The Sunday News
THE name Matobo has become synonymous with the unique giant balancing granite boulders but there is more to it than what meets the eye.
Numerous tales of events that shaped communities and even nations can be told from those hills. King Mzilikazi is credited for coining the name that was to become famous beyond the borders of Zimbabwe even close to two centuries later.
The King is said to have named the hills Matobo, meaning “bald heads” in apparent reference to the huge balancing boulders.
Today the Matobo Hills are renowned as a conglomeration of tourist attractions of amazing diversity.
Part of Matobo Hills constitute the Rhodes Matopos National Park following a declaration by Cecil John Rhodes that part of his estate was to be turned into a game park for the recreation of the people of Bulawayo from Saturday to Monday.
The park covers 424 square kilometres and contains numerous wildlife species as well as a vast diversity of plant life. Some of the animals likely to be encountered during a tour of the Matobo Hills include very big herds of wildebeest, impala, kudu, baboon, zebra, warthog and klipspringer among others. The park, which is the oldest National Park in the country is one of the few places in Zimbabwe where Rhinoceros are found on state land. The park also offers excellent accommodation facilities at Maleme Lodge and several camping sites for the adventure seeker. Exquisite privately run safari camps in the Park include Big Cave camp, Camp Amalinda, The Farmhouse and Matobo Hills Lodge.
The Matobo Hills were listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003 in recognition of the rich and diverse natural and cultural heritage. Matopos (as the place is sometimes referred to as) holds world records for the highest concentrations of leopard and black eagles.
Leopards by their secretive nature prefer rocky areas with good vegetation cover. The rocky terrain also provides good habitat for rock dassies that are highly exploited for food by black eagles.
The abundance of black mambas in the Matobo Hills is probably also linked to the high populations of rock dassies. The Matobo cultural landscape made the 2018 World Monuments Watch list of 25 heritage sites out of the nominated 170 sites across the globe. The only other African heritage site that made the same list last year was the Sukur cultural landscape in Nigeria.
The Matobo Hills are an extensive region with several historical sites and cultural shrines. The hills provided the Ndebele people with refuge during the aftermath of the Anglo-Ndebele war of 1893 and that period was quite eventful with several raids and ambushes on either side. A huge cross on top of Mt Enungu erected by Father Henry Ordillo marks the site of the “Breakfast ambush” which saw the massacre of the settler troopers who were enjoying their breakfast. Other war-related shrines include the Moth shrine, dedicated to the Rhodesian volunteers to the First World War, Dula, where African liberation war conveners would entreat the ancestral spirits and seek their guidance and several forts scattered among the mountains.
It is within the Matobo Hills that Cecil John Rhodes and the Ndebele Chiefs held a series of Indabas to deliberate peace and end the bad blood between the settlers and the natives and is in the Matobo Hills that Rhodes, the man famous for colonising this land between Limpopo and Zambezi was buried. Rhodes had travelled far and wide across the globe but he saw nowhere else better suited to contain his remains than the Matobo Hills. He died in Cape Town, South Africa but his body was transported by rail for 14 days to Bulawayo and two more days to the final resting place in the Matobo Hills by ox-drawn gun carriage.
In his will, Rhodes provided for the burial of his dear friend and personal doctor Leander Starr Jameson as well as Allan Wilson and his 33 patrolmen on the same hill where he was to be buried, which he named the “View of The World”. The site was eventually designated as the final resting place for those who had served the country well and on that basis, the first Prime Minister of the colony Sir Charles Patrick John Coghlan was also buried there. A sarcophagus was erected in memory of the Allan Wilson and his men. Today the hill is one of the major attractions for both domestic and international visitors in the Matobo Hills. Apart from the rich history it has, it also offers great sunset viewing.
To the Africans the Hills were spiritually significant. In fact, the hill where Rhodes and his compatriots were buried was originally known as Malinda nzimu meaning the resting place of the benevolent spirits. It was sacred and Rhodes must have won the hearts of the African leaders through his “peace broking” Indabas for him to be granted consent to be buried on it.
King Mzilikazi the founder of the Ndebele nation was buried at Entumbane Hill within the Matobo Hills way before Rhodes. The hills were also very significant with regards to early African religion. People travelled from distant areas to consult the deity in the Matobo Hills. Ceremonies to ask for rain were held in the Matobo Hills where rocks such as at Njelele Hill are said to have spoken to people. There are several features that are interpreted to signify the presence of the deity (Mwali/Mlimu) in the hills in the past years.
The San, who are the earliest known inhabitants of southern Africa had the habit of recording their different aspects of their lives through art on rock surfaces. The Matobo Hills is among places with the largest concentrations of San rock art. Much of the art is found in cave shelters that must have been inhabited by the San families or communities. The sight of the rock art is just refreshing and awe-inspiring whether one is able to interpret it or not. Some of the prominent rock art sites in the Matobo Hills include Pomongwe cave, Nsawtugi cave, Nnanke cave, White Rhino Shelter, Bambata, Silozwane cave, Ntunjambili and Gulabahwa.
You have not seen it all in the Matobo Hills if you have not been to the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, and you certainly have not heard it all if you have not listened to Pathisa Nyathi, the resident historian and African culture expert. The credo of the centre is “where nature meets culture” and the title of this article was actually inspired by it. The centre provides a befitting capping to a tour of the Matobo Hills with a deeply immersive and even participative experience of African culture.