Zimbabwe reclaims its cultural heritage

24 Mar, 2024 - 11:03 0 Views
Zimbabwe reclaims its cultural heritage

The Sunday Mail

Charles Mavhunga

ZIMBABWE’S cultural heritage, steeped in richness and significance, has been a target of exploitation throughout history, with colonialists pillaging artefacts and human remains and transporting them to foreign lands.

The country’s ongoing efforts to reclaim and restore these stolen treasures are not merely a quest for historical justice but a pivotal stride towards reinstating the dignity and identity of a nation deeply entrenched in its heritage.

As Zimbabwe embarks on a mission to repatriate these invaluable fragments of its past, the global community keenly observes, acknowledging the profound impact of this endeavour on shaping the country’s tourism identity and safeguarding its cultural legacy for posterity.


During the era of colonialism, European powers, notably the British, engaged in the systematic looting and plundering of cultural artefacts and human remains from their African colonies.

This reprehensible practice was often justified under the guise of “scientific exploration” or as a means to enrich the museums and private collections of the colonisers.

In the case of Zimbabwe, which fell under British colonisation in the late 19th century, several cultural artefacts and human remains were forcibly taken to Europe.

British archaeologists and explorers extracted these artefacts and remains from Zimbabwe, deeming them as evidence of a fictitious “lost white civilisation” to reinforce colonial narratives of superiority.

Subsequently, these items found their way into museums and private collections in Europe, where they continue to be exhibited as symbols of African inferiority and European cultural supremacy.

The human remains seized from Zimbabwe and other African colonies were often subjected to scientific scrutiny and put on display in museums and academic institutions across Europe. These remains belonged to individuals from colonised societies who had endured violence or exploitation at the hands of colonial powers.

Indigenous bodies were treated as mere scientific specimens or objects of curiosity, further stripping them of their humanity and erasing their identities and cultures.

The looting of cultural artefacts and human remains from Zimbabwe and other African colonies during colonial rule had far-reaching repercussions for the affected communities, resulting in the loss of cultural heritage, identity and dignity.

Today, numerous nations are actively pursuing the repatriation of these stolen artefacts and remains as part of broader initiatives to reclaim their cultural heritage and rectify historical injustices inflicted during the colonial era.

In Zimbabwe’s case, the retrieval of revered traditional leaders and pivotal figures from the First Chimurenga against British colonialism has garnered significant attention.

Notable among them are:

  1. Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana: A revered spiritual leader and prominent figure in the First Chimurenga (1896-1897) against British colonial rule in Zimbabwe. Her remains were purportedly taken to Europe for scientific inquiry and are believed to be housed in a museum or private collection.
  2. Sekuru Kaguvi: Another influential leader during the First Chimurenga, Sekuru Kaguvi’s remains were also removed to Europe, where they are presumed to be archived in a museum or private collection.
  3. King Lobengula: The final King of the Ndebele people and a central figure in the resistance against British colonisation in Zimbabwe. His remains were allegedly transported to Europe following his demise in 1894 and are thought to be stored in a museum or private collection.
  4. Chief Mashayamombe: A respected traditional leader who played a pivotal role in the First Chimurenga. His remains were taken to Europe and are believed to be retained in a museum or private collection.
  5. Chief Chingaira Makoni (also known as Chief Makoni): A Shona chief who led his people in battling British colonial forces during the First Chimurenga. His remains were taken to Europe and are presumed to be housed in a museum or private collection.
  6. Chief Mapondera’s remains were also taken to Europe and are presumed to be housed in a museum or private collection.

Taking the remains of chiefs and other prominent figures to Europe during colonial times is a clear violation of international conventions and declarations that protect cultural heritage and the rights of indigenous peoples.

The two key conventions that were violated in this case are:

  1. The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970): This convention specifically aims to prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural property and emphasises the rights of countries to control and preserve their own cultural heritage. The removal of Chief Mapondera’s remains without consent or proper authorisation would be considered a violation of this convention.
  2. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (2007): This declaration recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to their cultural heritage, including human remains, and calls for the repatriation of such items to their rightful communities.

Taking human remains to Europe without the consent or approval of the community or descendants goes against the principles outlined in UNDRIP. It is therefore against this background that through the remains the heroes of the First Chimurenga back to Zimbabwe, the country will be honouring and acknowledging the sacrifices made by these heroes, this will also uphold international laws and conventions that protect cultural heritage and indigenous rights. This act would help Zimbabwe reclaim its heritage, showcase its rich history, and attract tourists interested in experiencing the authentic culture and history of the region.


 *Charles Mavhunga co-authored textbooks in Business Enterprising Skills and is currently studying for a PhD in Management at Bindura University. He can be contacted at [email protected], Cell: 0772989816

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