The mis-education of Zimbabwe Testament to our extraordinary ingenuity, skill, determination … How to make Zimbabwe Great again?

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I DECIDED to write this piece when I came across an article about a river turning into blood somewhere in Nyanga after a boulder fell into it. When posted on Facebook, the article received comments proclaiming disbelief, “chivanhu” and that the biblical end of days was upon us. Only 2 out of about 600 comments, i.e. only 0.3% of this “statistical sample” actually thought there was a logical explanation. Should I assume that the other 99.7% are intellectually challenged? Rio Tinto (or Red River in Spanish) still operates in Zimbabwe. The name is derived from a river in Spain whose reddish colour was caused by iron/ferric oxide (Fe2O3) residues from the mining of copper, silver, gold and other minerals.
The rock which fell into this river somewhere in Nyanga was probably rich in ferric oxide, hence the “river of blood”. Logic dictates that a geological survey should be carried out in the surrounding areas to explore for copper, gold, silver or iron ore. Everyone has a right to be stupid but some people just abuse this right. My question is why and when did so many Zimbabweans become so ignorant? We have people who can memorize an entire bible, quote it word for word, yet they cannot use a single brain cell to come up with a logical explanation to anything which falls outside their matchbox of knowledge. Whilst we may have a high literacy rate, I have to question our collective intellect as Zimbabweans. As the saying goes “a nation gets the leadership it deserves”, so what kind of leadership do we deserve if we have such limited intellect?
Without a doubt, Zimbabwe is in dire need of visionary leadership which is inspired, imaginative, creative, inventive, insightful, ingenious, enterprising, innovative, perceptive, intuitive, far-sighted, prescient, discerning, wise, clever, talented and resourceful. We need leaders who take more than their share of the blame and a little less than their share of the credit. We need leaders who know the way, show the way and go the way. Our current leadership deficiency is a direct result of our colonial hangover.
You see colonialism and slavery was based on the ideology of the superiority of one man over another because of their race. This ideology was backed by the rifle and bible and our erstwhile liberators took note. They have now morphed into our black colonialists, who genuinely believe in their superiority over the rest of the Zimbabweans because they fought for this country’s independence. They continue to use the rifle and bible, one to oppress and the other to give false hope. Our black colonialists’ only aim is to retain political power at all costs. And contrary to popular belief, power does not corrupt; it is fear that corrupts… in this case the fear of a loss of power and what that would entail. Some of this fear borders on lunacy, and as a result with absolute power comes absolute paranoia and corruption.Advertisement

Zimbabweans have been brainwashed. We have been misinformed, misdirected and mis-educated into believing that our history began with colonialism; and that the Zimbabwean nation only emerged after the liberation struggle. On the one end of the spectrum, we have the Rhodesians who propagate the myth that our history, development and “civilization” only began in 1890, with the subsequent invasion, plunder, exploitation and oppression of our nation under colonialism. On the other end of the spectrum we have Zanu PF telling us that the liberation struggle was the be all and end all; and that all Zimbabweans should be eternally grateful and remain in servitude to them till kingdom come. The liberation struggle occurred over a relatively short period of our history from 1964-1979 (35 years), yet there is more emphasis on these years by the powers that be.
The similarity in both narrow narratives is startling as both the white colonialists and our current black colonialists deliberately choose to ignore the other hundreds of years of history, which also had a great influence on us and forms part of who we are as a Zimbabwean nation. As some may know, brainwashing is an indoctrination process which results in an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations. If you are told over and over again that Africans are useless you will eventually believe it and not question your own failings. The funny thing is we don’t even need to look outside our borders for an example of successful African leadership which led to the most powerful medieval empire of its time; we just need to take a step back in our past to the time of the Great Zimbabwe Empire.
