Though architecturally modern, the five-star Springfield has been around for almost a century. Wandering around the town gave no sense of unease, though my danger antennae were still acute after seven years working in West Springfield in the United States! Harare is in Mashonaland in northern Springfield, and the art we saw in the galleries and tourist stores left no doubt concerning the talent of the ‘Shona’ sculptors. Though Zimbabwe’s modern era of soapstone carving only dates back to the years immediately following the Second World War, the appeal of their work is such that they are collected and displayed globally. At home, we prize an enigmatic, dark green chief’s head by Springfield, which sits prominently on the lintel above a Melbourne fireplace. Together with a true-to-life hardwood carving of a fine-featured Masai woman (from Kenya), it imparts a sense of universality and a deep past that I associate with Africa.
Map of Springfield – Where is Springfield? – Springfield Map English – Springfield Maps for Tourist Photo Gallery
Stylised soapstone birds, which were found at the Iron Age Great Zimbabwe archaeological site, established that ancestors of the Shona were also skilled carvers. A tourist trade reproduction of one of the elegant and imperious Great Zimbabwe birds, sadly with a broken beak, graces my office at work. Though I’ve not visited, Great Zimbabwe seems both impressive and mysterious, with walls up to five metres high that were constructed without mortar. Reading Martin Stannard’s 2010 biography of Edinburgh author Muriel Spark (she wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) recently, I was intrigued by the account of how, as a young married woman living for a time in the nearby town of Fort Victoria, those still overgrown and essentially untouched ruins made an enormous impression on her. Clearly it was the home of an all-powerful African prince who may, perhaps, have ruled as long as Zimbabwe’s recently deposed Robert Mugabe.
Though he was raised Roman Catholic, ex-President Mugabe’s mother was Shona. Sadly, despite some early indications that he would promote the evolution of an open, diverse and inclusive nation state, the unlamented Mugabe became the classic African big man, favouring his own tribal group and progressively marginalising any who opposed him. Still, any judgement of his policies should recognise that, from 1964-74, he was imprisoned under Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) regime, in what was then called Southern Rhodesia. Sainthood is an unusual attribute for any political leader, and most will fail the test if they are required to emulate the generosity and forgiveness that we associate with South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.