Monument known as the Great Wall of Zimbabwe built during the Mutapa Empire. A dispute between three traditional leaders has erupted over ownership of the historic treasure., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Chiefs jostle for Great Zimbabwe
Saturday, 11 August 2012 13:29
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail
Had this been the 12th century, Nyatsimba Mutota, the fiery leader of the Mutapa Empire, would be having sleepless nights.
Mutota would have summoned his warriors and ordered them to go into battle.
His declaration of a war would be because the Great Zimbabwe monuments, believed to have been the royal residence of the once mighty Mutapa dynasty, is under threat and is at the centre of a bitter feud involving four traditional leaders living in areas surrounding the ruins.
The monument, located some 25 kilometres outside Masvingo town, is where the name Zimbabwe is derived.
Chiefs Murinye, Mugabe, Charumbira and headman Nemamwa are feuding over the control and ownership of the ruins.
The ruins at Great Zimbabwe are some of the oldest and largest structures located in Southern Africa and were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986.
Its most imposing structure, referred to as the Great Enclosure, has walls as high as 11 metres extending approximately 250m, making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara.
Great Zimbabwe acted as a royal palace for the Mutapa monarch, whose prominent features are its walls, some of which might have been over five metres high and were built without mortar.
Although the site which was eventually abandoned by the Mutapa monarch and left to fall into ruin is under the custody of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, the traditional leaders are all claiming that the ruins fall within their boundaries and want to control the goings-on there.
But what precipitated this feud and why are all the traditional leaders so determined to have the ruins in their domain.?
In an effort to unravel the truth behind the traditional leaders’ row, The Sunday Mail In-Depth not only made the 325km journey to the monument but even went as far as Chikwepa Village, some 70km west of the ruins, where one of the feuding chiefs, Murinye, lives.
From interviews it became clear that the dispute was not about the traditional leaders wanting to safeguard the monument whose construction first began in the 11th century and continued until the 14th century.
Instead, the source of the feud appears to be the desire for the economic benefit derived from the control and ownership of the country’s most treasured monument.
After laying his claim to the ownership of Great Zimbabwe, Headman Nemamwa, Elimon Matambo, emphasised the need for chiefs to benefit from the “natural resources” found in areas of their jurisdiction.
“As headman of this area, I am not getting even a cent from the money that is realised from the tourists that pay to visit the ruins. As local leaders, we must benefit from the natural resources that are located in our areas. We have, for example, the nearby Lake Mutirikwi. My subjects are not, in any way, benefiting from it,” said the traditional leader.
Another leader involved in the feud, Chief Mugabe, whose full name is Matubede Mudavanhu Mugabe, accused some of the chiefs involved in the feud of being greedy and eyeing the financial gains realised from the world heritage site.
“The other chiefs, especially the younger ones, are not only the true custodians of the site but are actually vultures that are bent on economically benefiting from the ruins,” said the youthful chief.
He said the Great Zimbabwe monument was not being respected and was being “too commercialised.”
“That place is sacred but some of the chiefs that claim to be the rightful owners are busy renting out the site to anybody who cares to use it. A musical gala was recently held at the ruins and the youngsters that attended the event littered the shrine with used condoms. I cannot allow such a free-for-all approach,” fumed Chief Mugabe.
He is also not happy with the way the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, the custodians of the site, are giving back to the local community.
“It is a pity that the National Museums and Monuments never consulted us in matters to do with their social responsibility programmes.
I heard through rumours that they (National Museums and Monuments) are paying school fees of only three children from my chieftaincy as part of their social responsibility programme. I was never consulted in the first place. They behaved as if I did not exist. They could have done better by sitting down with me as the chief,” he said.
However, Dr Godfrey Mahachi, the director of the National Museums and Monuments, begged to differ with Chief Mugabe.
“For us, the Great Zimbabwe has served as a test case. We have discovered that it is possible for us to go into conflict with the community. To avoid conflict, we set up local management committees which we work with in identifying areas that we need to work and help each other,” he said.
Dr Mahachi said that as part of his department’s social responsibility programme, the National Museums and Monuments pays schools fees for 20 deserving schoolchildren drawn from around the Great Zimbabwe vicinity.
“We survive on a Government grant. Besides paying for the school fees, we are a source of employment for the locals whom we hire periodically. We also provide firewood to the community. We should be doing more but I would want to say that we are not totally blind to the fact that we have to somehow empower these communities,” Dr Mahachi said.
Despite the fact that the Great Zimbabwe monument is 70km away from his village, Chief Murinye, Ephias Munodawafa, still claims ownership of the ruins.
“My forefathers used to be headquartered at Boroma, just outside the ruins. All the chiefs know this. They are now lying because they think that they can get money realised from the tourists that pay to visit the ruins. This feud has more to do with money than a genuine need to safeguard the monument,” the chief, speaking through his assessor Elliot Munodawafa, said.
However, according to renowned historian Cde Aeneas Chigwedere, none of the three chieftainships should claim control over the monument.
According to Cde Chigwedere, Chief Nemamwa was the first to arrive in the area around the Great Zimbabwe monument, which had already been built by people of the Mutapa Empire.
All the chiefs involved in this feud acknowledged this fact. It is believed the Mugabe clan only arrived at Great Zimbabwe in 1840 and fought the Nemamwa clan to get control of the monument. As the chiefs continue to heckle and bicker over the ruins, James Mazvidza, the Masvingo District Administrator, said the areas surrounding the ruins were, as of now, “no man’s land.”
“We cannot say that the areas surrounding the ruins belong to a particular chief. The Government is currently in the process of gazetting such places as it seeks to emplace chiefs following the land redistribution exercise,” Mazvidza said. He said the Masvingo Rural District Council would call a meeting with the feuding traditional leaders to resolve the issue.
“The future is bright. We are not faced with a gloomy picture. We are going to sit down with the chiefs and find an amicable solution,” he concluded.
According to historians, Great Zimbabwe at one time spanned an area of 722 hectares and could have housed up to 18 000 people.
The present-day site covers an area of nearly 80 hectares.
Great Zimbabwe, which means big house of stone, gave the nation its name in 1980.
However, from the accusations and counter-accusations traded by the chiefs, the feud over the ownership and control of the Great Zimbabwe might prove to be a hard nut to crack.