“Gold mined at Tati was identified with the dynasty of the Queen of Sheba and the ancient rulers of biblical Ophir. David’s book records how this notion, mentioned in Milton’s Paradise Lost, was discarded as being romantic fiction. But romance there is here a-plenty.”
—John Gordon Davis, best-selling author of Hold My Hand I’m Dying
The concession to mine gold at Tati was granted to a British baronet, Sir John Swinburne, by Lobengula, last king of the Matabele. Although called by colonial imperialists as a “savage king” and a “native despot”, Lobengula was “exceedingly well-made (in height about 6 ft 10 inches), corpulent, with a commanding presence and, when in a good temper, having a kind heart and a full appreciation of humour”.
The gold at Tati, which was discovered by the geologist Carl Mauch, was actually on the site of pre-historic diggings that had been mined there 400 years previously by the Makalanga people. Tati lay on the missionary road to the north, used by Livingstone and Moffat, and it was part of Cecil Rhodes’s dream of a continuous tract of British imperialism from Cape to Cairo. The annexation of Bechuanaland was a direct result of the conflicts between the tribes within the area and the threats from President Kruger and from Germany which had recently colonised Angra Pequena.
Gold from the early diggings here found its way to Great Zimbabwe and the famous golden rhinocerous from Mapungubwe was probably fashioned from gold mined at Tati. This forgotten corner of the sub-continent encapsulates a chapter of our history involving five countries, powerful men, much subterfuge, a botched invasion, a rebellion, land annexation, prospectors, hunters, traders and adventurers. It is a story begging to be told.
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