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Germany Returns Historic Sculpture of Zimbabwe's National Bird - 2003-05-15

In the midst of a serious political and economic crisis, Zimbabweans had something to celebrate Wednesday. A part of a sculpture of the Zimbabwe Bird, the country's national emblem, was officially returned after more than 100 years.

The bottom part of a soapstone carving of the mythical Zimbabwe Bird was handed to President Robert Mugabe in a ceremony broadcast live Wednesday on radio and television. The carving was presented at the president's official residence by the German ambassador.

The Zimbabwe Bird is the country's pre-eminent emblem, and is found on the national flag, bank notes and coins, many official buildings, and official documents.

The carving was looted about 100 years ago from the more than 600-year-old stone city of Great Zimbabwe, after which the country is named. It was first taken to South Africa, and then to Germany and Russia. At the end of the Second World War, it was sent back to Germany.

The carving actually returned to Zimbabwe in early 2000, but the official ceremony was not held until Wednesday. Welcoming the bird home, President Mugabe said the return of the bird was "cause for joyous celebration," as part of the effort to restore Zimbabwe's cultural identity. "What makes this day special is the fact that the lower half that was exiled is now back home, and firmly and permanently united with its top half," he said. "Never again shall the bird be severed in two, and never again shall any part of that bird find its way to foreign territory."

Now, seven of the eight Zimbabwe Bird sculptures known to exist are in the country. Only one was in the country at independence in 1980. Then-Prime Minister Mugabe's government negotiated the return of five of the birds from South Africa, in exchange for a unique collection of rare insects. Another bird is still in South Africa, and President Mugabe said he will work with that country's government to have it returned.