ZIMBABWE: THE SPIRIT OF MATOBO
There can be fewer finer examples of the beauty and mystery of the natural world than in Zimbabwe's Matobo Hills. Add to this the intrigue of man's existence among the balancing rocks and bald hills, and you will see why the Matobo should be on every visitor's itinerary. Story by Andrew Campbell, with photographs by Eric Gauss.
As I stand on the summit of Malindidzimu, the 'Place of Benevolent Spirits', with the sun's first pale rays starting to take the night's chill from the granite beneath my hiking boots, I really envy Cecil John Rhodes.
No man could ask for a more dramatic burial site. His grave, hewn from solid rock almost a hundred years ago and topped with a simply-inscribed slab of bronze, is a modest memorial to an empire-builder who left an indelible imprint on the continent of Africa. But the setting is incomparable.
To my right the sunrise flashes fire from the cross atop Inungu, 'The Porcupine'. In the valley far below a herd of sable antelope makes its way to water, shouldering aside the head-high summer grass. Into the silence a lone baboon barks a challenge. Another day has dawned in the Matobo Hills.
Rhodes is not the only man to have felt the magical attraction of these hills. And his are not the only bones to have found their final resting place here. Buried in secret caves, lost deep in the leaf mould of clefts and crevices, or scattered in the thick grass of the valleys are reminders of those who have made the Matobo Hills their home over thousands of years.
The present peace and serenity of the area belies its turbulent history. From the Stone Age to recent times, it has been both a place of worship and a place of refuge during rebellion, a hunting ground and a battleground.
The key to the inexplicable attraction of the hills lies in the dramatic, tumbled landscape itself. Looking at the rock formations one might imagine they were the result of some tumultuous eruption or explosive force. In fact, they were formed by imperceptible erosion over two thousand million years. The hills have been sculpted by the elements from massive blocks of granite that originated deep within the Earth's crust. Heat and cold, freeze and thaw, wind and rain all helped.
First the outer blanket of earth was stripped away, then valleys were carved out along natural lines of weakness. As the surrounding landscape was eroded, hills began to stand proud and to take on their present-day shapes.