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Fire razes Cecil John Rhodes stables

by Staff reporter
02 Jun 2020 at 09:04hrs | Views
ONE of the revered relics of the Cecil John Rhodes era, the Rhodes Horse Stables at Matopos National Park in Matabeleland South, was extensively damaged after fire broke out and property worth US$25 000 went up in smoke.

The estimated value of the building is US$50 000. The incident occurred on Sunday night and police are yet to establish the cause of the fire. Built in 1897, the building is regarded as an important part of the architectural heritage of the country and a tourist attraction.

The Rhodes stables, which are protected under the National Museums and Monuments Act, are of monumental value as one of the oldest buildings in the country where Rhodes used to shelter his horses. Rhodes was a British businessman and mining magnate who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.

The stables were once used as a library by the Department of National Museums and Monuments where archived literature was kept. When a Chronicle news crew visited the site yesterday, waste fragments of stone, brick and burnt wooden beams, formed part of the debris from the destroyed building consisting of four compartments and a foyer in the middle.

The news crew noted the fire consumed the wooden mezzanine floor including the trusses although the iron roofing sheets remained intact. National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) executive director Dr Godfrey Mahachi said there were no items of value inside the building. He, however, said the structure was part of the integrated colonial history with a sentimental value, which they exploited for tourism purposes.

Dr Mahachi said the department was doing assessments and working on the rehabilitation of the building.

"The building was currently not in active use and there were no items of value. In fact, it's a monumental structure that we were actually preparing to use. The roof was gutted by fire and we are getting our Bulawayo team to actually do their assessment so that we get more information in terms of the magnitude of the destruction as well as what we might require to rehabilitate it," he said.

Dr Mahachi said the significance of the building is linked to the story of Rhodes. "The building is part of the bigger Cecil John Rhodes story because just nearby is the World's View where Rhodes was buried and although these stables were built after his death, he is the one who initiated that project. He actually wanted the stables done so that his horses could be managed from there," he said.

"The roof is the one which was mainly affected and the superstructure is still intact and we will be able to rehabilitate it." Bulawayo Chief Fire Officer Mr Linos Phiri said the estimated value of the damaged property is US$25 000.

"Our fire fighters found the building severely damaged by fire with the entire wooden mezzanine floor having been completely consumed by fire including the roof rafters, which had collapsed. The roofing sheets were still intact," said Mr Phiri.

He said there were no fatalities or injuries and investigations were underway to establish the cause of the inferno. "The wooden window and door frames were completely burnt such that our team could not figure out whether the doors and windows were actually there. It was an old building situated near the road used by the public," said Mr Phiri. In a statement, the Matobo Conservation Society said plans were afoot to turn the building into a tourist site.

"The Matobo Conservation Society is saddened to learn of the fire at this historic building and National Monument. We believe it to be one of the oldest buildings in the country and follows the destruction of Rhodes Summer House by fire some years ago," read the statement The society appealed to the NMMZ to rehabilitate the building, saying the loss of any part of the country's heritage is a setback to Zimbabwe tourism.

Matabeleland South police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele said investigations were underway.

Source - chronicle