The pinnacle of our civilization – Great Zimbabwe Empire
I’d like to take us back in time to the period from 1100 to 1450 A.D., specifically to the time of the Great Zimbabwe Empire, the pinnacle of our civilization as a nation. The building of the whole Great Zimbabwe complex without a doubt took extraordinary ingenuity, skill and determination. It required an industrious leadership and also demonstrated a high level of administrative and social achievement by our ancestors in bringing together surveyors, planners, civil and structural engineers, stone masons and other general hands; it was a well-coordinated labour intensive project on a grand scale. To govern such a vast, wealthy empire required leadership skills that are simply non-existent in our current leadership of Zimbabwe. By digging into our past we may find solutions to our current problems with regards to our leadership deficiency. What did it take to build this mighty empire from scratch, brick by brick, to grow, evolve, develop, create wealth, establish global trade links, prosper and become a modern state comparable to all others empires of its time?
Due to our colonial hangover our minds are still in shackles, we erroneously downplay the significance of the Great Zimbabwe Empire as part of our Zimbabwean and Africa heritage. This is our proverbial middle finger to the widely held belief that, apart from Egypt, Africans did not have any great civilizations of note prior to colonialism. The fact that we were a mighty empire once has never been in doubt. The Great Zimbabwe Empire was made up of more than 300 dry stone walled sites, some of which included Danamombe, Naletale, Khami, Shangagwe, Domboshawa in Botswana, Manikweni in Mozambique and Thulamela in South Africa.
The Great Zimbabwe Empire had its centre at the current ruins in Masvingo, and stretched to parts of Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and all the way to the coast of Sofala in Mozambique. The current site of the ruins was the empire’s capital, a bustling metropolitan stone wall city with over 20,000 inhabitants and thousands more in residential neighbourhoods strewn around its periphery. The Great Zimbabwe Empire was comparable to other great empires of the medieval era, be they the Ottoman Empire, the Chinese Ming Empire or the Inca Empire, to name a few. We were their equals in every facet of development, technology, knowledge, wealth, trade and global influence. The Incas only began to construct their Machu Pichu around 1450 A.D. when Great Zimbabwe Empire itself was in decline.
Extraordinary Engineering Design Features of Great Zimbabwe
The builders of Great Zimbabwe were intellectually more advanced than Zimbabweans are today. It’s unfortunate that as Zimbabweans we do not really appreciate the ingenuity, skill and shear brilliance that went into Great Zimbabwe’s engineering design and construction. To start with, the walls had to be set in foundations. These foundations were cleverly made up of smaller rock and compact clay (dhaga) to provide greater stability and prevent the walls collapsing from mudslides or slight earth movements.
The builders of Great Zimbabwe also used a safety factor of 1.4 against ground sliding caused by heavy rains. The fact that they knew how to calculate this was extraordinary enough; as this would involve some knowledge of the viscosity and buoyancy of soil and water, and how to calculate the dead weight of the walls, and also factor in wind loading. What impressed me most was their knowledge of the implementation of suitable safety factors, which are now the norm in modern day engineering calculations. Today’s engineers tend to be more conservative, and would normally recommend a safety factor of 1.75.
The types of foundations also varied depending on whether they were built on granite or on soil, or on slopes, the actual design of the walls also followed the same philosophy. There were structural retaining walls, gravity retaining walls, load bearing walls and free standing walls. As their stone masonry evolved over time, four distinct types of walls emerged, namely class P, Q, R and PQ. The class P style walling was generally sited on sloping rock terrain or amongst boulders and class Q used on low-lying ground without boulders. The stone brick arrangement was also such that there were minimal contact points (and voids) to avoid the capillary action of water, which meant that the walls were self-draining and less susceptible to decay. One can also appreciate another spectacular piece of engineering which went into building wall breaks which stopped some of the walls from sliding on the slopes of the rock foundation on the Western enclosure.
Even the exact method of how each stone brick was formed is still being debated to this day. One theory has it that slabs were heated and then rapidly cooled by cold water to cause fracture. Another method is to just heat the rock and let it cool in air which also causes fissures. Both methods affect the strength and durability of the rock, but this only explains how the granite slabs were broken into smaller manageable blocks. How these blocks were then machined into perfect fitting stone bricks, which could be arranged to build 11 meter high walls without mortar, is still unknown. No plausible theory has been put forward yet as to how these granite bricks were chiseled into perfectly fitting pieces like a jig-saw puzzle, as this process would have been labour intensive and time consuming. These walls are still in place and still standing some 600 years later.
