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How a colonial border cuts through a cultural community in Manicaland

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IN the Nyanga National Park, a 472 square kilometer nature reserve which is home to a variety of animals including predators like leopards and hyenas as well as lions that occasionally stray in from neighbouring Mozambique, one finds the towering Mount Nyangani.

Owen Gagare

It is Zimbabwe’s highest mountain which stands 2 592 metres above sea level.

The core areas of the national park were once the private estate of Cecil John Rhodes, an imperialist, businessman and politician behind the British colonisation of Zimbabwe and other southern African countries

The park was formerly known as Rhodes Inyanga National Park.

Mount Nyangani is a major attraction in Nyanga, one of the country’s prime tourist destinations famous for its rolling mist-capped mountains, majestic waterfalls, massive plantations, gorges and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Many people, tourists included, have been known to have disappeared while climbing the mystic mountain – never to be seen again.

Before attempting to conquer the mountain, always with a tour guide from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) and always before 12pm provided it is not raining or misty, one is given a long list of rules which have to be religiously followed.

The consequences are clear, “you have to follow the rules or risk disappearing forever”, a Zimparks official told The NewsHawks touring journalist.

It is just not the tour guides who warn tourists of the risks of disappearing at the mountain, traditional leaders and villagers living in Nyanga also say the same about the chances of meeting smiling, funny-faced or gesturing rocks or trees among other mysterious sights. They will tell you that you can travel in a group, but a single person in the group can see strange and fascinating things.

If you see any strange things, you are advised to keep quite and only share what you have seen after disembarking from the mountain.

Pointing in the direction of mysterious things could result in one disappearing. It is stuff that is stranger than fiction.

While some may think these are urban legends and some of fictitious rural mysteries, evidence of people disappearing is abundant.

Three rivers – namely Pungwe, Nyamuziwa and Gairezi – have their sources on this mountain.

Gairezi River snakes its way northwards and for several kilometres forms the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, before it enters Manica Province of Mozambique.

Throughout Gairezi River’s stretch, there are people on either side of the border, some related by blood others through marriage. They view themselves as one and yet because of colonial boundaries some are Zimbabwean nationals, while others are Mozambicans.

Brothers Charles and John Mutsiwawo chat on the banks of Gairezi River in Nyamaropa, Nyanga. Charles is a Mozambican while John is a Zimbabwean

“For us, Gairezi is just a river and it has always been just a river. Colonialism and people like Rhodes brought boundaries, but to our forefathers and their descendants this was an ordinary river which they crossed daily and it remains just a river to us. We are one people on either side of the river; we speak the same language, we are related by blood and we have the same culture, lifestyles and beliefs,” said 52-year-old Charles Mutsiwawo.

Mutsiwawo lives in Nyachigo Village under Kraalhead Sadziwa in Mozambique. He told this to The NewsHawks on the banks of Gairezi River in Nyamaropa on the Zimbabwean side of the border.

“Take me as an example, my blood brothers are living in Nyamaropa, Zimbabwe. I have nephews and uncles in Zimbabwe, so for me Gairezi remains just a river. Almost every single day I cross into Zimbabwe, either to buy groceries at Nyamaropa Business Centre, because shops on our side are too far. I have five children, four of whom are no longer going to school, but they all leant in Zimbabwe at Sanyamaropa Primary School and at Bumhira Secondary School. One is at school at Bumhira and every single day when schools are open, he crosses Gairezi River to access school,” Mutsiwawo said.

Mutsiwawo’s older brother John (69), who lives in Nyamaropa, but has his livestock in Mozambique, interjects and adds “we are both Zimbabwean and Mozambicans”.

“We are blood brothers, but I’m Zimbabwean and he is Mozambican. This is why Gairezi is just a river to us. This is not the case here in Nyamaropa only, throughout the course of this river you have such scenarios whether you in Tangwena or Nyakomba. We are just one people. We don’t have an official border post here and we prefer that it remains that way because we don’t want the hassles of being asked to produce passports when we visit each other,” says John as he moves to hold his brother’s hand.

In the case of Nyamaropa, which is surrounded by mountain ranges and a bit of flat land which has been converted into a thriving irrigation scheme, there is a severe shortage of grazing land.

This has forced people like John to send their livestock to Mozambique where they are looked after by relatives.

“It’s a common arrangement. On the Mozambican side there are good pastures. The mountains that side are also full of grass. I have 15 cattle and they are all that side, and it works well for me,” said John.

Tendai Makuyana (32) would ordinarily pass out to be a typical Zimbabwean from the Eastern Highlands due to language and culture and yet he is a Mozambican.

“I am a Mozambiquan, but I spend most of my time in Zimbabwe. I married a Zimbabwean and have many other relatives this side. I have been crossing into Zimbabwe since I was young and even went to school here,” he says.

“Most of my friends are here, so almost daily I swim across Gairezi to cross the border. If I don’t cross, then my child crosses either to go to the grinding mill or shops. For our day-to-day needs, we buy at Nyamaropa Business Centre but if we are buying in bulk we go to Katandika which is way cheaper but quite distant. Zimbabweans in Nyamaropa and other areas in Nyanga also do their bulk buying in Katandika.”

His brother-in-law Trymore Sabadza from Karima Village under Chief Saunyama says besides Makuyana he also has another brother-in-law in Mozambique.

“It’s very common for a Zimbabwean to marry a Mozambican and for a Mozambican to marry a Zimbabwean, because we share the same values and culture. In any case, most people from Mozambique access education, healthcare and shops in Zimbabwe and we keep our livestock that side. There is interaction which has been existence for generations,” Sabadza said.

“Almost every family has relatives on the other side of Gairezi. For example, my grandmother, that is my father’s mother is from Muswipa in Mozambique. Her surname is Chikumba, so my uncles are in Mozambique and we are in regular contact. I send my children there for holidays and they love it that side.”

Since there is no formal border post along Gairezi River, people on either side cross through many informal crossing points along the river. When the water levels are shallow, they walk or swim across the river, but during the rainy season Gairezi floods and that makes it difficult for them to travel

When flooded the community cooperates to create log foot bridges on the gorges, known locally as madanho.

Between Nyamaropa and Nyachigo there are three such points.

Villagers also cross Gairezi using wooden boats known as hwato.

Those who cross at points where the boats and footbridges are not available are assisted by swimmers who pull them while seated in plastic dishes.

“This is our way of life and it has been Iike that for generations. We are one people and we enjoy the free movement. Long may it continue,” said Sabadza.

The situation in Manicaland is similar to circumstances in many other areas, especially around colonial borders, across Zimbabwe and Africa.

Colonial borders were drawn in the 19th century without regard for the people’s history, circumstances and interests, and now that has become a  source of problem as population become more mobile and migrate for different reasons.

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