|Mvuma chimney: Tribute or obituary?|
|Thursday, 14 June 2012 12:06|
It is a very striking physical landmark. It is also visible from many kilometres away, and from practically all directions.
When you see it, know you are approaching Mvuma, one of Midlands Province’s very early colonial settlements, located a hundred kilometres away from Masvingo along the highway to Harare.
Standing at 40,2 metres high on a prominent kopje on the southern perimeter of this little town, the Mvuma chimney is indeed a distinctive architectural construction that also boasts a long history that defined mining development in Southern Africa.
The three minerals were found together as an ore.
The mine authorities finally designed a method of smelting the ore that involved lots of chemical reactions.
The chimney stack was constructed by well-fired bricks, from the base to the top.
The smelter itself was located some few metres north of the chimney itself.
It is reported that the smelting technology employed by Falcon Mine was exceptionally efficient.
For example, the Otavi-Tsumeb Mine in Namibia and several other mines in South Africa transported their ores to Mvuma for processing. All this made Mvuma an exceptionally busy mining and minerals processing centre during those days.
It is, however, reasonable to assume that newer and more efficient methods had been developed to process ores of the type that the Mvuma smelter had been specifically created to handle. The health and general environmental risks that the smelting process posed could also have discouraged its continued use.
Initially, the deterioration was slow and visually less obvious. Serious challenges to the survival of the structure, however, emerged from about the end of the Second World War.
One theory is that Italian prisoners of war were for some time held in Mvuma. This was during the Second World War. Running short of match boxes, the prisoners resorted to stripping pieces of the chimney copper conductor to light cigarettes. By the time their period of captivity in Mvuma ended, a considerable length of the conductor had been lost. This exposed the chimney to lightning strikes, some of which were and continue to be very severe.
Over the years, repeated lightning bolts have been knocking off bricks from the top section of the chimney. The lightning strikes have also created holes into the structure. These have made the top section of the structure very fragile and unstable.
Under the circumstances, the decay and deterioration is almost inevitable. The vagaries of nature will one day triumph over this very spectacular construction, one of the more interesting man-made landmarks in this part of the country. Without the chimney, Mvuma will not, for a very long time to come, be the same again.
Its story is also multi-faceted. It is about, on the one hand, the technological developments that took place earlier on in the mining history of this country whilst on the other it is also about the use and abuse of indigenous labour and the perennial exploitation of Zimbabwe’s mineral resources from the colonial period, among other things.
There is no doubt that local indigenous labour would have been extensively used in the construction of the chimney. These were the days of the infamous forced labour. Through the “chibharo” system, African men were routinely conscripted to work in the mines, railway lines construction, farms and other colonial enterprises, at rates of pay that bordered on free labour.
of Shurugwi as one drives towards Zvishavane.
be brought here, to die among strangers in what for him and others was a foreign land.
He never received a descend burial for none of his kinsman was there to conduct the funeral rites.
My great-grandfather is not part of the Mvuma chimney story but there is no doubt that the men who provided labour for the chimney construction project suffered in much the same way as did my own ancestor in Shurugwi.
the chimney with the town is very strong.
In Shona, people refer to it as “mupon’oro weMvuma” and often use it in light hearted slur such as referring to a tall and slender person as being as tall as “Mupon’oro weMvuma”.
It is therefore not surprising that one of the local schools uses the chimney to brand itself. The chimney dominates its logo, this being recognition of the inseparability of the town, its residents and the chimney.
The landmark is used by the Air Force of Zimbabwe pilots training out of the nearby Thornhill Air Base in Gweru. Other pilots also use the landmark as a directional guide.
When one looks at the chimney today, it gives the impression that it is intact and almost permanent.
With time, the entire structure will be affected and similarly weakened. It will then only take one or several sharp lightning strikes to bring this national heritage icon down to the ground, as rubble.
The collapse of the chimney will be the collapse of much more. For Mvuma, the landscape that has given it character and identity will be no more.
The Mvuma chimney is a significant landscape feature, has historical and social values that are significant because they contribute to our reconstruction and understanding of elements of our past.
We owe it to future generations to preserve and pay tribute to such legacies for not only are they physical reminders of our national experience, but are also critical national resources important in building our consciousness, education and tourism.