FORMERLY and fondly referred to as the Sunshine City, Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare has undergone tragic transformation.
BY PHYLISS MBANJE
The city has over the years suffered the consequences of the country’s debilitating economic and political ruin that has seen Zimbabwe falling from grace to become one of Africa’s poorest nations.
The once glamorous city’s streets have taken an ugly and repulsive outlook characterised by litter and filth.
Taking a walk along the once glamorous First Street mall is now a nightmare. Besides the filth, there is also the danger of falling into the countless pits left behind by municipal men at work doing one repair job or another — or being splashed by paint from construction workers attempting to bring back some semblance of “shine” on dilapidated buildings.
Right in front of the up-market Edgars Store in First Street is a pile of bricks that some “company” has chosen to use as advertising space. It is not clear who granted them permission but the sight sticks out like a sore thumb.
Accompanying the bricks is a mound of sand which is simply out of place in First Street which used to be well kept a few years back.
Back in the days First Street Mall was the epitome of Harare’s splendour and beauty. In those times the ambiance, the heady aroma of fish and chips from restaurants, made it the ideal destination for a hot date, a family outing or just a stroll to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the ghetto.
But now it is one place that people avoid, a pale shadow of its former self. The little fancy restaurants like Side Way café and state of the art department stores like Woolworths are long gone and in their place, some cheap shops selling equally cheap products ranging from clothes, bags, shoes and other paraphernalia have sprouted.
Popular hangout restaurant Wimpy has finally closed shop after years of struggling to resist the foul environment.
Former branch manager for Wimpy, Macdonald Mutasa said when the initial owners gave up, he and the other staff members pooled their resources together and tried to keep the place open.
“This branch was one of the best and it was saddening when in February we had to wind up business,” he said.
Gazing fondly at the garden that used to be a bustle of activity, Mutasa said it had not been easy and his team had really put up a brave fight, but lost it a few weeks ago.
Anyone in their 30s and older would remember the fabulous meals that Wimpy used to serve, with the spoilt choice of the full English or Farmhouse breakfast with piping hot beverages of one’s choice.
And then the vendors. Understandably things are hard and everyone is out to eke out a living but they are everywhere.
The competition for customers is obviously stiff and many have now resorted to literally harassing potential customers with their wares.
Trinkets of all sorts, mostly from China, are shoved right into one’s face and the popular litany of US$1 for two is repeated like a mantra.
A variety of food products and toiletries have also found a market in First Street. In the evening, the situation becomes worse as people rush to get home after a long day’s work and the congestion is dreadful.
Goods that are sold at this time are mostly stolen items, pilfered by employees who pass them on to the vendors.
Hairdressers and barbers too have joined the street vendors and advertise their services right on the street. As one walks by they quickly scan your head and call out to you to remind you that you are in need of a haircut or braiding. It is quite offensive when you have just had a nice hairdo elsewhere.
Ximex Mall has finally shut down but the hustlers are still milling around the building which is currently being renovated.
State of the art cell phones are sold here at ridiculously low prices but if one snoozes the hustlers will sell you a worthless dummy.
And then there is the new breed of part time street people. These are not permanently from the street but for other reasons, find themselves opting to temporarily sleep on the streets.
Included in this group are vendors who at times decide to sleep for a day or two on the streets so as to save on transport.
Abisha from Chitungwiza who sells his wares along Chinhoyi Street said at times he failed to make a single sale and as such had to stay for a day or two on the street to raise busfare.
“There’s nothing peculiar about that. If you fail to sell anything going home becomes costly so you stay until at least you sell something and raise a bit of cash,” he said.
Women too have joined this group and at night they find a well-lit spot where they huddle together until morning.
This picture would be incomplete if we left out the ever entertaining, adrenalin filled car “races” between commuter omnibus operators who use illegal pick up points and the police.
These have defied all warnings, threats, arrests, fines, injuries and even fatalities and still cause mayhem in the city centre.
Copacabana and Fourth Street bus termini are just but two of the many spots where these dramas unfold.
There is no doubt the city fathers have a tall order to restore Harare to its former self. The occasional garbage collection and water pipe repairs will obviously not do the trick.
The capital city screams for total transformation to regain its lost glory but this will demand a lot of money which unfortunately the city does not have, because it must maintain the generous salaries that its executive occupying plush offices at Town House are getting.