National heritage sites and the overdevelopment paradox

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ZIMBABWE is endowed with many natural and historical places of interest, which range from mountains, caves, rivers, shrines and other historical buildings termed colonial replicas.
Over the years, some of these have been declared National Monuments and World Heritage Sites.
Although the idea to develop such sites is a noble idea and meant to benefit the surrounding communities, due care and diligence must be taken into consideration so as not to defile and desecrate these important sites, a cultural heritage of our children.
The overdevelopment of these places has seen some important bird species migrating while certain trees whose medicinal properties are vital to the healing of common cancers and fevers have become extinct.
A few years back, there was serious confrontation between the National Museum and Monuments and land developers over the building of a restaurant in the Victoria Falls Rainforest.
The argument from National Museums was that the restaurant would disturb the pristine environment, biodiversity and spectacular gorges as well as animal and bird life in the majestic falls.
Today, according to some ecologists, the Victoria Falls Rain Forest has lost numerous rare plants, animal and bird species as a result of the volume of traffic as well as minor developments taking place.
Zimbabwe has over five World Heritage Sites that include the Matopo Hills, Hwange National Park, Vitoria Falls, Mana Pools, the Chilojo Cliffs and the Great Zimbabwe, among others. There are also several monuments and some sacred forests dotted around the country whose traditional and cultural values shape us as Zimbabweans.
Some of the national monuments are Luswingo Ruins, Nalatale Ruins, Khami Ruins, Dhlodhlo Ruins, Lobengula and Mzilikazi Graves, Bumbusi Ruins (these are believed to be of the Nambya people and are nestled in the Hwange National Park) Old Bulawayo and other colonial memorial sites (MOTHS).
There are also liberation war heroes’ shrines and memeorials such as the National Heroes Acre and Provincial Heroes Acres.
Although some restoration work has been carried out on some monuments such as Khami and the Great Zimbabwe, the traffic of tourists and other minor developments to these shrines continue to disrupt their intrinsic value as cultural places and rpositories of our heritage.
National museums and community museums belonging to the BaTonga, Nambya, Kalanga and Venda primarily focus on the preservation of cultural values. On display in these museums are traditional musical instruments, notably the mbira, ngoma, ‘guitars’, magagada and zvikeyi.
Focus is also on artefacts used by these tribes in their day-to-day lives.
While major rehabilitation work has been undertaken on some of these shrines, monuments and rivers for the benefit of the nation as well as tourists, overdevelopment has robbed some of these places of their cultural values.
The overdevelopment of some of these sites for the amusement of foreigners is robbing our children of the intrinsic value of these places.
For instance, the Matopo Hills is home to our national Njelele Shrine, a place where the spirits of the land are known to reside, but the overdevelopment and some activities carried out in the hills completely defile the sacredness of the shrine.
Activities such as rock climbing, canoeing, horse riding, biking and many others foreign to our people are carried out at the behest of the Rhodes Act.
The Matopo hills has been developed and turned into a small ‘England’.
Organisations such as the Matobo Conservation Society are still getting handsome financial support from the Rhodes Trust to carry out activities that are compatible to the wishes of Cecil John Rhodes as guided by the piece of legislation as well as his will.
The Rhodes Estate Act is a piece of legislation promulgated in the Rhodesian era.
It is meant to safeguard two properties left by Rhodes.
These are the Rhodes Nyanga Estate and the Rhodes Matopos Estate, and Government could amend the Acts if it wishes to use the estates for other purposes.
Miffed by the lack of respect and wanton development of the Estates, the Inqama Settlers – a group of ex-combatants and villagers who spearheaded land occupations in Matabeleland South were evicted from part of the vast estate after they forcibly occupied it. Since then, the land has not been occupied and is being used for elite recreational activities, thanks to the Rhodes Estate Act.
The attempted occupation stemmed from a historical dispute when, in 1953, a large area comprising today’s National Park, and the Khumalo and Gulati Communal Lands were designated as the Rhodes Matopos National Park.
Some years later, this greater area was reduced, with a central National Park from which residents were removed. Two communal lands, Gulati in the north and Khumalo in the south, into which indigenous inhabitants were resettled and from which wildlife was translocated back into the National Park for tourist and recreational purposes emerged.
Man and beast were separated!
At this time the western portion of the park was declared a game park subject to specific regulations while the remainder of the park was to remain a national park for ‘recreational purposes’ as earlier stated in Rhodes’ Will.
In 1982, a portion of the farm, Mineral King, running down the Maleme Valley, was incorporated into the national park and in the same area, the Matobo Recreational Park was declared which encompassed Lake Matopos to the north of the National Park. These are the boundaries of today’s present Matobo National Park.
Matabeleland South Province with rural areas within Rhodes’ ‘property’ have been stalked by serious perennial droughts over the years, while livestock succumbed to death due to lack of pastures, yet across the boundary fence the grass remained green and abundant.
Villagers are routinely subjected to ill-treatment by parks guards for subsistence poaching in the park courtesy of an Act that has secluded them from their inheritance.
A relic of Zimbabwe’s colonial past, the 320 000-hectare Rhodes Matopos Estate, about 40km south-west of Bulawayo, will remain untouched, thanks to the ‘water tight’ Will left by the godfather of British imperialism, Cecil John Rhodes.
Tourists who visit Zimbabwe expect to witness authentic artifacts, activities that represent the people of Zimbabwe and their cultural, historic and natural resources, therefore it is important to preserve these cultural sites and monuments in a good state.
Overdeveloping completely alters them into something completely different from who we are as a people.

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