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Reading Marechera in Africa Unity Square

Africa Unity Square is a place of significance in the literary history of Zimbabwe.

It is a park that Dambudzo Marechera adopted as his “office” in the 80s. Many people, who were of age at the time, remember seeing Marechera typing away his days in the park. Then, it was still known as Cecil Square, named after the millionaire colonialist Cecil John Rhodes.

As an experiment, Marechera decided to write his experiences in the park, real time. These diarised accounts are now published as the Journal Section in that small fiery book, Mindblast. I have criss-crossed Africa Unity Square many times going to or coming from one end of town to another. Then, it hit me that I needed to sit in Africa Unity Square, reading and writing like my buddy Marechera.

Every day for a week, I came to sit facing a different view. Cathedral of St Mary & All Saints; Parliament of Zimbabwe with its gun-toting guards who you often find laughing out loud; the imperial ZB Life Towers; the majestic five-star Meikles Hotel; my favourite childhood store Greatermans and Herald House.

The place is always moving like a million centipedes crossing each other. Ever busy. I see perennial job seekers, truant students in uniform, preachers and emerging prophets.

The din of traffic sounds never stops. I see pigeons flying up and down. They have no worries in the world like some of the beat up people lying on the green grass. I notice the tangled web of Christmas lights and wonder what the park looks like at night in January with the colourful lights on wishing you a happy 2014. 

Africa Unity Square is no longer fraternised by a “black and white” crowd that Marechera writes about in Mindblast. The park is very black. The other race has since moved further into the northern suburbs. Meikles Hotel on the other side of the road is being refurbished. I stare in wonder. Will the day come when I can manage to book in there? Marechera talks about his trysts with foreign women who wanted a taste of his eccentricity. 

Sometimes, I am a bit cynical with the world. Even though I am very educated and skilled, no jobs are coming my way. In theory I could be anything or anyone distinguishable, but I am not. There are places I could be. Things I could be doing, but Harare is a city that favours a few. The bitterness is not knowing when this routine will end. I have this (almost) permanent disconnect with Harare. Yet, this is also what attracts me to the place, the city that I was born and grew up.

This Harare is someone’s creation. It is divided and named after a small grouping of a selected few. Nelson Mandela. Kwame Nkrumah. George Silundika. Jason Moyo. Robert Mugabe. Julius Nyerere. These are the names that dominate the city’s road network. Only obscure streets in the margins of the city are named after women, if at all.

This story also keeps on being disrupted by a passing dress or a pair of shapely legs. I see lovers stealing moments of passion from work. Then there are the overzealous park preachers, those who scream hell and brimstone (so it seems). No one cares to listen to them. 

Instead of a Marechera’s typewriter, I take out my small laptop and connect to the internet. It’s painstakingly slow. Pages take ages to load. There is a stall — Double Dee Burgers. Sadly, I only have a five rand coin to see me home.  The gondo harishaye police are walking around in blue helmets written POLICE wielding long batons. It is time to walk out of the park.

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