Cross Kopje: Mutare’s ar­chi­tec­tural in­ge­nu­ity

The Manica Post - - Motivation/Feature - Sharon Chigeza Post Cor­re­spon­dent

WIND­ING down the Christ­mas Pass is quite an ex­pe­ri­ence, but tow­er­ing over the East­ern hori­zon is an unsung ar­chi­tec­tural hero — the Cross Kopje.

Sit­ting qui­etly on a small hill is the fea­ture that has de­fined Mutare since 1924.

Cross Kopje is a high rocky hill sep­a­rated from the vast moun­tain­ous ter­rain of the East­ern bor­der town hous­ing a 10 me­tre tall cross erected in mem­ory of black soldiers who died in East Africa in World War 1.

Ce­cil M. Hul­ley in his fas­ci­nat­ing book Mem­o­ries of Man­i­ca­land (1980) states: “Ev­ery­one has ad­mired the majesty of the Cross Kopje War Me­mo­rial stand­ing on what was once known as Ba­boon Kopje in Um­tali (now Mutare) and many have mar­velled at the en­gi­neer­ing prob­lems in­volved and the mo­tive be­hind such an achieve­ment”.

The Me­mo­rial Cross on Cross Kopje, a fea­ture that dom­i­nates Mutare, was erected in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 269 Africans soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Bat­tal­ions of the Rhode­sia Na­tive Reg­i­ment (RNR) from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique who fought and died in the Ger­man East African cam­paign of the First World War.

Dur­ing the World War South­ern Rhode­sia (now Zimbabwe) was ad­min­is­tered by a pri­vate char­tered com­pany named the Bri­tish South Africa Com­pany (BSAC).

As the ob­jec­tive of this com­pany was to re­turn div­i­dends to its share­hold­ers en­try into the war of South­ern Rhode­sia units was in­evitably de­layed by fi­nan­cial dis­putes be­tween the com­pany and the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment.

When it had been es­tab­lished that the mil­i­tary re­cruit­ment of white soldiers from South­ern Rhode­sia had ex­hausted the avail­able sup­ply, at­ten­tion was turned to the re­cruit­ment of Africans. This was not an easy po­lit­i­cal step to take al­though North­ern Rhode­sia (now Zam­bia) and Nyasa-land (now Malawi) re­cruited Africans for their mil­i­tary units. The white set­tlers in South­ern Rhode­sia had al­ways re­sisted “arm­ing the na­tives” other than in small aux­il­iary or­gan­i­sa­tions. But more ri­fle­men were needed for op­er­a­tions on the Nyasa­land and North­ern Rhode­sia bor­ders with Ger­man East Africa.

In Novem­ber 1915 the Rhode­sian forces Com­man­dant Gen­eral, Colonel Al­fred H.M. Ed­wards, pro­posed that an African bat­tal­ion be raised in South­ern Rhode­sia. The war of­fice asked the Bri­tish South Africa Com­pany to do this, and after sev­eral months of ne­go­ti­at­ing and false prom­ises the com­pany fi­nally agreed to pro­vide the men, sub­ject to re­im­burse­ment of all costs in­volved.

It was planned that the soldiers would be re­cruited from the Nde­bele tribe and the new unit was ti­tled the Mata­bele Reg­i­ment. Of­fi­cers and se­nior rank of­fi­cials were re­cruited from the South­ern Rhode­sia Na­tive Af­fairs De­part­ment and the Bri­tish South Africa Po­lice. It was how­ever, soon re­alised in May 1916 that the re­cruit­ment of 500 Nde­be­les was not go­ing to hap­pen as labour was scarce due to the South­ern Rhode­sian econ­omy hav­ing been boosted by the war. Euro­pean em­ploy­ers pro­duc­ing crops, goods and ser­vices for the war ef­fort wanted to keep hold of their African labour and at the same time many Africans pre­ferred to work on their tribal hold­ings of land rather than work for wages. Men came for­ward from the Mashona tribe and many oth­ers were re­cruited from mine com­pounds.

Most of these for­mer min­ers were mi­grant work­ers from Nyasa­land, North­ern Rhode­sia and Por­tuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). Nearly all the re­cruits were il­lit­er­ate as the ed­u­cated South­ern Rhode­sian Africans were not in­ter­ested in mil­i­tary ser­vice. The var­i­ous di­alects re­sulted in the war unit be­ing re-named Rhode­sia Na­tive Reg­i­ment.

In 1924 mi­nor con­tro­versy rose within the colo­nial gov­ern­ment of the day over the con­struc­tion of a spe­cial me­mo­rial for the Africans who died dur­ing the Great war. Many Africans and Euro­peans were sup­port­ive of this project but high level author­i­ties in Sal­is­bury (now Harare) were not pleased with it.

Some Euro­peans, es­pe­cially those who were part of the na­tive units dur­ing the war felt that not enough had been done to memo­ri­alise the con­tri­bu­tion of the African soldiers.

The feat of con­struct­ing a me­mo­rial for the Africans who died in East Africa how­ever, was com­pleted by a Mutare, then Um­tali, firm called the Methuen Broth­ers owned by Cap­tain Stu­art Methuen and his brother Colonel James Allin Methuen.

The mil­i­tary com­mand­ment of Um­tali district in the East­ern High­lands of South­ern Rhode­sia and Lieu­tenant Colonel Methuen col­lected do­na­tions of money and ma­te­rial to con­struct a 10m high and one me­tre wide gran­ite and ce­ment cross.

Um­tali Town Coun­cil pro­vided the nec­es­sary stones and sand.

The lo­ca­tion of the me­mo­rial was a high rocky hill then called Ba­boon Kopje, (now Cross Kopje) that over­looks the town and sat al­most right on the bor­der of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

A ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony was held and the then mayor Coun­cil­lor W. Stevens, un­veiled the cross and Bishop of South­ern Rhode­sia, Right Rev­erend Bishop Be­van, per­formed the ded­i­ca­tion ser­vice in front of guard of hon­our mounted by BSAP and Por­tuguese na­tive po­lice from Beira in 1924.

The me­mo­rial was orig­i­nally il­lu­mi­nated by flood­lights and owes its ex­is­tence to the gen­eros­ity and in­ge­nu­ity of the Methuen broth­ers.

The cross is in­scribed: ‘LEST WE FOR­GET’. In mem­ory of the 269 African soldiers who fought and died dur­ing World War 1.

The mon­u­ment is most vis­i­ble from the low den­sity sub­urb of Green­side and from the scenic view of Christ­mas Pass.

Path to the sum­mit leads off Rekayi Tang­wena Drive, Green­side, Mutare.

DID YOU KNOW

All streets in the low den­sity sub­urb of Green­side ex­cept Rekayi Tang­wena and Chaminuka, are named after birds.

The newly-erected Cross Kopje (Court­sey of Na­tional Ar­chives of Zimbabwe)

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