The Magic of the Matopo Hills
- 11/9/2006 <--Prev : Next-->
The Magic of the Matopo Hills.
When Mzilikazi fled from the wrath of Shaka in Natal in 1820, he
Limpopo River and then traveled another two hundred kilometers to
Hills. He went through the hills and made his new home at a place
Gubulawayo – the "place of slaughter" or "killing". He felt safe on
other side of the hills and knew that if he ever needed sanctuary,
be found in those same hills and valleys.
From this base, the Impi's of the Ndebele traversed the central
region – going as far north as modern day Malawi, west to the
flood plains in Zambia, south into the area controlled by the
and east into Mozambique. Theirs was an economy based on pillage
Today the City of Bulawayo is built close to the original site of the
original Capital of the migrant Ndebele people. It lies about 40
from the Matopo Hills and the remnants of the descendents of
still be found there in numbers. When I was a boy growing up in the
section of the hills I can remember visiting the villages in the
seeing old men with the hair ring on their heads signifying their
fighting men and officers in the Ndebele army. They recounted to me
of their raids into the domain of other tribes seeking cattle and
perhaps grain, each winter. Running in disciplined groups covering
distances on foot demanding that the villages through which they
provide food and water.
The Matopo Hills run for over 100 kilometers east to west and some 30
kilometers deep. They are amongst the oldest granite formations in
world. In my experience, they are unique in many ways – the piles
granite mastiff's and the green, densely forested valleys with
streams fed by the run off from the granite hills that effectively
the rainfall of the area.
In the center of the hills is the Matopo National Park, originally
by Cecil Rhodes and later to become his burial site. The Park is
hour's drive from Bulawayo and contains a wide variety of plains
significant numbers of both white and black Rhino. It is also home
predators especially Leopard and the Black Eagle.
The latter are found here in numbers supported by the large
Dassies (Rock Rabbit or Hyraxes) in the hills that form their basic
They are magnificent birds – perhaps one of the finest Eagles in
superb flying machines nesting in spectacular rock formations
area. Local enthusiasts working through Birdlife Zimbabwe have
Black Eagles in the Matopo Hills for over 40 years. This is, to the
our knowledge, the longest continuous survey of a raptor in the
For those of you who have never seen a Black Eagle nest – let me
something, you have missed one of the great natural sights of the
Eagles choose the most inaccessible sites for their nests – high up
sheer granite rock face is a shallow ledge – on the ledge they build
untidy nest of sticks and leaves. The nest site has to inaccessible
baboons, monkeys and snakes – all would make short work of an eagle
The Eagles mate for life and usually lay two eggs shortly after the
stop. These are incubated for six weeks and after hatching, the
the chicks usually kills the weaker. The remaining chick is fed
by its parents who will kill a Dassie every day if possible. They
rapidly and soon rival their parents in size – going from a fluffy
ball to a brown fledgling. Eventually they start flying short
encouraged by their parents and once they have become self
parents drive them out of their territory. The young birds will
far as several hundred kilometers to find their own territories –
when mature, to their native environment to seek a mate and start
On Sunday we walked a few kilometers through open veld to a site in
Matopo National Park, then we climbed a short way up a hill and were
rewarded with a clear view of a 10-week-old chick on a superb nest
across a deep ravine. It was no more than 40 metres away. Above us
parents who watched us anxiously and at one stage flew down to
breeze in front of us – between the nest and our lookout site.
It was a beautiful day – clear blue skies, about 25 c and zero
passed a small herd of Wildebeest on our way in and going out we
white Rhino. It was spectacular bird watching by any standard – and
45 minutes from my home! We stayed in the nearby lodges and had a
18 others who had come for the weekend – including some from South
and one person from the UK. Below us in the valley next to the
Fish Eagle nest with two chicks in it. Their wild cries woke us in
The cost – about US$4 per person for the two days. At the end of
day we traveled home – feeling well satisfied that our Eagles were
protected and fed and had successfully bred again. Suntanned and
and ready again to do battle with the regime in Harare and to
try and make a living. Does it get any better?
There is magic in those Matopo Hills and perhaps one day soon the
spread out into the whole country and we can start living again.
in schools and colleges.
Bulawayo, 8th September 2006.