THE OTHER SIDE NATHANIEL MANHERU
When Mugabe goes to Matopos
(Hayi mani bakithi(!) — MATOBO!!!)— goes to Matobo, Matombo:
place of stubborn boulders,
the land’s mute womb that won’t say
what it has eaten, seen, or carries.
When Mugabe goes to Matobo,
I ask, ONLY ASK, this of him:
scoff the gnarl of his rhodesian tale.
And please bring back
OUR-, MY-,HER-, HIS-TORY!
tell b(l)ack our story,
for so long mangled in fanged white lies
coursing down our corrupted veins, untreated.
Bring back our history, please!
. . . and what a joyous day it shall be!
to shout HELLO(!) to our story,
to greet HI(!)(MY)STORY!
a ringing, vengeful black Echo
hitting back at white tales so tall,
a clasping Echo reverberating
throughout this great roundavel of Stone:
. . . and all shall listen, learn,
all shall hear: clutch, grasp,
all shall own: keep, hold dear:
thereafter a brace new story told,
to bear, to mould, to nourish anew
true generations to come,
to come . . . and to come, ad infinitum:
this broken story of Stone — freed, sutured once more,
from our restless lips seeding and serenading
minds of scions so nubile.
ageless pile of warted boulders —
native, mute, un-mortared,
once brooding story now gay:
benignly looking at this toddler 93,
garlanded by the yodel of its mute elements,
symphonies of seeping rain,
swaying hips of mupani.
In rested airs, ancestral whispers endless delight:
Behold son of this land, truly begot,
Feast this living story still to be told;
A great life, yet a mere moment in time infinity.
A legend, cavorting timeless boulders of Matobo.
Only four roads to Matopos, many roads to Matobo
Rhodesian book guides speak of four different roads of reaching Matopos, sorry Matobo, from Bulawayo. They never talk of the ageless trails blazed by native feet that regularly visited this vast complex of shrines to talk to the gods. Or to bury their dear departed who live deep in the caverns of Matobo’s hard-to-grasp boulders. And perplexed by the granite maze, these Rhodesians called the hills of Matobo “geological madness”, vainly hoping Matobo would soon kow-tow to “the inevitable march of civilisation”, a euphemism for colonialism. Not only Matobo’s geology proved unfathomable, puzzling; so, too, did the complex native belief system nourished by it, a belief system which lives intact to this day. White writers speak of ‘Mlimo, of Madlozi, Place of Death, of False Deity, or use some such bemusing appellations. Wrote one whiteman: “ . . . I was at a loss to understand how it was that a tribe such as the Matabele, credited with much cunning, could be duped to such an incredible extent at the caprice of this much vaunted power.” And the slur went beyond the Ndebeles: “But then,” continued the whiteman, “as I had always found, this slavish surrender of every manly attribute under the influence of superstition, was so universal amongst the natives of this country that it might justly be regarded as a national defect.” Clearly only four roads to Matopos, but many, many roads to Matobo!
We lose it to our peril
I share the aforementioned “national defect”, share in it proudly and incorrigibly. For I am literate enough to know that white commentators’ derision of my people’s spirituality, their attempts to overwrite its locale – Matobo, or Matombo – whether by renaming it Matopos, or impugning its properties, is part of a broader attempt not just to rob me of, and to rubbish my heritage, but also to kill the spirit and resource of resistance which gave us the various Umvukelas, the various Zvimurenga. For at the heart of all our wars of resistance — in the past, in the present, in the future — sits and runs an unbending seam of spirituality. We lose it to our peril.
Within hearing range of Spirits
Today President Mugabe comes to Matobo, Matombo. He comes to join the rest of his people in a joyous celebration of his coming into this world, a vast 93 moons ago. By the sheer age of Matobo, its boulders, he is toddler Matobo indulgently laughs at. He comes four days after, a belatedness that hardly takes away any value to the day. All commemorations are symbolic, meaning their sense lies in interpretation, never in a one-to-one relational proximity. No sweat, as far as I am concerned, and fastidious arguments need not detain me on that one. What does and should, is the significance of holding such commemorations within hearing range of Spirits of the land: near the Matobo Hill Complex. So much has been said, written, which is what actuates this vigorous piece.
