Naletale Cluster of Dzimbabwes
Naletale Cluster of Dzimbabwes is part of the Tentative list of Zimbabwe in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Naletale Cluster of Dzimbabwes consists of the greatest concentration of dry stone walled sites in southern Zambezia, exhibiting high levels of craftsmanship and rich wall decorations in herringbone, checker, chevron, and other patterns. These sites were constructed of granite blocks without any binder, and were used as settlement centers between the 16th and 18th centuries. The Naletale cluster also includes evidence of mining and processing of gold, copper, and iron.
Map of Naletale Cluster of DzimbabwesLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Don’t be surprised when this remote, small site pops up as a nomination in 2026 or so, because There Have Been Signs. A relatively new Tentative List entry (2018), it has been part of the Upstream Process since 2020 with the aim of getting nomination advice. The World Monuments Fund and the US Ambassadors Fund initiated restoration works in 2014. Also, Solivagant, who has a keen eye for sites like this (think of Marib!), wrote praisingly about it. So although it wasn’t on my initial itinerary I decided to make the detour between Masvingo and Bulawayo and go and see Naletale for myself. My biggest worry was whether I could make it in a non-4WD car.
The exit from the A6 is just beyond the town of Shangani, marked with a sign to the Dhlo-Dhlo and Regina ruins (which probably are part of this cluster, although not specifically named in the Tentative Site Description). What follows is a 26km long unpaved rocky road. After 2km or so I contemplated turning around, but I did not want to give up. Besides the bumpiness of the road, there’s also the worry whether you are on the right track. It is not signposted, however, it’s mostly a single track with one spot at the beginning where it forks and you have to keep left. I encountered a couple of other cars, and there also is a gate manned by a private security firm that you have to pass 9km before the end. They protect the private nature reserve that surrounds the Naletale Cluster.
After some 50 minutes, I reached the main Naletale site (the turnoff to the others in the cluster was about 2km earlier). I stopped at a house near the sign, where a man came out and told me he was the guide/caretaker for the site. Surprised to see a visitor, he quickly changed into his neat clothes and we went uphill together. The structures here, like in Great Zimbabwe and Khami, were built on a hilltop. This one is a big granite block that you have to climb. It had been cloudy and rainy all day, and up there it wasn’t more than 13 degrees.
The stone structure here also is a full circle, with not much left of the interior. Eyecatching is the long stretch of outer wall decorated with stone works, which indeed is the best among the dzimbabwes. Different types of stone were used to create the visual effects (a good explanation can be found here). There’s a straight darker line with lots of iron in it. I especially liked the small herringbone accents at the lower part of the wall, representing female crocodiles. The guide had a lot to tell, both about its history and conservation issues as he has worked here for 12 years already. He also showed me that due to weather erosion, more space between the stones gets created which makes the walls unstable.
Back at the car, it turned out that it hadn’t survived the hellish ride unscathed. At first, it wouldn’t start. The guide/caretaker took a look under the hood and found that the screws that hold the ignition and battery together had come loose from all the bumping. Fortunately, he had the right tools to fix that. When I wanted to drive away, he started waving wildly – I had a flat back tire as well! So more work awaited, replacing it with the spare. I was glad that this all happened when I was at the site and help was available. There is no cell phone reception along the road and you’d just have to wait for some other car to drive by. Seeking help on foot would be unwise as hardly anyone lives there and although the private reserve doesn’t hold big mammals, there are hyenas and leopards which I wouldn’t want to encounter either.
I managed to make it back to the highway without further incident (although an hour later the spare tire went flat as well). So was it all worth it? I certainly wouldn’t want to do it again. Of course, I will sit gloating that I got this relatively difficult ‘tick’ when this site ever gets inscribed. But it could just as well fall into oblivion. As the guide said, “I wonder what this place looks like in 50 years. Maybe it has all crumbled down”.
Read more from Els Slots here.
So there I was, updating my T List count on this Web site and, at the end, just above the “Send” button, were 2 T List sites under Z for “Zimbabwe” – including “Naletale Cluster of Dzimbabwes”. But I never knew that it was on Zimbabwe’s T List? Indeed - it was added less than a month ago on 27 Nov 2018 …….. AND we had visited way back in 1997. So impressed were we with the site, that we have since then, if discussing aspects of travelling in Zimbabwe with someone, always recommended taking it in (as well, of course, as Gt Zimbabwe itself)!
And I do so again – The T List entry states “one of the most beautiful and well decorated drystone walled sites in southern Africa. There are six decorations that have been recorded on the walls of Naletale……. Some of the decorations on this wall include chevron, herringbone, cord, checkers and the use of alternating coloured stone inserts. Naletale architecture displays high levels of craftsmanship, creativity and imagination in the drystone walling of southern Africa.”
Across 21 years I still remember them – and have managed to ferret out a digital copy of an old diapositive photo as demonstration. Note the different styles of decoration as per the above para. At the time I considered it a more impressive site than inscribed Khami. I remember too a site empty of people with no entry fees/fences etc – though, no doubt the latter will have changed! There were no “interpretation" or notice boards and there was probably more to see and take in – and Naletale is only 1 of the locations included. But our 1993 Rough guide had merely stated “Some of Zimbabwe’s best stone ruins stand within striking distance of Bulawayo. All of them are dwarfed in size by Gt Zimbabwe but, built later in the Torwa period they are in many ways more sophisticated and reflect a development of the state’s masonry traditions…..tiny Naletale perhaps the finest expression of the style.”
The, already inscribed, Khami was included in the list of recommended sites close to Bulawayo but the guidebook went on to state “The most interesting of all the Zimbabwes, Naletale, stands at the top of a natural granite dome….it’s difficult to imagine a better prospect… the site is small in size - you could do a circuit of the whole place in 15 minutes, but it is easy to while away half a day wandering about”. The guide book also mentioned another nearby walled location titled Danangombe (Dhlodhlo) – but none of the other 5 mentioned as making up the “cluster” in the UNESCO T List description - Nsalansala, Shangangwe, Bhila, Gwenaguru and Arupanga. No doubt some future WHS traveller will report on them – but I wouldn’t miss Naletale to do so. There is just one potential issue – I remember no problems in reaching and seeing the ruins during a 1 day c480km drive from Bulawayo to Harare in our saloon rent-a-car – but they do lie c25kms off the main road along a dirt track and at least one Tripadvisor review suggests that a hi clearance vehicle could be needed at some times of year.
And what are the chances of Zimbabwe being able to bring this T List site forward to nomination? It isn’t always the case that placement on the T List indicates “action”! I have found this article from a Zimbabwe newspaper dated Nov 2013 (5 years ago) about a grant of $64,000 from USA to “restore the collapsed walls of Naletale”. I remember the walls being in pretty good condition (as per the photo - though I note in recent photos that the tree has disappeared and was perhaps damaging them). Note how the article states (incorrectly!) "The Naletale National Monument was placed on UNESCO's 2012 World Monument's Watch List". In fact, of course, the WMF which operates the "Watch List" is a US based "private, international, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture and cultural heritage sites around the world" which cooperates with, but is totally separate from UNESCO. Here is its Web page for Its (earlier and separate from the US Ambassador's fund) Naletale project In May 2015, less than 2 years later, the US reported completion of the restoration. It has then taken another 3 years to get them onto the T List – I wonder how “functional” the relevant Zimbabwe governmental institutions are now after the removal of Mugabe……?
2020 Upstream Process
2018 Added to Tentative List
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