The San or Bushmen are the indigenous people of Southern Africa. Their ancient rock paintings and carvings (called rock art) can be seen in many Southern African caves and rock shelters. But much of their historic art might be in danger as vandalism threatnes to completely ruin many National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) sites.
The spectacular Ngomakurira and Domboshava sites – large granite dwalas 30km from the outskirts of Harare have been badly affected. A favourite spot for day-trippers from Harare and international tourists, the sites get damaged when people enter illegally at night and light fires near the granite wall. The smoke and soot ruins the artwork. The major perpetrators of these destructive acts are children from neighbouring communities and apostolic sects who climb the rocks for spiritual insights.
Of late, soil erosion has also become a problem as the sites have become a popular destinationfor 4×4 clubs and bikers. These vehicles are manned by thrill seekers whose challenge is to touch the beacon on the top, but as they race up their machines loosen the soil.
Regional Director of Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences (ZMHS) Godhi Bvocho says historical sites in many areas have been under pressure from the growing population, lack of awareness of the importance of the sites, and a crippling shortage of funding and man-power to patrol sites. “The lack of knowledge about the heritage must be corrected if the preservation of archaeological resources is to be successful,” he says.
“To correct the situation, we are meeting with the local community to ensure that they become responsible for preservation of the sites. Restoration of the rock art will begin soon,” adds Bvocho, whose department falls under the NMMZ. “Once we lose it, it’s gone,” he warned. He said that restoration needed to be approached with caution so as not to lose the archaeological character of the sites.
The exercise to salvage Ngomakurira and Domboshawa will cost over $10,000. The authorities will also construct viewing decks and boardwalks to deter people from coming in direct contact with the paintings.
Bvocho says entry fees to NMMZ sites are one of their principle sources of revenue. They are contemplating increasing entry fees for activities like 4×4 and bike races at the site as a strategy to help protect the sites from soil erosion. However, increasing entry fees for Zimbabweans needs to be done with caution lest Zimbabwean nationals be excluded from visiting the monument.
Other important NMMZ sites around Zimbabwe are Great Zimbabwe, Chinhoyi Caves, Khami Ruins, Pomongwa, Diana’s Vow, Jumbo Mine, and Nswatugi which feature rock art, breath-taking caves, and ancient stone walls.