What has happened to Harare?


Cry my “sunshine” city pic by iHarare

Farai Siebert Mabeza

HARARE used to be called the “Sunshine city” because of its clean streets and clean atmosphere. Much of this has changed during the economic downturn the country has suffered. Waza blogger, Farai Siebert Mabeza, writes about one particular spot in the “Sunshine city”: the Fourth Street terminus.

My life in Harare revolves around a small and predictable radius, and within that radius lies the Fourth Street terminus.
This is an outlet for the foolhardy, reckless and yet unavoidable commuter omnibuses. Adjacent to it is the Roadport, the long distance terminus catering for those with a more distant migratory dream; read South Africa where they, in Tracy Chapman’s words, hope to “finally see what it means to be living”.
The city planners probably didn’t have any other use in mind, but every time I pass through this place I see what it has become, and I can’t help feel that the rot here is symptomatic of the decay of the entire country.
Yes, decay; that is the word. Some say Harare still fares better than many African cities. I don’t know how or why I am expected to draw comfort from this.
I haven’t been to the many African cities but I know ours used to be so much better than what it is today. And that’s what matters.
Forgive my ranting. I didn’t mean to digress, let me try to make a coherent argument, hard as it may be.
I have seen odd things at Fourth Street, many of them stranger than fiction, but one particular incident broke my heart.
As I walked by one day, I heard a lady shout that she was going to the toilet, and as if on cue another woman stood up, a wrapping cloth in hand.
They walked in front of me, so I had no choice but to unwittingly witness this sad drama. The ladies, ironically in high spirits, chatted in a lively manner; maybe it was to ambush me.
Then without warning, they quickly darted to the Roadport fence.
The wrapping cloth was swiftly held aloft, providing a woefully inadequate shelter for the lady to relieve herself. Why? I really don’t know. Maybe just to offer a delusional sense of privacy.
I turned my eyes away. Even the most amorous of voyeurs would have felt shame watching a mother in such a vulnerable moment.
To see a grown woman treat her own dignity with such scant respect was unbearable for me. The toilet inside was obviously deemed too expensive and the free one, well; unhygienic. I wouldn’t dare go in there myself.
Now to some of the things taking place here which resulted in the woman’s presence.
Fourth Street is really a microcosm of Zimbabwe. Separating it and Roadport is Fifth Street, which is supposed to be a one way street, but you could never guess which is the right way, not with vehicles going in every direction. Just like Zimbabwe. Who can tell where it’s going?
At both termini, touts, high as kites, compete and scream for passengers. They usually get a dollar per vehicle loaded, or a bit more for the South Africa-bound buses. This doesn’t translate to much.
Their trade was once quite lucrative, but now there are more touts than cars and sometimes passengers.
Then there are the illegal money changers swapping American dollars and the South African rand, which replaced the now-defunct Zimbabwean dollar in 2009. Here again, touting is a menace for passers-by.
In a progressive country, such vices would spur authorities to action at first sight. But not here; remember our quote from the holy book?
And there is more.
The flocks of youths need a supplier for their drugs, usually marijuana and a highly intoxicating cough syrup they call bronco. I hear stronger stuff is also available. Enter our ladies, as part of a coterie supplying this market.
Women selling drugs and relieving themselves in public? In Zimbabwe?
I can’t judge them. Opportunities are really hard to come by.
When I got to survey the scene from a multi-storey building, I was amazed by how beautiful it looked. So different, none of the depravities seemed to matter from up there.
Maybe that is also the view of those in high offices. Everything must be beautiful from their vantage points.
The dirt, the filth, the real problems are for those on the ground to grapple with.
So everyone does that which is right in their own eyes.
Like sheep without a shepherd, in a ship without a captain, the people have become food for the wild beasts that roam the mountains and upon every hill. All this while the herders feed themselves.