The idea that the builders just stacked one brick on top of the other and hoped for the best was not the case, it was well thought out, planned, designed, engineered and constructed. The walls were also thick at the base and taper towards the top. They also incorporated a slight angle of inclination to prevent the walls from toppling over. The taper angle, and angle of inclination, has to be within an acceptable tolerance of + 1º for the walls not to collapse. As an engineer I’m intrigued as to what types of measuring instruments were used, what did the surveyors and engineers use as their point of reference? What types of level gauges, plumb lines or other surveying techniques did they use? What was the basis (or formulas used) for their structural calculations? Where did they write down their calculations as this was not mental arithmetic? What types of tools did they use for construction? So many questions, I can only marvel at the genius that went into it.
The builders of Great Zimbabwe also used a range of load bearing structural wooden beams, lintels and other types of stone beams, engineered and integrated into the wall support structure to prevent the walls from collapsing. These structural members had held the walls in place for over 600 years, so obviously when one of the load bearing beams was removed in the 1970’s for carbon dating, the wall collapsed and had to be repaired afterwards. As structural engineers know, you cannot use a thumb suck approach when designing structural beams.
We also tend to forget that the dry stone walls that we see today are in fact just the skeleton of the monument and the city. The flesh was the dwelling structures made of clay (dhaga) which have eroded over time. Although the madzimbabwe-tradition dhaga structures are evidently related to contemporary southern African vernacular architecture, archeological evidence indicates subtle differences in their design and construction. The structures were designed to last, and were more complex than the single compartment dwelling houses more recently synonymous with dhaga material that can be seen in our rural areas today.
The dhaga houses in existence at the time of Great Zimbabwe were often divided into two or more compartments, with verandas, along with complicated interior platforms, all under one roof. Some of the walls seem not to have incorporated a timber framework within the dhaka matrix and were not load-bearing. The outer veranda posts supported the roof while non-load-bearing walls were used to maintain and divide interior space. The veranda sometimes had a low dhaga wall around it. The surface finishes for the walls and floors were similar, and at times decorated. So some 600 years ago our ancestors of Great Zimbabwe had already begun to implement design improvements on the standard huts we see today.
Any engineer would be able to appreciate the complexity of designing and constructing Great Zimbabwe, given the available technology at the time – some 600 years ago. You also need to remember that our ancestors who built Great Zimbabwe did not have the formal education we know of today. They did not have a B.Sc (Hons) in Civil or Mechanical engineering, yet they designed, engineered and constructed the marvel that is Great Zimbabwe. As a matter of fact, why is all of the above not taught as part of the first year foundation course at our universities in Zimbabwe? Is this not inspirational enough? The above is just a snippet of their engineering achievements; which is why I firmly believe without a doubt that they were intellectually more advanced than we are today.
Farming and Agriculture
The Great Zimbabwe Empire also relied on an agricultural industry, and they must have practiced sustainable farming methods for over 300 years, growing diverse indigenous crops and rearing involved indigenous breeds of cattle. To efficiently feed the metropolitan city of 20,000 and its surrounding areas required meticulous planning of the agricultural season, building of grain silos, marketing and distribution of the grain throughout the city centre.
The Great Zimbabwe Empire also had skilled water engineers, constructing a number of dams feeding complex systems of irrigation channels. As an engineer, you would have to calculate the elevation required to give you the required pressure head, slope or gradient, the cross sectional area to provide the right flow rate sufficient enough to allow water to be distributed throughout the city, without any known pumping or windmill devices. You have to take into account frictional losses and other losses of seepage and run-off. Yet today our highly educated and well learned engineers cannot provide basic running water in our towns and cities. Again this is why I conclude that they were far ahead of us intellectually.
