“Welcome to the Sunshine City of Harare” proclaims a large and beautiful billboard near the airport. It is close to the independence arch carved out of some of the most expensive marble there is in the land.
The City of Harare indeed.
If I were a city father I would have written “Welcome to the cities of Harare”, for indeed there are many cities in one, with different flavours, or personalities, if you want to put it that way.
First World, Second World and Third World. Those are the sections of this capital of over two million people including the homeless who tend to settle on any open space available creating perhaps another world of their own.
But the police always gets there sooner or later with baton sticks and handcuffs to erase the squatter camps even with fire if not bulldozers.
That is probably the only way the squatters find themselves into the newspapers as no one claims them as their relatives.
The inner city, the glamorous one where everyone wants to be, including the youth, the so called “nose brigade”, those who try to speak English like real Englishmen and Englishwomen. They are here too, eating chicken and chips in the mushrooming fast food shops designed and organised like any other metropolis in London or New York. This is the “First World” part of the city, with flashy cars, smartly dressed men and women purposefully rushing to various joints at an incredible speed.
The expensive cars, the flower boys selling roses, the glittering shops well fitted with neon lights to dazzle the night shoppers are all here, then the wide streets, broad and clean, in which even a blind man can drive, for they are straight and arranged neatly in a pattern in which it is hard for anyone to get lost.
“First World” Harare is also where the expensive hotels are demanding a jacket and tie even for a passer-by wanting to taste the rich Tanganda tea from the Eastern Highlands whose taste invites you to share it , as the advertisements claim . As for wearing jeans in these hotels, forget it. Food vendors, those selling juicy oranges but without the privilege of a shop, are arrested and carted away like sheep to the slaughter. It is along First Street that I get to hear so many choruses, that of a church choir that has just begun its choral and serene appeal to the gods for mercy or for plenty.
The beggars of the city are also here, singing with their children playing around and jumping all over the place, but not too far away from the melody of the mother or father whom they must lead back home when the sun threatens to abandon them. Harareans pass by without noticing them as they are obsessed with their destinations.
An occasional lonely coin tinkles on the plate firmly gripped by the starved and pitiable hands of the blind or the destitute. Beggars, beggars and beggars in the glamour of the city. In this “Third World” Harare, the cars swerve and miss each other by a few inches, with a wave of the hand for an apology or the occasional car horn.
Life in the “Third World” part reminds me that this is not the world of business executives. It is the world of those who see life face to face as the locals say. There are those who came to the city too looking for a morsel.
“No beggars here” and “No hawkers” notices always threaten on the front doors of the “First World” Harare. But “Third World” Harare does not mind. Beggars and hawkers are not a problem there. They do not bother.
How can the poor beg from the poor? “First World” Harare, “Third World” Harare, many cities in one city, and I wonder how it will end.
The writer is a Lower Six Arts student at Dzivaresekwa 1 High School