23 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Tuli Circle: A Living Museum

THE Shashe River has shrivelled to a brownish serpent of sand. Thirsty elephants dig for water in the riverbed with their feet while lions take advantage and stalk their prey as one species after another trickles to the river for a sip of the life-saving liquid. Shaggy water buck, elegant eland, nimble-footed impala, baboons squabbling among themselves but intermittently preening each other's glossy coats, are all the spectacle of the river bed water.

Generally, the Shashe River forms the international border between Zimbabwe and Botswana as it snakes down to vomit into the Limpopo River but at this point, the boundary recedes with some 16km semi-circle into Botswana.

The place is aptly named the Tuli Circle. Legend has it that the name was derived from prevalent wafting dust (ituli in Ndebele).

The early pioneers of Cecil John Rhodes, the British colonial expansionist, with the agreement of local tribesmen established the Tuli Circle as a no-go area for the grazing of local cattle.

This preserved the grazing and helped prevent the spread of rinderpest from the local cattle to the "all-important" oxen of the pioneers needed for the trek north.

The pioneers used cannon fire from a vintage point to mark the circle and the cannon stand is still there as a stark reminder of this incident. It forms what is today the heart of Tuli National Park.

The legacy of this, being that the international boundary separating Zimbabwe from Botswana ceases to be the Shashe River for the section where it flows through the "circle" and the "Tuli Circle" as it became known, was formed.

Today, 26 graves of the first pioneers have stood the test and their epitaphs tell their stories. Interred there is a seven-month-old baby, a man mauled by a lion after mistaking it for a dog and a Scottish marksman, among others.

Over the years, the graves have not been tampered with because the pioneers dug a trench around them and build it with cement to deter elephants and other animals from reaching them.

A visit to Tuli today shows a dumpsite of tins from canned foods and bottles of beer and whisky among other things. Tuli is a tourist attraction that has not been marketed well.

Then there is Tuli Village located about 90km west of Beitbridge on the eastern bank of the Shashe River.

During the rainy season, when the Shashe River is in flood and frothing, the Tuli Circle is largely inaccessible.

The village grew around Fort Tuli which was the first settlement built by the Pioneer Column in July 1890 at the place known as Selous Camp and used by Frederick Selous as a base for his hunting expeditions. The village is mainly a police post and associated housing.

Tuli village can be accessed from Gwanda town via Guyu and Hwali, or from Beitbridge via Nottingham and Shashi Irrigation Scheme, although the latter road is in very poor state.

Tuli was the first point at which the Pioneer Column, and many subsequent expeditions entered into Matabeleland and onward north to Salisbury (now Harare), the capital of Rhodesia as the country was then known.

Tuli was the first location north of the Limpopo/Shashe Rivers where a "European" style building was erected.

The British South Africa Police Station was a wooden modular style of Victorian building, copied from the UK and erected to house members of the BSAP who monitored the river crossing just south of the building's location.

Until this time a large fort (Fort Tuli) had existed on the southern bank of the Shashe where oxen and horses were rested prior to undertaking the river crossing.

In the 1970s this building was relocated from its original site and erected at the site of the old, and now obliterated, Fort Tuli. It was used to house artifacts and items of historic interest which were found by persons in the area of the old Fort.

Fort Tuli was also the launching point of the Jameson Raid into the South African Republic which contributed significantly to the start of the Second Anglo-Boer War in the late 19th century.

It is from Fort Tuli or the Tuli Circle that the Pioneer Column then entered Zimbabwe to establish Fort Victoria (Masvingo), then Fort Charter (Chivhu) before settling for Fort Salisbury (Harare) on September 12 1890.

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