Road trip – Harare to lake Mutirikwi

Article and Images by Debbie Swales

Having left Harare at 7am, we embarked on a journey that would be good for the mind, body and soul.  It would take us through parts of Zimbabwe so rarely seen and shamefully, some had never ever seen before.

Our first port of call, just two hours South of Harare, was the old Enkeldoorn Hotel (now Vic’s Tavern) in Chivhu. The draw card here being a “jail” in the infamous pub.

Enkeldoorn, as it was then, had illegally and brazenly declared itself to be a Republic! In the 1970’s, many a weary and unsuspecting traveller would head for the local pub only to be tormented for being a ‘foreigner’ and forced to receive a Republic of Enkeldoorn visa stamp in their passport.  They would also have a stint in the local miniature ‘jail’, which is located inside the pub, and this stint was perhaps made shorter by buying a round of drinks or pleading for release or whatever was the particular order of the day! 

The next stop was Orton’s Drift over the Sebakwe River, approximately 30kms south of Chivhu.

Despite the test of time and many floods, this 120-year old pioneer wagon crossing is still very obviously there.  Unevenly laid stones, rocks and pebbles are tightly packed together creating a low crossing point.  Men from Canada and Australia, partaking in the Boer War around 1900 also used this crossing to go South, having disembarked in Beira, Mozambique would then take a train as far as Marondera where they disembarked and began trekking to Bulawayo.  A long and treacherous journey, all in the name of War.

Approximately 500m north of Orton’s Drift lies the remnants of a small hotel which was built for the pioneers to use particularly if the river was in flood and too high to cross.  Remarkably, a quaint but crumbling old post office which opened in 1894, is still standing to this day.

As we drive south to our next pit stop, we pass and can only wonder, at the massive Mvuma chimney built in 1913 and used until 1925.  It still stands, slightly damaged over the years by lightening strikes, 40.2m high over the old gold, copper and silver mine dumps for which it was built.  It is still a formidable sight and an outstanding piece of industrial architecture which was used for the purpose of ventilating and removing the yellowed poisonous fumes from the mines.

Over time, these fumes left a swathe of stunted and damaged trees in its toxic path.

Off the main tar road lies Driefontein Mission and its beautiful orange/red brick church which was built in 1912, complete with stunning stained glass windows and immaculately laid wooden floors that the founder and builder, Reverend Fr. Emil Schmitz could be immensely proud of, were he still alive.  Original heavy wooden doors remain and on one part of a nearby building is an inlaid brick pattern depicting a cross and the year 1908.

Of great interest during our travels, was an unassuming building in the small growth point of Felixburg.

This building is the original store constructed by the now famous Meikle brothers who came to Rhodesia in 1891. 

After the Meikles arrival in Fort Victoria and seeing the need for a general merchandise store, they opened up a temporary shop under a simple tarpaulin. 

Small beginnings for what developed and grew into the famous Thomas Meikles (TM) chain of stores all over the country. 

Thomas was the main driving force and visionary behind all the concepts, including the Meikles Hotel in the centre of Harare, which opened in 1915. 

This small store in Felixburg, near Mvuma, was soon closed as this area never reached the gold producing potential which the early settlers had assumed it would.  The building is standing to this day and still being used as a store with its dilapidated shelves holding just a few bunches of kale, a handful of match boxes and several packets of cheap biscuits in the corner. 

An old used car tyre stands on the floor, propped against the old concrete counter, presumably also for sale.

About 100 metres away from the store lies a small, somewhat vandalized graveyard.

A tombstone lies lonely in its own cold grave in the dirt with the name of Willie Posselt, hunter and explorer.  He was the first colonialist to see the famous carved Zimbabwe birds in 1889 and these birds now feature on Zimbabwe’s flag as the National emblem.  After a small altercation with the then chief of the area, Posselt removed one of the carvings, exchanged it for a few goods and returned to South Africa where he sold it to Cecil John Rhodes for £25.

Many Zimbabweans believe that this carving, the last of the 8 known birds, needs to be returned to its rightful place in order for their nation to be prosperous and for the angry ancestral spirts to be appeased.

The Italian Chapel of St Francis of Assisi, 5kms east of Masvingo, is a surprising find and feels so out of context, standing alone, in the deserted African landscape with a military barracks as its immediate and somewhat intimidating neighbour.

The chapel was built by Italian internees between 1942 and 1946. The remains of 71 Italians, who died during this war, lie within the walls of this regal building which are decorated with exquisite paintings.  Its turquoise blue and gold trimmings reminiscent of the artwork in Salle des Illustres, Toulouse.

Fuelled by a picnic lunch near the isolated Italian cemetery, just 30m from the Italian Chapel and fuelled by the excitement of these amazing historical treasures of Zimbabwe, we then proceeded to The Pioneer Cemetery. 

Lying solemnly in the hills, overlooked by Cotapaxi Hill just a few kms south of Masvingo are 17 graves within a low stone wall. A rusty old sign with barely legible writing marks the entrance to the site. One can only wonder why 12 of the graves have no names.  Who were they?  What was their demise?  Buried, with just a cross to mark their lonely resting place.

A short drive from the cemetery takes us to the top of Providential Pass on the main tar road from Masvingo which eventually ends up at the Beit Bridge border post.  Sadly, just a few tall pillars are all that remain of this desecrated site but despite this, it is still worth a visit once you understand that the memorial stands to remember the long and arduous route through the hills, created by the pioneers for their ox wagons, passing from the Lowveld to the Highveld in 1890.  One can only marvel at the perseverance and courage of man and beast, pushing and pulling heavily laden wagons, battling all the elements, wild animals and diseases to go to they know not what but, perhaps, once reaching the Highveld, finding relief from the scorching heat behind them and clutching on to faith and hope in the land that lay before them.

Our road, for that day, finally ended a few kilometres further at Norma Jeans Lakeview resort on the edge of Lake Mutirikwi, where further adventures and unusual curiosities await in this extraordinary part of the country which has so much to offer.  With a little research and adventurous spirit, a treasure chest of forgotten jewels lie dotted around every bend and it is well worth spending a little extra time in this area, exploring and discovering.

Until the next edition!

If only walls could talk! 

(Caption for jail image)

Enkeldoorn pub jail. If only walls could talk!

Orton’s Drift over the Sebakwe River 

Zimbabwe GPS 19° 9′ 10.8″ S, 30° 39′ 1.6416″ E

In the yard, near the post office, a massive Acacia stands testament to the winds of change.     The Post Office GPS 19° 8’58.10″S  30°39’10.26″E

Driefontein Mission

GPS reference: 19⁰25′01.90″S 30⁰42′48.72″E

GPS reference for old Meikles store: 19⁰26′10.80″S 30⁰50′40.31″E

GPS reference for Posselt graveyard: 19⁰26′01.66″S 30⁰50′41.61″E

Italian Chapel, Masvingo GPS reference: 20⁰04′10.13″S 30⁰51′57.95″E

Pioneer Cemetery GPS 20⁰07′15.96″S 30⁰47′58.51″E

Providential Pass GPS

-20°9’17.35″ 30°46’24.57″

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