On a recent visit to Shurugwi, Zimbabwe I went for a long walk to visit the Musavezi river. The route from my grandparents home consists of undulating hills veined by narrow footpaths. As you climb and descend the rocky faces you may be surprised by what you find, all sorts of wild vegetation and low flying birds navigating the maze-like forest as well as beautiful boulders emerging form the dry river bed. However, on this occasion I discovered an area dotted with several abandoned homes or ruins, which we refer to as ‘matongo’ in Shona.
These are not rare but I had never seen so many ominously clustered in such a small area.
These houses were constructed with local materials most of which naturally degrade over time. Without people to renew the thatched roofs, make repairs and protect the buildings from the elements most of the structures had begun to break down. The materials mostly consist of timber and brick with hardly any synthetics such as alloys and plastics therefore they were well in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Wild green bushes broke through the cracked floors giving a splash of green to the mostly brown and beige ruins. The exposed roof structure casts web like shadows while termites, lizards, geckos and all sorts of creatures make habitats among the ruins or seek shelter from the high temperatures.
Beer bottles, cigarette packs and doodles on the crumbling walls suggest this might have been a meeting place for friends or a canvas for aspiring mural artists. Despite being abandoned the space is still useful to someone or something.
These were family homes and it is sad to see traces of their use such as the ‘chigaravakwati’ a bench built along the curved wall of a kitchens where people would have sat at meal times or when entertaining guests.
Eventually these sites may lose trace of occupation or serve as a future building site leaving little to no trace of what was there before. Perhaps it is a good thing that these buildings are allowed to slowly disappear.