The builders of Great Zimbabwe also constructed regularly spaced terraces into the many the hills surrounding the area, which can still be viewed today. They were designed to retain water for crops planted on these hills, and also to prevent soil erosion. The estimated area of ancient terracing in the north eastern part of Zimbabwe extends over 6,500 square kilometers. The most extraordinary cog in making this planning possible was that our ancestors developed their own unique calendar.
Great Zimbabwe Calendar and early “writing”
Ever heard of the Dhlo-Dhlo stones? These are stones which were found at the Dhlo-Dhlo ruins but are believed to have originated from Great Zimbabwe. As you can see from the photo, these monoliths were decorated with snake and crocodile motifs, our own unique Zimbabwean hieroglyphics. They also have marks which coincide with the cyclical observable period for the planet Venus in its synodic period. What does this mean you may ask?

You see Venus is also known as the evening star which appears shortly after sunset. Its sinoidal cylce (or year) lasts 583.9 days and is divided into four phases – appearance, which lasts 263 days, disappearance, 50 days, appearance, 260 days, and disappearance, 8 days. The pockmarks on the Dhlo-Dhlo stones are divided in this fashion and are records of a naked eye planet/moon observation with a circle and a crescent. Due to Great Zimbabwe’s coordinate location of 20.27° S, 30.93° E, this calendar cycle would only be accurate if observed at Great Zimbabwe. The reader needs to put this in perspective. More than 600 years ago, some of our ancestors of the Great Zimbabwe Empire who were called “rainmakers”, tracked the Venus cycle over years, and recorded the sitings on the Dhlo-Dhlo stones, which means that this was our first “written” calendar. Our ancestors then meticulously planned their agricultural season, and other activities using this calendar.
This also explains the origins and links that Nehanda had with Great Zimbabwe. The Mhondoro (royal ancestor) spirit was the protector of the land and the bringer of rain. Unlike all other Mhondoro mediums, Nehanda is believed to have two separate, equally legitimate traditions of mediums, one in the Mazowe region near Harare, the other in the Dande area in the northern most tip of Zimbabwe close to the border with Mozambique. Most of the Nehanda came from the Dande area, which is where some of the descendants of Great Zimbabwe are believed to have settled after Great Zimbabwe began to decline in the 15th Century.
In essence the Nehandas were “priest-astronomers”, who counted the stars using the Dhlo-Dhlo stones calendar, and were responsible for performing the all-important rain making ceremonies to allow the planting season to begin. The Dhlo-Dhlo monolith stones calendar are by far the most important Zimbabwean artefact that we have. Their historical significance dwarves the Great Zimbabwe birds. The Mayans, Incas, Egyptians and all other great advanced civilizations had a calendar and we had ours. This again shows that our ancestors who built Great Zimbabwe were intellectually more advanced than we are today.
Mining, Value Addition and Beneficiation
Many thousands of prehistoric gold-workings are scattered round the area containing the Great Zimbabwe ruins with some calculations indicating that more than 20 million ounces of gold were extracted. At today’s value of US$1,203 per ounce, this would have a value of US$20 billion. The actual value back then would have been astronomical, possibly in the trillions, so we were without a doubt an extremely wealthy empire. The ancient gold mines also required a measure of engineering skill, containing horizontal as well as deep vertical shafts. Furnaces, crucibles and various tools found in some of the stone ruins indicate that the gold ornaments and the jewellery accompanying them were produced locally.
We also mined, smelted and formed iron tools. Isn’t it funny, yet not surprising, that our incompetent and corrupt leadership think they are “geniuses” in reinventing the wheel by stating this otherwise obvious key element in any economy of value addition as part of their ZimAsset policy? Mining, smelting, refining, casting and metalworking were an integral part of the Great Zimbabwe Empire’s economy some 600 years ago and formed part of our exports then. Yet today we export all forms of ores and buy back the finished goods. Again this is why I firmly believe that we are intellectual midgets compared to our ancestors who built Great Zimbabwe.
