Marhumbini Mission in Gonarezhou; Education and Elephants!

Marhumbini Mission, by Clive Stockil, Lin Barrie and Mr. Lyson Masango, with Chilo guides John, Tor and Jasper…..

Insights to the history of the Marhumbini Mission and those that occupied this remote location, close to the Mozambique border in the south east of Zimbabwe.

Gonarezhou National Park is “Place of the Elephants” now, but it has a fascinating and important history of human habitation…..

Elephants at Machiniwa (Mashanu) Pan


Here are some insights to the history of the Marhumbini Mission and the Changana (Xangana) people and other settlers that occupied this remote location, close to the Mozambique border in the south east of Zimbabwe.
A visit to the site, now within the Gonarezhou National Park, was undertaken by Clive Stockil and Chilo Gorge Safari Guides, accompanied by Lyson Masango who was the founder teacher after the opening of the Marhumbini Mission School:

Clive and Mr Masango cross the Runde River towards Machanu Pan

The magnificent baobab sentinel that stands below Spraggen’s Hill, is apparently near the old mission school site…

what a tree, sentinel and witness to how many stories and human/wildlife dramas…

…it dwarfs Tor and Jasper, Chilo guides who are accompanying us…

Clive, Mr Masango and John in the distance, searching for evidence of the old mission, or the school building…

I notice that elephants have been digging into the soft fibre of this ancient baobab…will it survive?! Needs a corset of Chain Mail I think! …read my previous blog for more about that…https://wildlifeandwilddogs.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/baobabs-and-wire-elephants-and-mud/

The “sentinel” baobab being stripped by elephants….

A pot shard is found, evidence of previous village life, we are on the right track….!

excitement over a potshard….

Success! Hunting further afield, we find bricks and foundations from the church at Marhumbini mission….. Photos taken 15th September 2019

Even the floor slab of the church building still shows itself…and some of the water worn pebbles used in the cement foundations, evidence of a pre-historic, vast body of water which would have covered these now arid areas…

Lyson Masango  –something about this distinguished gentleman..

Mr Masango

Born on the 15th December 1946 in the Mahenye area,  Masango attended the Mahenye primary school where he completed Sub A, Sub B and Standard 1, 2 & 3. He completed his junior education at Lundi Mission where he successfully completed Standards 4, 5 & 6. He was then sponsored by Henry Koopman and his wife Florence Fleming to attend the teacher training college at Matopos. He returned to the South East Lowveld to take up the teaching post at Marhumbini Mission in May 1955, where he taught until the end of 1957. The school was situated approximately 100 metres east of the Church, and was constructed of unburned clay bricks with mud for mortar, under grass thatch roof. Only one classroom was constructed, which accommodated between 50 and 60 pupils. Masango was the only teacher and he taught three classes – Sub A, Sub B and Standard 1. He was a government employee and received 20 pounds sterling per month.

Mr. Masango was elected by the Mahenye community in 1982 to chair the Mahenye Wildlife Committee, the forerunner to CAMPFIRE. In 1988 after the establishment of the CAMPFIRE Association he was appointed the first chairman of the Mahenye ward.  

He retired in 2010 and resides in the Mahenye village.

The Story of the Elephant and Mr Masango:

Elephants, baobabs and people have a long history in the lowveld of Zimbabwe, often traumatic, always challenging………real stories of high drama abound…

‘In February 2015 Mr. Masango was extremely fortunate to survive an encounter with an elephant. Whilst guarding his maize field in the early hours before dawn, around four o’clock in the morning, he approached a large elephant bull that had started feeding on the mature maize. Armed with a small torch (flashlight) and an old pot upon which he beat, he attempted to scare the bull away. Suddenly the bull charged and knocked him over, trampling him into the ground, but thankfully missing his body with its lethal tusks, which dug into the earth either side of him. It proceeded to scrape a hole in the ground into which the unconscious man was flung. After the elephant had covered his body with soil, it left him for dead. He lay there for several hours in the darkness, in an unconscious state, but finally revived enough to crawl back to a tree, where he was located by villagers who were hunting for him by dawn and heard his shouts for help. He suffered three broken ribs, and massive internal bruising. Later in the day rangers and a professional hunter followed up and found the bull in thick bush not far away. It was decided to put the elephant down as it was seen as a threat to the village. It was only then they discovered the sad reason for its aggressive behaviour. The bull had survived poachers bullets, 9 AK47 bullets being found in the forehead of the elephant.’

More fascinating history:

Dickson Sithole was a local Hlengwe /Xangan resident who was groomed by the Assembly of God to become the pastor of the Church at Marhumbini Mission. He resided at the base of the Spraggen hill.

Tigere and Mazarire were employed by Shabani Mine as drivers. Shabani Mine had set up a labour recruiting base at Marhumbini, and a road was constructed between the Marhumbini recruiting base and the Beit Bridge/Masvingo road, through what is now the Gonarezhou National Park. Tigere and Mazarire would provide a weekly shuttle service between the recruiting base and the mine.

Spraggen Hill is a small hill overlooking the Marhumbini Mission site, above the “sentinel” baobab…

GPS –Coordinates – 21’20,04 S – 032’22,01 E

The original house on top of the hill was built by Mark Spraggen sometime in the mid-1920’s and which he occupied until the mid-1940. After being vacant for some time a lease was granted to Reverend Koopman with the intention of building a mission station. Mr. Masango says that Reverend and Mrs Koopman used this house on their visits to Marhumbini. The Koopmans were based in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) 

Contrary to common understanding, Mr Masango confirmed that lowveld character Blake Thompson never occupied this house. After Mark Spraggen’s departure, the house was only used by members of the Assembly of God during the time the Marhumbini mission was in operation. The mission was finally closed in 1968.

