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Harare: The Sunshine City that lost the wow, the lustre and the vibe

FORMERLY and fondly referred to as the Sunshine City, Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare has undergone tragic transformation.

BY PHYLISS MBANJE

 

Vendors display their wares along First Street in Harare.

Vendors display their wares along First Street in Harare.

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.

 

A view of the footbridge. Council has been forced to close it because street kids and vendors had turned it into an open toilet.

A view of the footbridge. Council has been forced to close it because street kids and vendors had turned it into an open toilet.

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.

 

A mount of rubble left by council workmen along First Street Mall.

A mount of rubble left by council workmen along First Street Mall.

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.

12 Responses to Harare: The Sunshine City that lost the wow, the lustre and the vibe

  1. Jake April 14, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Welcome to 21st century Africa. What a wasteland this city and others have become.

    • tafamutekwe April 16, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      Zanu (pf) rulers should hide their faces in shame.Such squalor.They inherited a functional 21st. century economy with bustling industries and modern cities from Ian Smith and his racist Rhodesians but in the 33 years of their misrule, Zanu (pf) has un-developed this country to the pre- 1970’s era.

  2. nes April 14, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Kuzara mutown kwakuitika hakuzi kuda kwavo ku ma 90s vanhu vazhinji were employed now makambani avhara ndamiswa basa ndorara kumba here mhuri yangu ichifa ndotoenda muna first imomo ndomune mari ndotengesawo ma vegie cellphones and the like mhuri yorarama

  3. lex mapazho April 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Tsvangirai tonga vanhu tichavuyako

  4. James baxter April 19, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

    Hey has f—– Harare as well

  5. Iris Papadopoulo April 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    Why are we surprised?
    Has anything remained as it once was?
    Farms? Roads? Education? Water supply? Electricity supply? Commerce? Transportation?
    They seem to be happy with the situation and we are happy where we are.
    So all is ok. No worries.

  6. Manisha April 20, 2014 at 1:09 am #

    Dear God
    Your will be done to my beautiful Sunshine City.

  7. Bornie April 20, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    And after 8pm unogona kuto batwa kwiyo muna 1st Street taund yaipa kungangisviba unogona kungoitwa yese yese nema street thugs havasi vana avo

  8. F Christie April 20, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    A fountain will never rise higher than it’s source.
    I suggest you change the source of all your thoughts to a Higher One … your new thoughts will then lead to better decisions, outcomes and ultimate restoration. There are plenty of us world-wide that are praying for such an outcome.

  9. Jack April 20, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    The concept of the CBD is dead. Malls that are privately owned are the way forward. All is not doom and gloom as those owning residential property / land in Avondale, Hillside etc can convert them to commercial use and make a killing financially. Congestion and crime go hand in hand which is why the big brands and monied dare not go into town.

  10. InGodwetrust April 21, 2014 at 3:00 am #

    WE ASK GOD TO BLESS THIS COUNTRY AND RESTORE ITS BEAUTY WE PRAY FOR BREAKTHROUGH FOR SALVATION FOR LOVE FOR PEACE FOR EMPLOYMENT FOR HEALTH FOR EDUCATION LORD WE LEAVE ALIT AT YOUR FEET FOR WHAT EVER IS OVER OUR HEADS IS UNDER YOUR THROUGH YOUR PRECIOUS BLOOD IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH WE ARE SAVED

    • Tsitsi Ndlovu April 23, 2014 at 3:30 am #

      THINGS WILL NEVER EVER GET BACK TO NORMAL. OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY IS GONE TO THE DOGS.

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