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Ancient treasures
October 2, 2010, 4:51 pm

 

 

Dear Family and Friends,

When a Zimbabwean living in the Diaspora asked for a photograph of Bushman paintings recently, the request provided the perfect excuse for an outing into our beautiful bush and kopjes. The brief excursion also allowed me to see what a tourist might see. What an eye opener it was.

On a clear summer morning a friend and I travelled 30 kilometres to a cave painting I’d not seen before. I imagined myself as a tourist in a bus, looking out of the window and the first thing I saw on the journey was all the litter. Everywhere I looked there was litter: on the streets, along the pavements, piled up in heaps outside flats and shopping centres and dumped in ugly, festering piles on the outskirts of towns. Litter removal: such a small thing; the responsibility of local municipal councils, paid for by ratepayers, but not being done. 

Heading onto the open road the first thing you see is that none of the main highways have lane or shoulder markings and there are no warning signs, chevrons or cat’s eyes. Almost every bridge you cross has broken railings and none of the rivers have names anymore, the signs ripped out of the concrete or removed from posts. Isn’t road maintenance being paid for by all the money collected at tollgates, I wondered. 

As we got out into the country the only view was of black. Mile after mile of burnt landscape, black ground in every direction; hills and valleys carpeted in ash, trees scorched, bushes burnt. On both sides of the road farm land lies mostly deserted and derelict and there is no sign of ploughed lands or preparation for the coming rainy season. Boundary fences along the roads have almost all gone and cattle and goats graze right alongside the highway providing a deadly hazard to traffic. These boundary fences were always the responsibility of farmers whose land adjoins highways but now farms have been taken over and regulations about fences are ignored.

Arriving at our destination situated just a few metres off the road and behind the railway station of a small town, we walked towards the small outcrop of rock.  Negotiating our way over burnt ground and around a maze of scorched brambles, I could hardly believe that an ancient national treasure could possibly be situated here. Plastic bags were snagged on bushes and empty beer tins lay on the ground. I had to take a deep breath and try not to look at the piles of human faeces that sat in numerous fly covered heaps around the base of the kopje. I stepped over them and knew without a doubt that if I was a tourist by now I would have turned back in disgust and not continued on this quest to see an ancient painting.

A little further around the kopje, up a few boulders and suddenly there it was, under an overhang of sheared rock. The colours of the ancient paintings beckoned immediately: orange, brown, ochre, yellow, purple. Large, dark brown oval designs in the centre with crowds of animals painted above. A magnificent sable, its long horns sweeping backwards in perfect curves. An unmistakable image, as recognisable to me now as it must have been to the artist thousands of years ago. Leaving the Bushman paintings behind and taking a short drive back to the main road, we passed a plinth and memorial to fallen soldiers of World War Two - the plaque and inscription vandalized and removed in the last decade by men calling themselves Zimbabwe’s war veterans.

Tourism accounted for almost 17% of Zimbabwe’s GDP in 2000 but now contributes less than 5% to our economy. The endless seminars and workshops being held say that billions will be needed to revive the tourist industry. We can all see, however, that a political solution and a few dustbin bags will do very well thank you. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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