Zimbabwe’s Great Treasure


Words by Tim Forssman. Pictures by Tim and Bob Forssman.

Some of southern Africa’s best rock-art sites are in the Matopo National Park, Zimbabwe. If you enjoy rock art – and, of course, travelling – this is one place that you cannot miss. The few days we spent there as part of a longer trip left an indelible mark on all of us. Getting there was relatively simple, but we made the mistake (or maybe not) of going through Martin’s Drift, spending the night at the border, and then heading to Plumtree.

This neat border between Botswana and Zimbabwe was a pure horror-show: lines so long they rivaled those made on the Nazca Plains, officials so slow the rabbit would have had a second siesta, and queue etiquette so annoying it made mosquitoes look good.

After many hours, we finally headed off to hit our first roadblock. Like every South African, we had heard all about these and were mentally prepared, but not for what we were about to encounter. If I’d had the option, I would have sat much longer, just chatting. Every preconception was immediately destroyed – and this happened at almost every road-block. Carrying-on, we found a short cut, a rough dirt road that we had to do in the dark, but eventually arriving at Big Cave Campsite to set-up camp and make a fantastic mushroom pasta. The next day, we would explore the National Park, and especially its prehistory.

The Matopo National Park in Zimbabwe is famous for many things. Rhodes’s grave is found there, along with those of Leander Starr Jameson and others; and near them, on the summit of a hill named Malindidzimu, is a memorial to those who were killed in the First Matabele War. For the nature buffs, the floral species diversity of the area is extremely high, with over 200 tree species; and, in the faunal category, there are over 170 birds, 85 mammals, 40 snakes and 15 fishes. The local geology is fascinating: a landscape broken by granite batholiths, creating spectacular shapes and formations.

The Matobo Hills, as they are known locally, appear as the tops of bald men’s heads sticking through the ground, or as balancing rocks such as the Mother and Child Kopje, and many look like they were placed there by giants from a bygone era. The valleys, vleis and rivers dividing the landscape are a source of great attraction, and local settlements still exist in some parts, using these areas for cultivation and subsistence.

Many years ago, the Matopos was the refuge of Bushman. From about 4 000 years ago, in the Matopos and other places nearby (such as around Mapungubwe in South Africa), their population suddenly increased. This is observable in the archaeological record, based on an increase in archaeological sites from this period onwards, as well as an increase in the density of archaeological finds in the form of stone tools, beads, jewellery, subsistence remains and hearths at their occupation sites. Why did this happen?

We cannot be certain, but the climate was improving across southern Africa at this time. This may have been linked to a diaspora of Bushmen who migrated, accessing regions that were previously uninhabitable or avoided. The result, however, was an increase in Bushman material expressions in many places.

Post your comment

To read more articles from this issue please click here. To buy a copy of our magazine, please click here.