The names they could not erase
That you can call it Matobo or Matombo, attests to its status as a national heritage and focus. And this is not an aberration, a political contrivance. It is a naming legacy that carries our broad dual heritage, a legacy white conquest and history would and could not expunge, much as there was the will to do so. For to the “geological madness” must be added an indelible naming madness. It is not just Matombo/Matobo they needed to erase. There is also a hill called Inungu, It’s-A-Porcupine: a tribute to the hill’s spiked vegetation resembling the lances of the creature after which it is named. Then you have Tshingengoma/Chingengoma, It’s like-a-Drum: another hill whose bold flatness resembles the top of an African drum. Hardly a misnomer for a place of such abiding spirituality, indeed a holy place where drums beat all night to invoke spirits and voices of those long departed.
Eternal guardians of the land
Above all — both literally and figuratively — you have Malindidzimu/Marindadzimu: guardians of the big spirit, if you want. Or graves of the big spirit, if you mistakenly think spirits of this land ever die. This is where you have the big boulders — vigilant, timeless sentinels — of the whole spiritual edifice. The hill defiled by Rhodes and his other dead peers, which Rhodes sought to rename “World’s View”, hoping to rub off the local tongue. As you scale up to Malindadzimu, you are hit by a plaque on which are inscribed the following words: “This ground is consecrated and set apart forever to be the resting place of those who have deserved well of their country.” Not one more burial has ever been done on Malindadzimu since the burial and re-burial of Rhodes and his peers respectively. But all told, you cannot miss an inventive and complex naming culture manifesting in a great civilization hewn our of rock. It is not in vain we are MaDzimbabwe – those of the Big House of Stone.
He comes to REPS
But we were called Rhodesians, once upon a time, having been named after one Cecil John Rhodes, the British homosexual who is supposed to have found us! Today the President comes to Matobo, near enough to where Rhodes lies, atop our spiritual fontanelle, bestriding our history, our stricken identity. And as if to drive the point near enough for him to see and to endure it, commemorations of his birthday will take place at REPS: Rhodes Estate Preparatory School, very near to Rhodes’ Summer house which still stands, now only a museum. And on a piece of land which Rhodes cut for himself, only to hand over to his Trust through a will, as a bequest. It used to be called Matopo Estate, comprising Matopo Experimental Farm — now Matopo Research Station — and a Game Park.
Rhodes’s twin bequest
The document that dowered this land to Rhodesia deserves citation, deserves to be quoted verbatim so we begin to know when and where the rains began to beat us. Twinning two scenic pieces of land on either near ends of our country, it reads: “I give free of all duty whatsoever my landed property near Bulawayo in Matabeleland Rhodesia and my landed property at or near Inyanga near Salisbury in Mashonaland Rhodesia to my Trustees hereinbefore named upon trust that my Trustees shall in such manner as in their uncontrolled discretion they shall think fit cultivate the same respectively for the instruction of the people of Rhodesia. I give free of all duty whatsoever to my Trustees hereinbefore named such a sum of money as they shall carefully ascertain and in their uncontrolled discretion consider ample and sufficient by its investments to yield income amounting to the sum of £4,000 sterling per annum and not less and I direct my Trustees to invest the same sum and the said sum and the investments for the time being representing it I hereinafter refer to as ‘the Matopos and Bulawayo Fund’.
