive and continue dealing in raw materials; the miners and traders of eras gone by will turn in their graves.