On Africa Day this year, the 25th of May, President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa unveiled a statue commemorating Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, (c1840 – 1898) commonly known as Mbuya Nehanda. The 3m tall statue is situated on a revolving platform at the centre of two purpose built, intersecting pedestrian walkways specially constructed where Julius Nyerere Way and Samora Machel Avenue intersect.
Mbuya Nehanda is well known to most Zimbabweans as the 19th Century spirit medium (svikiro) of the Zezuru Shona people, as well as being a fearless leader of the First Chimurenga in the war against the colonisation of Zimbabwe by the British South Africa Company led by Cecil John Rhodes. Nehanda and her ally Sekuru Kaguvi were captured by the Company and executed on charges of murder in 1898.Both Nehanda and Kaguvi have become revered and powerful symbols of the struggle against colonialism and minority rule. Nehanda in particular has become a potent icon of Shona culture and heritage as well as a significant source of inspiration for the nationalist struggle in the 1960s and 70s.
The bronze statue was designed and made by local Zimbabwean sculptor David Guy Mutasa. The lead architect and project manager was Tapiwa Chiwara from the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works.
In an interview in The Herald conducted Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor Sifelani Tsiko (dated 31st May 2021) Chiwara listed the contributors to the project: – Tapiwa Chiwara — Project Manager and Design Architect, Edward Nyanzira — Project Structural Engineer, Oscar Muza — Project Mechanical Engineer, Edwin Murimi — Project Civil Engineer, Shepherd Mukorera — Project Electrical Engineer, Lilian Mandishona — Project Civil Engineer, Talent Mashinga — Resident Engineer and Lydia Gubwe an architectural intern.
The main contractor was Construction Team Zimbabwe CRSG led by Tapiwa Majuru, Pride Boweni — Site Engineer, Stone Cladding Works (Swaszy Granites), Onias Tinotenda Chagaresango — Projects Director, Steel Fabrication Works (Essar Tubes and Towers), Emmanuel Chimedza — Managing Director. The assembling of the rotating platform was done by Kinotec Engineering and Equipment with Godfrey Mabvurwi as the mechanical engineer.
In the same interview Chiwara described his inspiration, “Since as an architect through my research, Mbuya Nehanda said: ‘Mapfupa angu achamuka’ (my bones or my spirit will rise) that became the bedrock of my thoughts. In brief, I idealised her spirit being immortalised by being buoyant, lifted in the air…The design was also site responsive since there was a need to minimise traffic on the busy intersection of Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere.” In addition the memorial is situated adjacent to the City Presbyterian Church which is built on the site of the naturally occurring springs which were a major source of water for Nehanda and her comrades.
Work on the project started in 2020 and took around 11 months to complete. It was initially estimated to take around two months but the discovery of uncharted underground services and the Covid pandemic resulted in unforeseen delays. According to Chiwara the monument was built using steel, cobblestones, concrete and glass. “To be specific, we used reinforcement steel of about 45 tonnes, structural steel for the bridge — 58 tonnes, premix concrete —480 cubic metres, glass — 450 panels and about 58 000 stone bricks… The design consists of linear black granite strips that resemble the democratic black majority rule. It also has cobblestones which were laid using dry construction that mimics Great Zimbabwe Monument…The steel trusses are laid in a chevron pattern which was again adopted from the Great Zimbabwe Monument and represents and honours the ingenuity of our ancestors…
The materials used in the design are maintenance free and timeless. Firstly, the statue is made of bronze, a timeless material. The structure consists of galvanized steel and concrete which are very durable and weather proof materials.
The glass is a 12.4mm thick glass panel which is break-proof. Lastly, the cladding consists of granite and cobblestone which is also maintenance free and durable… The glass panels are etched with illustrations detailing the history of the liberation struggle and Mbuya Nehanda such that as you walk up the ramps you also learn about the history of the liberation struggle and the great heroine Mbuya Nehanda…On the northern part, there is a water fountain that represents an oasis — “chitubu cha Mbuya Nehanda” which was adjacent to the site. This is where she fetched water.
The rotating equipment represents the Spirit of Mbuya Nehanda which can transcend all four corners of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe birds were placed flying on all four corners of the country.” The statue is mounted on an electronic rotating platform which has a capacity of two tonnes and can complete a full revolution in about an hour. The rotation is regulated by a programmable logic controller so that the equipment can be turned off and on automatically at specific intervals or the speed of the rotation can be adjusted as required. In addition new traffic lights – with solar backup – were installed at the intersection to control both vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow.
While the walkways and the statues are set to change the cityscape of the capital Harare, and are an iconic reminder of Zimbabwe’s cultural and political heritage which should never be forgotten.