Zimbabwe recovers iconic statues of birds stolen during colonialism | Zimbabwe News


Listed on the national flag of Zimbabwe are banknotes and official documents – stone statues representing birds removed by European colonialists more than a century ago.

The eight original sculptures are of great spiritual value to the people of the South African nation, and have become national emblems.


Six of the great carvings were stolen from the ruins of Greater Zimbabwe, an imposing stone complex built between the 11th and 13th centuries and attributed to the pre-colonial king Munhumutapa.

The palatial enclosures are now a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site located in south-eastern Zimbabwe, 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the current city of Masvingo.

& # 39; Connect present with past & # 39;

Almost all of the precious gray-green soapstone birds that were looted have now been returned to the country.

Only one remains in South Africa, where it is housed in the home of 19th-century British mining magnate and imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

In a rare move last month, four of the statues were temporarily placed in the original sockets from where they were stolen from the great Zimbabwe monument.

The heavy figures, some standing about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet), were transferred from an on-site museum and placed outdoors on pedestals for a photo shoot.

His photographs were taken for a book on ancient African art: Zimbabwe: Art, Symbols and Meaning, to be published in September. The country celebrates the 40th anniversary of independence from Britain next month.

The book will be written by a Zimbabwean-born duo and their mother and son, Gillian Atherstone and Duncan Wylie, who now live respectively in Britain and France.

"Birds are among the most symbolic cultural objects of our time," the director of Zimbabwe's national museums, Godfrey Mahachi, told the AFP news agency.

"They connect the present with our past."

& # 39; Problematic existence & # 39;

The curator of the great Zimbabwe ruins, Munyaradzi Sagiya, said the statues are kept inside the museum for security reasons.

"Not everyone who visits a museum is there to admire the exhibits," he said.

Africa's former colonial powers have recently been pressured to send looted artifacts to their home countries.

Germany returned the cut pedestal of one of the birds in 2003.

The late former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said at the time that the piece had "a very hectic, if not problematic, existence during his nearly 100 years of exile."

South Africa returned five other birds in 1981, a year after Zimbabwe's independence.

Sagiya said retrieving that statue could be complicated since Rhodes left his estate to the South African government after his death.