Government is working on a proper roadmap towards the restoration of King Lobengula’s original palace, Old Bulawayo, which was gutted by a veld fire 10 years ago as well as sprucing up King Mzilikazi’s grave.

Old Bulawayo was built by King Lobengula in 1870 and was burnt down in 1881 in protest against invasion by white colonialists.

One of the king’s indunas, Magwegwe Fuyane led the process of burning down the capital after which Lobengula and his people moved northwards to the present-day State House at Sauerstown in Bulawayo.

The restoration of King Lobengula’s capital was mooted in 1993 in the run-up to Bulawayo’s centenary celebrations and work was completed in 1997 with the help of royal experts from KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa.

However, the palace was again gutted by fire in August 2010 and has remained an eyesore as the Khumalos and National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) disagreed over who should initiate the restoration process.

King Mzilikazi’s grave, some 26km from Bulawayo along the Old Gwanda Road, has been lying derelict for some time. NMMZ later erected a gate to the cave where the king was buried. That was in late 2004 after the organisation bowed down to pressure from cultural groups that protested that the grave was getting desecrated.

King Mzilikazi died on September 28 in 1868 and his remains were buried on a hill called Entumbane — a northern fringe of the Matopo Hills in November the same year after a series of ceremonies befitting his royal status.

The king’s grave receives little attention as the family wrangles over who should be the custodian to the grave, as well as lack of adequate resources.

Ironically, Cecil John Rhodes “prohibited” burial of people at the World View area atop the Matopo Hills “within a radius of two kilometres of his grave.” Rhodes’ grave lies atop a sacred African traditional shrine on the hills. It is on a granite outcrop covered with a metal lid, well-kept with trained guides ready to explain the history to visitors in stark contrast to King Mzilikazi’s grave.

Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe on Thursday held a consultative meeting with the Khumalo family elders in Bulawayo to map the way forward in addressing the issues around the resuscitation of Old Bulawayo and King Mzilikazi’s grave.

The meeting came weeks after President Mnangagwa announced that the Government is engaged in a programme of erecting statues of eminent liberation icons from the First and Second Chimurenga/Umvukela to immortalise their supreme sacrifices towards the liberation of Zimbabwe.

In his Heroes’ Day message last month, President Mnangagwa said in a move that should rekindle national identity, pride, dignity, and culture, the Government is also reviewing the list of national monuments to include battle sites, national and provincial Heroes’ Acres, Assembly Points as well as former detention and restriction centres.

Minister Kazembe said they had a fruitful discussion with King Mzilikazi’s descendants and agreed on the roadmap which will ensure that both Old Bulawayo and King Mzilikazi’s shrine are rehabilitated as a matter of urgency.

“We have important historical places in Bulawayo and one of those places is Old Bulawayo and the shrine where King Mzilikazi lies. As Government, it is our mandate to ensure that we preserve and maintain our monuments, which include those places, and for us to do that we cannot proceed without the guidance of the Khumalo elders,” he said. “We, therefore had a fruitful discussion as a ministry with the Khumalo elders. We have agreed on the roadmap which will ensure that it is executed as soon as possible.”

Minister Kazembe said Government was committed to ensuring that King Mzilikazi is accorded the dignity and respect he deserves.

He said his ministry through NMMZ will set up a team that will come up with an agreeable matrix with the Khumalo elders.

“As Government, we felt it was important to come and meet the elders so that we discuss and they give us guidance as to how we can proceed. We need to preserve those places of historic significance so that King Mzilikazi is accorded the dignity and respect that he deserves. We would like to thank the Khumalo elders for accepting our invitation and giving us an audience,” said Minister Kazembe.

Speaking on behalf of the Khumalo clan, Mr Bruce Khumalo said they were grateful to the Government for availing an opportunity to allow discussion on issues of restoring Old Bulawayo and sprucing up King Mzilikazi’s grave.

NMMZ executive director Dr Godfrey Mahachi said the consultative meeting with the Khumalo elders was aimed at giving Minister Kazembe insight into what is expected of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage in terms of what must be done at the two important national heritage sites.

“Old Bulawayo was gutted by fire some years ago and we cannot continue to leave it like that. So, before anything happens in terms of revisiting that site, there was need for a roundtable discussion and that is what the meeting was all about.

“The general consensus is that this is something that the country cannot afford to ignore. We must start doing something and going forward, our efforts will be directed in making sure that Old Bulawayo is re-established,” he said.

Dr Mahachi said there is a general perception in the public domain that King Mzilikazi’s grave is being neglected, which the Government wants to address.