Luswingo awakens historical debate

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

ON October 7 2017, a large number of people gathered at a historic architectural site on the banks of the Tekwane River in the Bulilima District, Matabeleland South Province, to remember and honour those who built the monument.
Generically called Luswingo, the structure’s proper name is Tandabagwana, an old TjiKalanga word whose meaning has been lost in historical mists with the passage of time.
Current Kalanga generations refer to that cultural heritage simply as ‘Luswingo’, the equivalent of ‘Masvingo’ in other ChiShona dialects.
It was only in the recent years that the people of the Bulilima District, particularly those of the Tokwana locality, appreciated the economic advantages of promoting that centre as a tourist attraction.
In 1957, this author was a Standard Four Teacher at Tokwana School. He took his class on an outing to Luswingo and the children had a very memorable day out there.
Standard Four was that school’s highest class at that time. While still out with my class, I composed a song titled “Matombo eLuswingo Anonditjenamisa.”
That song, of typical ‘township jazz genre’, swept the school and the community off their feet, and was extremely popular at all concerts held alternatively at the neighbouring Nhopemano School and at Tokwana, of course.
Among members of that class, those who are still alive are Pius Ntayisa Tjuma (Tshuma), Single Palayiwa Ncube and Gumede Ngwenya as well as probably one or two others.
That class, of 45 boys and girls, appreciated the existence of Luswingo in historical rather than in tourism economic terms.
They also appreciated the fact that those who constructed Luswingo must have been related to the builders of Danan’ombe (Dlodlo), Great Zimbabwe and one or two other historic structures scattered in some other regions of Zimbabwe, Southern Rhodesia at that material time.
Great Zimbabwe was called Dzimbahwe at that time, with the word ruins being freely used.
Luswingo is not widely known because of one negative public relations factor and that is ‘ignorance’.
Another public relations factor that worsened that situation was the negative attitude we had towards ourselves as a racial community in a world socially, culturally, politically and economically dominated by white people.
We despised ourselves, our ancestors, our culture (past and present), our history and our achievements as we became a massive racial community of imitators.
In architecture, our achievements, which had become a civilisation in its own right, was abandoned as we were overwhelmed by fear of both the known and the unknown, that is to say the rulers’ guns and the neighbours’ imaginary power of witchcraft.
This author first heard about Luswingo from his first formal school teacher, Winani Sibanda, at Dombodema Mission; she later became Mrs Sibopheni Bheremu Moyo.
Sibanda narrated to an utterly mesmerised group of young ( and not so young) boys and girls how a man of Mwali (God) named Njenjema Nleya would fall into a trance and be rolled by an invisible hand from the foot of the Malitikwe Mountain from whose apex he would precariously hang.
Njenjema was a name given to him by Mwali and meant ‘dazzle’ as he very well did by his skilful dancing. His actual name was Mbengwa Tjabulula Nleya.
It was during his dazzling dancing that an invisible force would propel him to the highest rock hanging from on top of Malitikwe Mountain.
The same force always later brought him safely down below from where he would walk to Tandabagwana (Luswingo) where he would bathe in a perennial pool in the River Tekwane down below.
Njenjema became a close confidante of the London Missionary Society’s Rev George Cullen Harvey Reed, who founded Dombodema Mission in 1895.
Rev Reed most strongly believed that Njenjema was no less God’s prophet than any of the biblical prophets.
Njenjema and two other Dombodema men escorted Rev Reed from the mission in the early First Chimurenga days in 1896 and hid him at Luswingo, some 15 or so kilometres northwards.
When the Ndebele warriors arrived, they were commanded by Qugwana Hlabangana.
They looked for Rev Reed south of the mission. All they found were his cattle.
The missionary appeared in the public only after the famous Matopo Peace Indaba in 1897, a year after the beginning of the historic uprising.
Mwali’s Shrine was later moved from Malitikwe Mountain to Zondani, some four or so kilometres to the south.
Luswingo’s importance was not affected by that as there was a perennial pool below it which turned into a water logged sandy area from which water was accessed by scooping out the sand during times of drought. Although unlike in the pre-independence era when the area on the Western side of the Tekwane River (called the Netru River) was awash with wild animals, and Tandabagwana could have been turned into a tourist hunting safari centre, it can still be developed into a research centre or a holiday resort, or a national or regional cultural centre, which is what it is now.
Historians will undoubtedly agree with this writer that Zimbabwe needs to research and expand the range of its socio-cultural history. That can be done by a detailed look into the history of each district or province.
The country’s 12 universities will certainly be interested in such an academic project sooner or later, and resorts such as Luswingo would be handy.
Zimbabwe’s cultural landscape is presently experiencing a dynamic change, a visible migration from one cultural environment, if not welled to another.
That is the case, especially in religious practices and beliefs, and students of social and cultural anthropology would utilise places such as Luswingo for research if they (the places) are developed and effectively marketed.
The responsibility to develop cultural centres such as Luswingo is primarily on the local leadership’s shoulders in terms of motivation.
Local leadership includes village heads, headmen, chiefs, councillors and Mps.
However, when it comes to the actual execution of ideas, the relevant council and Government Ministry, with the assistance of international organisations, in particular, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) would be actively involved.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com

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