A grave, a dam, a park, a college
“And I direct that my Trustees shall for ever apply in such manner as in their uncontrolled discretion they shall think fit the income of the Matopos and Bulawayo Fund in preserving protecting maintaining adorning and beautifying the said burial-place and hill and their surroundings and shall for ever apply in such manner as in their uncontrolled discretion they shall think fit the balance of the income of the Matopos and Bulawayo Fund and any rents and profits of my said landed properties near Bulawayo in the cultivation as aforesaid of such property. And in particular I direct my Trustees that a portion of my Sauerdale property a part of my said landed property near Bulawayo be planted with every possible tree and be made and preserved and maintained as a park for the people of Bulawayo and that they complete the dam at my Westacre property of it is not completed at my death and make a short railway line from Bulawayo to Westacre so the people of Bulawayo may enjoy the glory of the Matopos from Saturday to Monday. For the guidance of my Trustees I wish to record that in the cultivation of my said landed properties I include such things as experimental farming forestry market and other gardening and fruit farming irrigation and the teaching of any of those things and establishing and maintaining an Agricultural College.”
When irony boomerangs
The President thus comes to a landscape on which has been scrawled settler white colonial history; on a landscape on which there has been a determined effort to erase the history of his people, our history. And the effort continues to this day, ironically carried out through native agency. By way of example, for two successive weeks, the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, himself a child from Matabeleland South of Zimbabwe, has studiously harnessed his fury to resurrect white personality and historiography. Possibly without realizing where real irony lies, the editor wrote: “Besides the carousal to celebrate the life of a leader who postures as anti-imperialist and incorruptible is being held at Rhodes Estate Preparatory School of all places. Founded in 1932, its completion was funded by the estate of Cecil John Rhodes who is buried in the surrounding Matobo Hills, close to King Mzilikazi’s grave to further complicate the irony. The school, steeped in British public schools traditions, is next to Rhodes’ summer-house, now a museum. To cap it all, one has to use Robert Mugabe Way which joins Matopo road to go there from Bulawayo.”
Therein lies my message for this week! President Mugabe goes to Matobo which white history says can be reached from four different roads which I need not rename. For me, the four access roads are a good metaphor for the many, mutually distinct histories and perspectives by which Matobo has been read, understood and approached, in its endless subsistence. I am clear two such histories and perspectives are compatible, or at the very least harmonious, a fact represented by the two naming traditions whence comes Matobo and Matombo. I am also very clear that there is a third history and perspective that is alien and imperious, and to that extent which relates antagonistically to the preceding two. It has been well cultivated in the colonial school curriculum, and lingers on in a perverted generation of Zimbabweans, long after our Independence. I don’t know if Minister Dokora’s new curriculum is the antidote. But to this generation of “the mourned ones”, nothing happened in 1980, which is why they still think swarthes of land with a colonial imprint from history, remain alien in a free Zimbabwe. They opposed land reforms, in fact still do regardless of the futility of doing so. On an ordinary day, they will find nothing amiss in having places and institutions named after icons of settler colonialism. Quite the contrary, they relish such a tradition, defend it, deepen it by providing some legitimating ethos and ideational habitat for securing it. Often, they trustworthily run institutions whose founding is “tainted” by white hands: companies, trusts, clubs and most tellingly, newspapers! Real Malindamakiwa, the guardians of the white ethos and spirit.
A twisted logic
It is only when a person in the form and history of President Mugabe gets associated with such places, is their revolutionary adrenaline stimulated and starts coursing incandescent. They read searing “irony”; they ironically abhor “British traditions” which not only reared them, but dowers them by way of vaunted status, employment places and salaries. In their stilted reasoning, REPS remains Rhodes’ Estate up to now, through a strange logic by which they themselves still become and are left “Zimbabweans” in a country that once was Rhodes’ BSACompany Estate, that once was Rhodesia! The flip side of that reasoning is that Nkomo and Mugabe can liberate Zimbabwe, while failing to subdue and take over a very small portion of this country called “Rhodes’ Estate”. This long after the law of succession has taken its toll on the legacy and bequest of Rhodes! Still, they assert the point furiously, unaware of the irony that damns them with equal and opposite fury. And the irony can be as near as in the very paragraph by which they seek to damn Mugabe. The editor mentions graves of Mzilikazi and Rhodes in equal measure, nay, in the same paragraph. Correctly, he underlines the mutual proximity of the two graves. But a Mugabe who goes to Matopos only comes close, nay, only pays symbolic homage to Rhodes, and not to Mzilikazi who lies in the same complex and is easily embraced by their same interpretive logic which gives white ancestry and heritage to this reviled visitor. More than one road to Matobo indeed!
