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On the other side; changes in the Heritage Archive in Zimbabwe

30 minutes
This paper will speak on the changes in the ‘heritage archive’ in Zimbabwe by drawing a comparative analysis on the emergence and popularisation of liberation war heritage and the subsequent discarding/silencing of colonial heritage. In the conventional archive, archivability is the product of a judgement, the result of the exercise of a specific power and authority, which involves placing certain documents in an archive at the same time as others are discarded. Similarly, I argue in this paper that this applies to the ‘heritage archive’ in Zimbabwe where conservation and protection is selectively offered to liberation war heritage whilst colonial heritage is marginalised and rendered meaningless. By analysing the state of conservation of colonial historic buildings at the Old Umtali heritage precinct , I will argue from a heritage practitioners perspective that a proper understanding of colonialism in Zimbabwe can be attained through conserving historic buildings as well. Old Umtali heritage precinct with its set of colonial historic buildings constructed by the pioneer column between 1891 and 1897 can be marshalled and utilised for the purpose of a critical heritage practice. This heritage precinct which is located some 15km north east of the city of Mutare has twenty historic buildings of a colonial period that have survived since 1891. Old Umtali symbolises the first fort that was established by the settler regime in Eastern Zimbabwe in 1891 before it was shifted to the present day location of the city of Mutare in 1897. The buildings have survived up to now and have been used by the United Methodist Church (UMC) with various conversions to suit contemporary uses. The conservation of historic buildings at Old Umtali bestows a legacy of the past which enriches and gives depth to the present. This heritage precinct if conserved in its wholeness can also be used as a reference point in understanding colonialism in Zimbabwe. Culminating from such conservation efforts, the buildings can also be used for different contemporary purposes while at the same time becoming the subject of interpretative work through a critical heritage practice. Questions can then be asked about the experience of colonialism and the various movements of the Pioneer Column in Zimbabwe using the case study of Old Umtali. Colonial historic buildings at Old Umtali are documentary sources that can be used as a reference point in explaining both the histories of colonialism and early missionary work in Manicaland and Zimbabwe at large. My other argument is that notions of power are central to the construction of heritage and identity in Zimbabwe and thus heritage is not given, but is made. In this case it is being made through giving top priority to liberation war heritage which has become the new symbol of national identity. The effect is that colonial era heritage has ceased to be a priority area of ‘heritage’ conservation in this era of the rise of liberation heritage. This paper will therefore aim to contribute to the general understanding in the transformations of heritage management and changes in priorities between colonial heritage and liberation war heritage in Zimbabwe. It grapples with the question of permanence in heritage meaning as well as that of an obliterated heritage on one hand and a maintained and up-kept heritage on the other. Examples will be also be drawn from colonial forts, memorials, statues, buildings and other vestiges of a colonial period that have either been obliterated or neglected at the expense of the buoyant rise of liberation war heritage in its various forms. As heritage practitioners, all heritages are equally the same and must be given equal conservation priority by the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe without creating any sort of binaries like the ones that currently exists.
National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe / University of the Witwatersrand
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