Raymond Jaravaza, Saturday Chronicle Correspondent
IN the heart of the Matopo National Park in Zimbabwe lies a grave that sparks a love-hate relationship among Zimbabweans. Cecil John Rhodes, the notorious British coloniser whose name once coined the colonial state of Rhodesia, now proudly and loudly called Zimbabwe, is buried on a hilltop surrounded by imposing rocks rounded by erosion.
The remains of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes sit mostly unharmed on a granite hill, over a century after his passing. Rhodes’ colonial legacy still irks many in Africa.
In several African nations, the remnants of colonial monuments have been removed. There is disagreement over whether to keep the remnants of white dominance on the continent as a warning or to eliminate them.
In a nation that is rebuilding itself under the Second Republic, the grave produces much-needed money. For entrance into the park and admission to the burial site, tourists have to part with US dollars.
For Gogo Deliwe Ndlovu, whose craft and source of income is closely located to the grave, the politics surrounding the burial place is not her concern. She is a hard working granny who prides herself in feeding her family all year round through weaving and knitting. Her hands work their magic to create beautiful pieces of artwork that she hopes will be bought for a good price.
“I learnt about the history of Cecil John Rhodes from my parents growing up here at Silozwe Village but it didn’t really make sense because I was only a child. It was when the liberation struggle started heating up that it made sense how the colonisers wanted us to stay under their rule for eternity.
“I’m a grandmother now and years of experience on this earth have taught me that sometimes people have to move on and make a life for themselves; the Cecil John Rhodes grave is not an issue to me. I’m here to make a living for my grandchildren,” said Gogo Ndlovu.
Some Zimbabweans, like social media campaigner Lesly Mudzuri, call for the removal of Rhodes’ grave.
“Why must that grave remain here in a free Zimbabwe? He was a coloniser who brutalised our ancestors yet his remains lie in our country,” says Mudzuri.
University of Zimbabwe student Elias Mukoro remains undecided on the subject. He is more concerned about affordable education across all universities and colleges in the country.
“I was born way after the liberation struggle but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what our grandparents and parents went through during the war of Independence. I’m concerned about my education and finding a job when I graduate,” says Mukoto.
The Matopo Hills are described as one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa, dating back at least 13 000 years. Beautiful paintings made by ancient cave men illustrate evolving artistic features that tell the stories of how they lived and socialised back in the day, a rich cultural tradition that generations will see for years to come.
Despite the controversy surrounding Rhodes’ grave, the Matopo Hills remain a picture-perfect area. It is a sacred place where Zimbabweans go to consult their ancestors and a place where nature fanatics can marvel at the rocks that magically sit on top of one another in a fashion that defies physics.
As the country prepares to celebrate Independence Day, President Mnangagwa emphasises the importance of Zimbabweans living in harmony in the face of aggression that the country goes through from its detractors. The love-hate relationship Zimbabweans have for Rhodes’ grave may continue, but the Matopo Hills remain a place of wonder, beauty, and tradition.