Shona history has it that the Kopje provided the best view of the Buffalo plains. Although the plains no longer harbour herds of buffalo and other wildlife, the hill does offer the best panoramic view of our city.
I became fascinated by the hill at the age of twelve when I visited it with schoolmates many years ago. It was then that I discovered how beautiful and charming Harare looks from up high.
I remember very well the puttering groans of the bus engine on the climb up and the sudden screech of the brakes as it came to a halt at the top. We held our breath for a moment as we thought the bus would slide back down the hill, spin and crush us. Luckily that was never the case!
Waiting for us as we filed out the bus was a well-groomed gentleman whom we later learnt was a porter. He told us about the history of the Kopje.
The Kopje was founded on 13 September 1890. Fort Salisbury (as it came to be known in the late 1890s) belonged at that time to Chief Gutsa’s people who had taken possession of the Kopje from chief Mbare when Gutsa defeated him in a skirmish following a dispute. There are no buildings standing today from this pre-colonial period, although the remains of some walls and hut circles have been found by archaeologists in the ironstone hills and the ridges around the city. Chief Neharawa of Seke is reputedly buried there.
It is thought that the name Harare was derived from the name of chief Neharawa. The Chieftain ruled over a tribe who were the early inhabitants of Zimbabwe. Along with the various autonomous Shona tribes, they combined to form the Rozvi State which contained most of present-day Zimbabwe in the early 19th century. Another origin of the name is said to be the English pronunciation of the word haarari which means “he does not sleep”. The term was used to describe the chieftain of an area which is today known as Koppie. This chief was rumoured not to sleep because no one had ever launched a successful stealth attack against him.
The Kopje covers an area of about 37 acres, and was declared a national monument on 15 March 1968.
Nowadays, the Kopje’s glory seems to lie solely in the past as a host of problems bedevil it. On the foot of the hill there is rampant dumping of litter. People use the shrubs as cover to defecate. Trees have been indiscriminately cut. The ablution facilities at the top of the hill are no longer functioning. The kopje is also used by the public for surreptitious sexual encounters.
According to the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) who are the custodians of the monument, the Harare Kopje is still a popular site for first-time tourists to Zimbabwe. “Besides offering a picturesque view of the capital city, it is the embodiment of historical symbols and facts that are important to Harareans and visitors alike,” says Godfrey Nyaruwanga, a curator at NMMZ.
“We are concerned about what is happening at the Kopje and will soon be taking measures to protect the site as well as repairing some facilities at the Kopje which contain the Independence Flame torch.”
Nyaruwanga added that the cultural heritage of townscapes is often threatened by lack of respect for its specific character but that the increasing popularity of monuments and heritage sites has raised the need for their sustainable management. Sites such as the Kopje provide tangible links between the past, present, and the future.
It is my sincere hope that the responsible authorities can refurbish the Kopje and encourage us to return to the hill and to enjoy a nice climb and the spectacular view of our beloved city.