Emeritus Professor Thomas N. Huffman, School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

At its peak in the fifteenth century, the Zimbabwe culture spread over an area the size of France. This course begins with its origins in the Limpopo Valley through a combination of surplus wealth from the Indian Ocean trade network and increased population from flood-plain agriculture. These and other factors led to formal class differences and to sacred leadership – the essence of the Zimbabwe culture. Once established, various political dynasties competed for power, including the ones at Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe, as well as the Torwa at Khami, the Mutapa in the northeast and the Rozvi at Danangombe. Portuguese interference caused the collapse of the Zimbabwe culture in the Mutapa kingdom, but it continued in the southwest until the early nineteenth century. Portuguese documents, Shona oral traditions and Venda customs help to reconstruct ritual behaviours and symbolic messages expressed through stone-walled palaces that provided ritual seclusion for sacred leaders.


Lecture titles

1.  Origins: Mapungubwe and the Kalanga

2.  Great Zimbabwe and the Karanga

3.  Khami and the Torwa

4.  Mutapa and the Portuguese

5.  Danangombe and the Rozvi


Recommended reading

Garlake, P.S. 1973. Great Zimbabwe. London: Thames and Hudson.

Huffman, T.N. 1996. Snakes and Crocodiles: Power and Symbolism in Ancient Zimbabwe. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Main, M. and Huffman, T. 2021. Palaces of Stone: Uncovering Ancient Southern African Kingdoms. Cape Town: Struik Travel & Heritage.

Pikirayi, I. 1991. The Zimbabwe Culture: Origins and Decline of Southern Zambezian States. California: AltaMira Press.





DATE: Monday 24–Friday 28 January
TIME: 11.15 am
COURSE FEES: R375 (online)/R550 (in person)