Weeping for dear country, history
I sound very hard-hitting on the said editor. He is not the only one to walk this ironic perspectival road. Many did; many do; still many more will do, which is what makes history – our history – not about the past, not about by-gones. Our history is the present and, without due care, could morph into a troublesome future. From the foregoing, our history clearly bears down on how we reconstruct ourselves, how we perceive ourselves, and each other. More fundamentally, how we view Independence, and our leaders and the symbolic gestures they make in completing the nation-building project, post-liberation. The message gets even more ringing when read against the Land Reform Programme by which national real estate ownership was, or should have, cathartically triggered a re-signification of the land and, with it the country’s naming tradition. And our histories. To have to continue to see Matopos; to have to continue to see Rhodes’ Estate, Rhodes’ grave, nearly a decade after we put closure to the Third Chimurenga by which the settler colonial landed gentry was expropriated, speaks weepingly of low national consciousness. To suggest there must be a portion of Zimbabwe where our leaders should not set foot, so many years after Independence, and so soon after emancipatory land reforms, is a nauseating self-abridgment of one’s sense of national sovereignty.
Ignoring folds upon folds of rich history
Worse, to be a Zimbabwean who does not feel the urge and compulsion to put Mzilikazi before Rhodes, to put Matobo/Matombo before Matopos or REPS, is the worst form of patriarchical/filial discourtesy. Indeed a repudiation of parentage and identity. Much worse, not to recognize that Matobo was the starting point of African resistance from March 20, 1896, right up to August of the same year, is to insult Indunas like Mtini, Sikombo, Babyaan, Nkonkobela, Matisa, Umsolo, Fezela and many others; indeed it is to repudiate latter-day heroes of the Second Chimurenga/Umvukela who drew inspiration from them. And the so-called REPS is very close to Edkins Store where it all started on March 23, 1896, when the resistance started in earnest. And Matobo is much more. Before 1896, before the Great Indaba, it is also the site of early battles of resistance of the mid 1840s pitting Mzilikazi’s Shona-dominated Mncwazini Regiment and the elite Zwangendaba Regiment against boer invaders led by Andries Hendrik Potgieter, better remembered in Ndebele lore as “Ndaleka”. Heroes such as Mbiko should be the celebrities of that history which is now subordinated to Rhodes and his assumed timeless legacy. Matabeleland South, itself home to the offending editor, is the fountainhead of national resistance wars which made this Nation. How fitting it is for Mugabe, himself a fighter against colonialism, to symbolically overwrite a defeated colonialism!
Laying the first stone
So, Comrade President, you come to Matobo/Matombo whose role, history and significance, is being deliberately suppressed or, through sheer ignorance, stands distorted or uncelebrated. It has a grand narrative which, like the womb of an elderly woman, will not proclaim what swells it, indeed what it carries. But it is a strong history, one as durable as the boulders behind whose fastness its gallant architects dodged bullets, survived dynamites, to beat off counter-assaults until Rhodes had no choice but to treat for peace. That history badly needs to be stood on its two feet, so its heirs know, read and repeat it for this generation and for posterity. In my view, you are the agency for founding such an historiography, you the brave soldier of two, great revolutions. And by defiantly coming, you begin the founding and commissioning process. Happy Anniversary Comrade President, and Welcome to Matobo, our Land, our History, our Identity, yes, our Spirit. Icho!