Victor Maphosa Herald Correspondent
The national heritage shrine of Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, who was commonly known as Mbuya Nehanda, a powerful spirit medium and heroine of the First Chimurenga war against British colonial settlers in the 1890s, is under siege from gold panners in Mazowe Valley, 20 kilometres north of Harare.
The panners are cutting down trees indiscriminately and digging tunnels in and around the shrine of one of Zimbabwe’s most revered female heroines, who has many buildings and roads named after her.
Illegal panners and squatters have also settled around the heritage site, forcing the Christon Bank community in the Mazowe Valley to appeal to the Government for intervention.
The site most affected is where Mbuya Nehanda used to dwell.
Christon Bank Environment and Tourism Association spokesperson Ms Avril Dlamini said recently that the historic site, which includes ancient rock paintings, grain bins and Mbuya Nehanda’s cave, were being destroyed by the panners.
“The shrine was home to Mbuya Nehanda and it was the epicentre of the liberation struggle, but total disrespect is now being shown to this heritage site,” she said.
“This is an agro-residential area. It is the green belt of Harare, but the very trees we are supposed to preserve are being cut left, right and centre, and nobody cares.”
Ms Dlamini said the association’s vision was to make the area a tourism zone where visitors could appreciate the heritage sites.
“CBETA’s vision is to make the whole area a tourist destination where visitors could enjoy the heritage sites, enjoy the diverse flora and birdlife in the Mazowe Botanic Reserve, as well as recreational activities such as walking, rock climbing and picnicking,” she said.
“Whatever you do, you should sustain the environment and tourism does that. We want the illegal mining activities to be stopped. We also want the illegal settlements to be stopped and correct land use to be restored.”
Professional guide and outdoor enthusiast Jono Francis said Christon Bank formed the headwaters for Mazowe River and its waters were now being contaminated by heavy metals such as mercury and cyanide used in gold extraction.
“Gold panners are polluting the Mazowe River that flows into the Zambezi River below Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique and I don’t even want to tell you how many people live along that river,” he said.
“We have to act quickly to stop the destruction of the Mbuya Nehanda Heritage Site and the pollution and siltation of Mazowe River.”
Christon Bank is an ecologically important place, rich with biodiversity – plant and animal life that includes rare plants such as the Riverine White Iron-wood which grows on the banks of Mazowe River, as well as the Neave’s tiger mimic butterfly.
“The Neave’s tiger mimic breeds on the lichens on trees, so if the tree-cutting continues, this butterfly will disappear,” Francis said.
A National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe official said: “The Mazowe Valley is a cultural and historical landscape worthy of preservation as the sacred sanctuary of the spirit of Mbuya Nehanda that gave guidance to the African struggle against colonialism in two major wars, the First and Second Chimurenga.”
Huge pits have been dug out in the valley and it is believed hundreds of illegal miners who were recently chased from Jumbo Mine are now occupying the Mazowe Valley.
The Christon Bank community is seeking Government intervention to stop illegal miners from destroying the shrines. They also propose that the valley be made a tourist destination.
Bird Life Zimbabwe chief executive officer Julia Pierini said the area, home to nearly 200 bird species, including the rare cinnamon-breasted tit, had tremendous potential to generate revenue through avitourism where bird-watchers revel to view birds in their natural habitats.
“If this environmental destruction continues unabated, it would not be possible to attract bird watchers in this niche tourism market,” she said.
National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens acting head, Chris Chapano, said the Mazowe Botanical Garden Reserve in Christon Bank, made up of Miombo woodlands, was home to more than 300 species of plants.
“The illegal mining activities and tree chopping in the Mazowe Botanical Reserve are eroding our biodiversity,” he said. “It is a protected area and it must not be disturbed.”
Christon Bank is the original home of Chief Hwata. Also known as Gomba, it is the home of the spirit medium Mbuya Nehanda Charwe, the daughter of Chief Hwata.
The Shavarunzi Hill at Christon Bank is where chiefs and spirit mediums of the Hwata clan are said to be buried.
On March 23, 2007 the Government declared the area a national monument in terms of the National Museums and Monuments Act (Chapter 25:11).
This meant that it became a National Heritage Site which must be protected and preserved.
Mbuya Nehanda, a female Shona mhondoro (powerful and revered ancestral spirit) lived at Shavarunzi Hill and was later captured at Baradzanwa Hill by the invading colonial settlers.
This is the same area where other First Chimurenga leaders like Mkwati passed through for the purposes of coordinating the 19th Century African early nationalist uprisings.
In the area are places and hills where other spiritual mediums that came before Mbuya Nehanda resided.
Mbuya Nehanda was hanged and decapitated on April 27, 1898 and it is believed her head was shipped to England. The legendary spiritual leader refused to convert to Christianity.
Before she was hanged, Mbuya Nehanda Charwe openly told the British settlers that her bones would rise again to lead the second and victorious struggle against them.
Stories of her resistance efforts became legendary, and she was an inspiration to later nationalist movements during the Second Chimurenga war of liberation in the 1960s and 70s.
Mbuya Nehanda was not the only one.
Other heroes of the First Chimurenga that were executed included Sekuru Kaguvi, Chingaira Makoni, Chinengundu Mashayamombe, Mapondera, Mashonganyika and Chitekedza Chiwashira.
Her skull and those of her fellow executed compatriots are believed to be at the National History Museum in South Kensington, London.
There is urgent need for legal protection of these cultural and historical sites that used to be the hub of one of the greatest Africa female heroines of the time who shaped and influenced the early African liberation struggle against colonialism.