IMAGINE taking a stroll in a nature reserve with about 300 species of exotic and indigenous trees providing an immaculate scenery.
Imagine having a picnic date in the trees with birds providing a soothing melody.
Strolling and enjoying the serene environment, meeting rare species of butterflies that are only seen in the tourism and cultural facility and nowhere else in Zimbabwe will definitely be a treasured and unforgettable experience.
In the north-western part of the City of Mutare and less than 3km from the city centre lies Murahwa Hill Nature Reserve, which is a large granite hill.
It was named after a local headman who lived at the foot of the hill in the 19th century under Chief Mutasa.
The local name for the hill is Gomo Rembira (Hill of the Rock Rabbit). Murahwa Hill, which presently falls under the authority of the National Trust of Zimbabwe, is one of the country’s national monuments.
Murahwa Hill Nature Reserve consists of archaeological property, flora and fauna, cave and rock shelter formations.
Pottery, a gold smelting crucible, spindle whorls, glass beads and soapstone pipes were recovered from there and are now an important part of the National Museums and Monuments collection.
Other features and structures of archaeological importance on the property comprise grinding grooves on rock outcrops, stone walling and a granary in a cave.
The nature reserve has naturally occurring fauna and flora species. The topography and wide variety of vegetation types create a large diversity of habitats, hence the numerous species of birds, small and medium sized animals and insects.
Beautiful trees, among the 300 species that provide a breathtaking scenery in the nature reserve, include Acacia Karoo Hayne, Acacia Nilotica, Acacia Sieberiana, Acalypha Glabrata, as well as the poisonous Acokanthera Venenata and the Dovyalis Zeyheri, loosely known as Nhunguru.
The lush and green forest provides a therapeutic experience, while a view of the suburbs and trees underneath provide a calming aura.
With about 300 tree species, Murahwa Nature Reserve possibly holds the largest variety of naturally occurring trees in a reserve.
It is believed that there are some species of butterflies that are only found in Murahwa and nowhere else in Zimbabwe.
Thus biologically, Murahwa has a great potential to become a very useful scientific and educational resource to the whole country and beyond.
Evidence of the known earliest occupation is in the form of very faint remnants of rock art that is now irretrievably getting lost, partly due to natural decay.
Important archaeological remains of the farming communities were recovered during excavations between 1964 and 1968.
This information has enabled the partial generation of the culture history of Mutare and linkage of developments at the site to what was happening in other parts of Zimbabwe in pre-colonial times.
Consequently, more legal protection, together with an educational awareness campaign may assist in the protection, preservation and conservation of the natural landscape at Murahwa’s Hill.
The inherent natural beauty and archaeological property has created a lot of interest in many members of the public who frequently visit the place for picnics and enjoyment of the serene environment.
Despite the various acts of vandalism, the environment has greatly been preserved by the Trust’s maintenance effort that has sustained public attention in Murahwa Nature Reserve.
There is, however, a need to re-develop the access paths.
The recreational aspect guarantees public access to the property and in turn ensures public appreciation of and support for the conservation and protection effort.
One of the caves to the west has a well preserved mud (dhaka) plastered lath with a granary while another shelter has remnants of rock paintings.
The caves are believed to have been used as refuge places when the ancient communities were raided by enemies.
Traditional ceremonies used to take place at the Old Village in one of the caves.
Thus besides the scenic beauty, the caves and rock shelters also have some religious-socio-cultural significance.
Sadly, small animals like hares are now targets of illegal dog hunting and snaring.
On the other hand, the vegetation has suffered occasionally from veld fires, usually ignited by the churches nearby.
Local residents, particularly those from Chikanga suburb, are wantonly cutting down trees for firewood.
Unfortunately the problem of graffiti is wide-spread at Murahwa on almost all the caves and shelters.
In some cases, thick coatings of sooth have accumulated on some cave faces due to repeated lighting of fires.
This has greatly affected the beauty of the area and has tended to belittle its cultural significance.
Tourism expert and National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe marketing and public relations officer, Mr Lloyd Makonya said: “We recommend activities that are consistent with retaining the aesthetic value and the sanctity of the site as a national monument considering the cultural attachment to it.
“The Murahwa Hill is part of our cultural heritage and a treasured tourism facility that requires proper and excellent marketing.
‘‘There is need for stakeholder collaboration in terms of management of the cultural space that Murahwa Hill is.
“It will be ideal to make it a living site whereby the current and future generations can find value.
‘‘The fact that the site harbours beautiful indigenous and exotic trees, unique birds and butterflies as well as rock paintings, among other things, make the nature reserve a treasure.
“There is need for a synchronised approach between stakeholders such as the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the National Trust of Zimbabwe and individuals, among others, to preserve the heritage site since heritage is a shared ownership,” he said.