Formed 2 billion years ago the hills of Matobo National Park have over 3,000 rock art sites dating back to an estimated 2,000 years. Perfectly situated between Harare and Victoria Falls the Matobo, meaning ‘Bald Heads’, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site provides the ideal stop over. Steeped in history from San artists and hunter gathers to founder of the Ndebele nation Mzilikazi and British pioneer Cecil John Rhodes it seems every rock unturned tells a story.
Established in 1926 Zimbabwe’s first national park is only a 35km drive from Bulawayo and a resting place for the ancestral spirits of the Matabele people and more recently Cecil Rhodes. Not surprisingly his choice of burial grounds caused massive controversy during a time of turbulent change in modern Zimbabwe. His decision based upon the simple notion that it was ‘the View of the World’. Resting within a few kilometres lies Mzilikazi, a short distance from the National Park almost in defiance of colonial boundaries.
A place of unique rock formations known as ‘whaleback dwalas’ Matopos has a tangible spiritualism. It’s easy to understand why modern day rain making ceremonies are still performed amongst these mysterious hills. Home to the world’s largest population of leopard and an eerie lack of civilisation in an area 3100km squared, it’s a land that lends itself to silent reverie. A resting place for ghosts, a canvas for ancient rock artists, a stomping ground for all manner of wildlife including the endangered black and white rhino and a modern day destination of exceptional beauty.
This little known corner of Southern Africa will fascinate, educate and frustrate. Why a group of soldiers chose a hill top to breakfast in the midst of a war only to be massacred by warriors? Is it a display of arrogance defying their enemy or was it an acknowledgement of imminent death and a determination to make of the most of their last sunrise being outnumbered in a foreign land? What made Rhodes walk unarmed into an Ndebele stonghold and persuade the legendary impi to lay down their arms, more astonishingly why did they listen? Was it a reverent respect amongst warriors? An unspoken bond between leaders of opposing armies.
Singing to their deaths and choosing the immortality of a hero outmanoeuvred by weapons or numbers in the grandeur of these hills these men left an indelible mark in our history. Does it matter which side they fought for? Sometimes politics takes a back seat and the heart of man shines through. Brave and strong and true. These are the men that founded a nation. This is our story. Their legacy lies in their blood, and like the bushmen masterpieces that never fade, lives on.
*impi – a formation of Zulu warriors
Photo by Sandi