The dangerous and misleading conflation of racism and the white savior complex resulted in the history of Great Zimbabwe ruins being warped. The history of this iconic civilization was distorted by European colonizers so that Zimbabweans and Africa would be kept in the dark about their own unique and glorious heritage. The colonizers could simply not believe that such a complex, intricate structure was constructed by the indigenous people of Africa. The level of skill employed by Africans in building Great Zimbabwe baffled Europeans.
For white Rhodesians, it was improbable for the ancestors of Africans they knew to have constructed such iconic and marvelous stone wall structures. At every point, the white Rhodesians worked tirelessly to discredit the fact that the Great Zimbabwe ruins were built by Africans. In their falsified perspectives, Africans could not muster special skills, unity, and power to create such ordered settlements. The Ancient City stands in majestic excellence of exquisite African civilization and this is a fact that the colonizers refused strongly to come to terms with.
Great Zimbabwe was built between the 11th and 15th centuries over 722 hectares. Located between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, Great Zimbabwe was home to cattle-herding people who were proficient at metal-working. Great Zimbabwe resembled the finest point of Shona civilization, with its people trading with distant Asian countries including China and India. This was evidenced by the ceramics, foreign coins and glassware found at the ruins.
Great Zimbabwe controlled thousands of kilometers of territory, although without a large army. The authority by the king to rule was directly derived from the special connection to the spirits of deceased rulers. The ancestors would guide the kings on how to rule. Other rulers of smaller settlements were under this special ordaining from the ancestors.
The Ancient City was built with only granite stones, without any mortar/cement. The high dry stones would tower up to 9-11 meters in height. This took highly specialized skill – advanced expertise of masonry – and took many workers to build. This special form of advancement made Europeans biased by claiming that Great Zimbabwe was not built by Africans.
Vicente Pegado, a Portuguese sea captain, was one of the first Europeans to witness Great Zimbabwe ruins in 1531. He remarked in his writings: “Among the goldmines of the inland plains between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers [is a] fortress built of stones of marvelous size, and there appears to be no mortar joining them … This edifice is almost surrounded by hills, upon which are others resembling it in the fashioning of stone and the absence of mortar, and one of them is a tower more than 12 fathoms high.”
In 1871, German geologist Carl Mauch refused to acknowledge that Africans had built Great Zimbabwe. He concluded that Great Zimbabwe was built by biblical characters from the north. He said, “I do not think that I am far wrong if I suppose that the ruin on the hill is a copy of Solomon’s Temple on Mount Moriah and the building in the plain a copy of the palace where the Queen of Sheba lived during her visit to Solomon.” As if that is not enough, he further added that a “civilized [in his perspective, white people] nation must once have lived there.” Some Europeans continued to push the thinking that Great Zimbabwe must have been built by Portuguese travelers, Arabs, Chinese, or Persians.
When Cecil Rhodes took over Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) as a colony run by the British South Africa Company, he continued to assail the fact that Africans built Great Zimbabwe. He hired archaeologists and historians to “prove” that Great Zimbabwe was not built by the Shona people. James Theodore Bent, sent from the British Association of Science, concluded that the items found in Great Zimbabwe “proved” that it was not built by Africans. This was in his book Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892).
Then came Richard Hall. He was an archaeologist hired by Cecil Rhodes from Britain in 1902 to discredit that Africans built Great Zimbabwe – and was also a plunderer in the process. He proclaimed in his book that the civilization was built by “more civilized races” than Africans. He destroyed archaeological evidence showing that Africans were the ones that built Great Zimbabwe. He argued that the last phase of Great Zimbabwe was the “transitional and decadent” period in which foreigners interbred with the local African people. He destroyed two meters deep of archaeological remains, saying that he wanted to “remove the filth and decadence of Kaffir occupation.”
In 1905, British-born archaeologist David Randall-MacIver was the first European to fully and confidently declare that Great Zimbabwe was “unquestionably African in every detail.” But this did little to convince the settlers and other Europeans that indeed Great Zimbabwe was African in its design and structure. If anything, this was tantamount to blasphemy. As a result, archaeologists were banned from Southern Rhodesia for almost 25 years. In 1929, another archaeologist, Gertrude Caton-Thompson together with her team also positively concluded that the ruins were really of African origin. She collated evidence from the artifacts and nearby dwellings, together with oral evidence of Shona speaking people, and reached a solid conclusion that Great Zimbabwe was constructed by Africans. Her evidence was conspicuously and deliberately ignored.
The white Rhodesians pushed the “mystery” of Great Zimbabwe up until 1980 when Zimbabwe attained its rule from the colonial regime. The Ian Smith-led colonial regime that declared Unilateral Independence from Britain was ferocious in falsifying the origins of Great Zimbabwe. A fake history was developed, as tourists would be handed official guide books that depicted images of Africans bowing down to foreign innovators, who allegedly built Great Zimbabwe. These fictional explanations were presented as the truth and it only took the independence of the country to reclaim that lost history. The lies of the colonial era had to be extinguished for good.
At its full point of flourishing, Great Zimbabwe was inhabited by around 18,000 people. Although still iconic, and preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Zimbabwe no longer reflects how glorious it was like. This is because of the destruction caused by stubborn archaeologists and treasure-hunters, and also by visitors climbing on the stone walls and taking away pieces of the site as souvenirs.
It is important for African countries to fully possess their histories and guard them jealously from manipulation by European writers and historians who speak through the lens of racism. The racial bias is always employed to justify imperialism. Colonialism must never blight the history of Africa.