Zimbabweans are divided over Cecil John Rhodes’ grave in the Matobo National Park, a sacred hill where for centuries Zimbabweans would go to consult their ancestors.
Rhodes died more than 120 years ago in South Africa aged 48.
Modern-day South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia were named Rhodesia after him
Part of younger Zimbabweans want Rhodes’ grave and remains removed to rid the country of the last vestiges of colonialism, AFP reported.
But the grave attracts tourists who bring much-needed income for surrounding villages – and many local people oppose any exhumation.
In neighbouring South Africa, students at the University of Cape Town launched a “Rhodes-Must-Fall” protest in 2015, initially to pull down Rhodes’s statue at the campus.
It later morphed into a global campaign, which saw Oxford University resisting calls to remove a statue of the politician – placing an explanatory panel next to it instead.
Often described as a philanthropist but also an arch-racist, Rhodes dreamt of a British Africa from Cape Town to Cairo, with the blessings of Queen Victoria.
Cynthia Marangwanda, 37, from Harare, is enraged by the presence of Rhodes’s grave. She believes he chose that site because he knew its spiritual significance to the local people.
The activist said it was his “final display of power, a deliberate and calculated act… of domination.”
The economic benefits accruing from tourism, do not hold water for Marangwanda.
She believes “Matobo is such a beautiful landscape, it doesn’t need this colonial grave,” to attract foreign visitors.
Tafadzwa Gwini, a 33-year-old historian and co-founder of the Rhodes-Must-Fall campaign said the presence of the grave in Zimbabwe is an “insult to our very existence as a people.”
Gwini said exhuming the remains “is a form of reclaiming our identity as a people.”
Nicky Johnson, a 45-year-old white Zimbabwean simply doesn’t understand the outrage around the grave. He spoke to AFP:
I brought my kids. I also came here as a kid. History shouldn’t be tampered with. He wanted to be buried here, that’s how it should be.
Akhil Maugi, 28, who lives in Bulawayo, shares similar sentiments. He said:
You can’t erase what happened. No one would come here if this grave was gone.
Pathisa Nyathi, a 71-year-old local historian, points out that it was “the grandeur of the rocks” that made it a “holy site” that once attracted pilgrims from neighbouring countries.
The “pre-eminent shrine” in the region “was sacred to Africans” but not to Rhodes, said Nyathi.
Micah Sibanda, 82, said Rhodes’s grave is “important” to the villagers because it attracts visitors who in turn buy crafts “and we get some money to send our kids to school, … get food and clothing,” said Sibanda.
After all, Sibanda said, the white visitors are also coming “to pay respects to their own ancestor.”