Light Textile Industry
Stone spindle whorls found at Great Zimbabwe indicate that cotton was spun and woven with greater sophistication there than was displayed in other regions occupied by Bantu tribes. Cotton is of course not indigenous to southern Africa, but wild cotton trees nevertheless, seem to have been planted near the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe. This means that it is more than probable that most people of the Great Zimbabwe Empire wore cotton garments made locally. I can only assume that with the demise of the Great Zimbabwe Empire, the textile industry disappeared and we went back to wearing “nhembe”. Isn’t it funny, yet not surprising, that our incompetent and corrupt leaders have come up with the “Cotton-To-Clothing (C2C)” Export Strategy this year to revive the country’s cotton and textile industry? The cotton to clothing strategy was a small part of the self-sufficient Great Zimbabwe Empire some 600 years ago.
Trade, Commerce, Wealth of a nation
The extensive trading network made the Great Zimbabwe Empire one of the most significant trading regions in the world during the medieval period. The main trading items were gold, iron, copper, tin, cattle, and also cowrie shells. As mentioned earlier, over 20 million ounces of gold were extracted over the years, which by even conservative estimates would have made us a wealthy empire. Imported ceramics from 13th Century Persia, other ceramics from the Chinese Ming Dynasty, and an Arab coin with the inscription of Al-Hasan bin Sulaiman were all found from the 13th-14th centuries.
Remember, this was some 600 years ago and we already had these international trade links, yet today in this so-called global village our village politics wants to oblige us to only “Look East”. The Great Zimbabwe Empire was a multi ethnic melting pot; which had its origins in Mapungubwe in South Africa, it consisted of many different tribes, languages and customs and, due to our trading links with Persia and China, we probably had foreigners living amongst us, yet today some of our misguided leaders are tribalists, and want us to adapt their narrow view of nationalism meaning the exclusion of all others. Is this is the visionary leadership we deserve?
Innate ability
Intelligence is largely inherited genetically, and if this has been passed down hundreds of years from our ancestors of the Great Zimbabwe Empire, why as Zimbabweans are we surprised when we excel in any sector, whether this is in the academic field, in science, engineering, innovation, technology, medicine or other fields? This innate ability has been passed down the generations, but how we use that intelligence is what will determine our success or failure. The problem that we have is that the thinkers and doers are not in leadership in Zimbabwe. Instead we have those blessed with oratory skills and nothing more in leadership positions. This is why we will continue on the road to nowhere.
All the “brilliant” ideas and policies put forward in ZimAsset were already in place over 600 years ago under the Great Zimbabwe Empire. In truth the ZimAsset document just states the obvious; it’s a basic “economic blue print for dummies” so to speak. There is nothing visionary about it because we do not have any visionary leadership in this country. We have retrogressive counter-revolutionaries who, in this day and age, still sloganeer about “pasi ne this” and “pasi ne that”, “we will never be a colony again”. I think we all know by now that we will never be a colony again. Being a landlocked country, any would-be colonialist would have to invade most of the surrounding countries for that to be possible, so it is simply a figment of the imagination to still believe that Zimbabwe can ever be recolonized.
Our slogans should be progressive, as expected from progressive minds…. “invest in intellectual capacity, innovation & industry”. The Great Zimbabwe Empire, which was the pinnacle of our civilization, should be our reference point as Zimbabweans, and is what we should aspire to. This was run by indigenous technocratic competent visionary leaders. The planning, organization and leadership skills it took to run such a metropolitan city and empire efficiently for over 350 years was remarkable. None of the people we have in leadership in Zimbabwe today possess such a skills-set, nor do they possess a gram of the intellectual capacity that our ancestors of the Great Zimbabwe Empire had.
Today we have lost all dignity and have been reduced to such lows that now even the basics of food, decent housing, healthcare, relevant education and employment are considered an unreachable luxury for the majority of suffering Zimbabweans. Suffice to say we have failed dismally and catastrophically by the standards set by our ancestors who built the Great Zimbabwe Empire over 600 years ago. Only a change from the current kleptocracy to a technocracy can convert our true potential to tangible economic success. We should aspire for much higher, to bring the great back to Zimbabwe and make it Great Zimbabwe again.