So, the question now arose, where in this arid area of historical elephant hunting and mine labour recruitment, did the legendary and much-loved Blake Thompson reside?!….

We were soon to discover, upon climbing another nearby hill which was starkly clothed in elephant-pruned mopani stumps…….

Clive named it the Blake (Mudiwa) Thompson Hill, GPS – Coordinates – 21’19,38 – S – 032’22,92 – E

Mr. Masango was eager to get to the top in search of evidence,  gracefully assisted in the heat of the day by Pro-guide John, with Tor flanking…..

Success…. at last the summit was gained and foundations were found!

Clive discovers this flag post foundation- a joyful jog to his memory from his childhood visits to the house with his grandfather…!

This recruiting base was established in the early 1950’s by the Shabani Mine. Blake Thompson was employed by the mine to administer the base, which included carrying out medical examinations on all recruits. Mudiwa, as he was commonly known, (meaning ‘loved one’ in the Karanga language), was well-liked by the local residents of the Marhumbimi, Chisa and Mahenye communities. 

Clive well remembers meeting Blake when just a child, visiting the house accompanied by his grandfather. Clive was over-awed by the pomp with which Blake, dressed in starched KD’s and a white vest, summoned a bugle player and  raised the Union Jack upon their arrival ! 

Blake Thomson returned to Shabani Mine headquarters in 1956 due to ill health. 

It would appear that Blake was partial to eggs, as he would encourage local residents to bring him eggs, for which he would pay a ticky each (threepence). Children attending the mission school would pass by with an egg or two, and the money received would be spent at the mission shop to buy sugar and salt, which would get taken home after school. 

After a well-spent morning discovering these snippets of history, we drive back through the enigmatic mopani of the great Gonarezhou. Elephant bones and water worn pebbles near the Mission site remind us of the cycles of life and death, drought and flood…

elephant pelvis and skyline near Marhumbhini Mission

After we re-cross the Rundle River, on our way to the Save River, a young elephant suddenly blocks our road, scenting us with trunk held high and determined not to give way. Part of a much larger herd scattered over the road, this particular elephant on this particular day has undeniable attitude. Mr. Masango shivers, his memories kicking in …….

Elephant with attitude…

Understanding body language and attitude is half the success to avoiding conflict with our Gonarezhou elephants…and Clive makes a wise and polite decision for everybody. He detours to another road, leaving the elephants to their space…and calming Mr. Masango’s mind.

a young bull, acrylic on canvas, 2 x 2 feet, by Lin Barrie

As we cross the great Save river, back towards Chilo Gorge Lodge and our fish lunch, young Mahenye girls are walking backwards through the cool water, trawling with their hands to catch their fish lunch – gobies on the sandy river bed!

I am reminded of the divide between communities and wildlife; villagers and National Park; this being the contact zone where elephants drink and ladies do their washing, where crocodiles lurk and herdboys water their cattle…

A fascinating and challenging world.



About wineandwilddogs

Lin Barrie The Save Valley Conservancy stretches along the upper reaches of the great Save River in the south east of Zimbabwe. The Gonarezhou National Park laps against the southern banks of the Save River and between these two nestles the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. These three celebrated wildlife areas form part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, (GLTFCA)- a unique wilderness jewel which is home to the “Big Five” (endangered Black and White rhinos, elephants, buffalo, lion, leopard) and the ”Little Six” (Klipspringer, Suni, Duiker, Steenbok, Sharpe's Grysbok and Oribi). Endangered African wild dogs, Cheetah, Brown hyena, Bat-eared foxes and a host of special birds and plants contribute to the immense variety of this ecosystem. Communities around the GLTFCA contribute to innovative partnerships with National Parks and the private sector, forming a sound base on which to manage social, economic and environmental issues. This is home to artist and writer Lin Barrie and her life partner, conservationist Clive Stockil. Expressing her hopes, fears and love for this special ecosystem with oil paints on canvas, Lin Barrie believes that the essence of a landscape, person or animal, can only truly be captured by direct observation. Lin Barrie states: “Through my art, and my writing, I feel an intimate connection with the natural world, and from my extensive field sketches of wild animals, people and landscapes, I create larger works on canvas. Lin's work is in various public and private collections in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, England, Canada, Sweden and the United States of America. She is represented by galleries in South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, Kenya and Florida, USA.
This entry was posted in adventure travel, Africa, africa, African child, African flora, African Safari, african trees, african wildlife, archeology, arid areas, art, baobab, beauty, bio diversity, buildings, bush camps, Changana people, Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, church, citizen science, clive stockil, community, cooking, culture, eco-tourism, education, elephants, endangered, family, food, Gonarezhou Conservation Trust, gonarezhou national park, great limpopo transfrontier conservation Area, Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, Hunter gatherers, landscape, Lin Barrie Art, lowveld, Machangana culture, Mining,, mission schools, mopani trees, mud huts, photography, pottery, religion, Rivers, ruins, runde river, rural school,, safari, safari guide, Save River, School, Shangaana people, tradition, Uncategorized, wilderness, wildlife trade, Xangana, zimbabwe, Zimbabwe National Parks, Zimbabwe Parks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Marhumbini Mission in Gonarezhou; Education and Elephants!

  1. Susan ViljoenSuki V says:

    Thanks for the post. LOVED the Baobab picture.

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