Some years ago an initiative was started to publicise Zimbabwe’s varied cultural and historical resources. The country is indeed blessed with thousands of sites of interest – rock art sites, stone ruins and historical buildings, not to mention the vibrant arts sector and rich and diverse cultural traditions.
Despite this apparent wealth of heritage, until recently relatively little was available for the general public to assist in understanding this heritage, let alone guiding visitors (both local and international) around many of the major heritage sites. This absence of relevant and current literature has allowed errors and outdated interpretations to proliferate. Even professional guides have fallen short.
The author remembers all too well listening in to a group of Japanese tourists being spun a fictitious story by their paid guide about the Khami Ruins being thousands of years old and the product of some Middle Eastern migrants to the “dark heart” of Africa. More recently a different, but equally erroneous story was given to a group of friends visiting Great Zimbabwe – it had more to do with an active imagination, modern geopolitics and the “guide’s” kamusha (home territory).
In an effort to correct this gap, the author in conjunction with other specialists initiated a series of low cost, factual booklets that we hope will explain many aspects of Zimbabwe’s cultural heritage. Pictures, both pen sketches and photographs, are an integral part of the booklet as we have become a society of pictures and icons. This is not to say there is no text or that it is limited. In fact the challenge has been to limit the text to an easily readable booklet without over generalising and losing its value.
While not actually produced by National Museums & Monuments of Zimbabwe, the booklets have been encouraged by them as a way of achieving an important part of their public mandate. It is the intention to keep the cost of retail low so as to be affordable to as many people as possible – the aim is education rather than income. In fact the moneys generated are invariably channeled to funding further research and publication, or it is set aside to develop the facilities at heritage centres or to assist charitable concerns. This is different for the different booklets. No one will make a living out of these booklets but at least we leave behind an informed public.
They are privately funded and are currently only available in Bulawayo and Harare. We hope soon to extend distribution to other centres, while eBook versions are also being investigated. The quality of production has improved markedly as we learnt while going along. On the whole we are pleased with the current output, although the author’s dyslexia comes out at times where it is not picked up in time by those asked to review the manuscript.
To date six booklets have been published, with two already out of print and another revised. They include:
1. The Madzimbahwe of southwest – a brief synopsis of the main ruins open to the public in the vicinity of Bulawayo and of Gweru. OUT OF PRINT.
2. The Matopos: a short history – a general description of the Matopos and its natural and cultural heritage. OUT OF PRINT.
3. Malindidzimu: a guide to the people and events associated with the “view of the World”, Matopos – a review of the people and the events associated with the burial of the Imperial financier Cecil John Rhodes in the Matopos south of Bulawayo. The basis was a manuscript written some years ago by international expert and Oxford historian Terence Ranger. A revised edition has now been produced to take in more recent events.
4. Khami: capital of the Torwa State – a guided tour around the Khami World Heritage Site near Bulawayo.
5. Iron Spine & Ribs: a brief history of the foundation of the railways of Zimbabwe and Zambia – a brief history, more of a picture story using old photographs.
6. Bulawayo @ 120: a commemorative brochure – recently launched by the Acting Mayor of the City of Bulawayo to mark the anniversary exhibition of this the 120th year of modern Bulawayo. It is however able to stand alone as an informative history of the City of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest and some would say best city.
Several other booklets in the same series are in different stages of production or compilation. These will widen both the scope and geographical extent of the series. Look out for a guide to Great Zimbabwe; the Visual Arts in Bulawayo; the heritage sites of Domboshava and the Chinamora-Masembura areas north of Harare; Tsindi Ruins and the Bernard Mizeki Shrine near Marondera; Nyanga; the main rock art sites in the Matopos, principle attractions of the National Railways of Zimbabwe Museum (Bulawayo), the Heritage of Hwange National Park ……….. If all goes according to plan the series should reach 24 different booklets over the next few years.
Two related projects aim to reproduce and add to two early photographic booklets that were produced at the beginning of the Twentieth Century covering that global icon – Victoria Falls. Both were originally simple photographic books that were sold to visitors to the “fall”. One by Colonel Frank Rhodes was produced in 1905. It was sold to raise funds for the new hospital that was being built in the embryo town that has become Livingstone in Zambia. This booklet will combine old and new photographs with a limited commentary and a brief history of the original author. The other booklet is a full reprint of the small photograph album produced by Victoria Falls’ first permanent white resident – Percy M. Clark. In sepia and bound by gold ribbon, it will be reprinted was the original, although a short history of the man and his works will be appended. Both books are being produced to assist two charitable concerns. We are not leaving out Victoria Falls.
Heritage is something we feel must be shared – in understanding it we will ensure its preservation and possibly understand each other a little better. It is our hope, somewhat arrogantly, that these booklets will go someway in achieving this. The series’ promoters are both trained archaeologists and historians, attached to National Museums & Monuments of Zimbabwe as Associate Researchers, but they are also both known for other activities such as a teacher, a guide and both as local academics.
If you would like to know how to get copies of these guidebooks or know more about the series and its growth over the next few years, please feel free to contact me.
Rob S. Burrett