4 min readDec 21, 2020


This place is like somebody’s memory of a town and the memory is fading…

My first time in Zimbabwe, I got the feeling that this was a country once destined for greatness. Most of that has since been lost to avarice, incompetence, and tyranny. The result is a mix of dysfunctionality and disorder that leads to questions that will perhaps never be answered. Zimbabwe is simply one of those places that you have to see for yourself to understand.

A sculpture celebrating independence welcomes you to the country as you first enter Harare

The first place most people visiting Zimbabwe will see is Harare. Once called Salisbury, Harare, is the seat of Zimbabwe’s government. As with all despotic governments, Zimbabwe’s has made sure that power is centralized in the capital, where everything is within reach of the president’s arm. The State House is a walking distance from the National Police and Intelligence Headquarters and one of the city’s many barracks. Harare is easily recognizable as an old town. By old, I mean that although the name changed in 1982, Harare never really stopped being Salisbury. It is quite apparent that this is a city built for the minority elite to flourish, while the majority poor struggle. It is a city built for drivers, even though most people do not own cars. The conspicuous lack of pedestrian infrastructure is the most telling sign of this arrangement. Wide streets crisscross a city that only has one footbridge; found right in the middle of the CBD leading pedestrians into a shopping mall.

Wide streets maximize traffic flow, but leave pedestrians with nowhere to cross

Having fought to hard to wrest Harare away from the Rhodesians, the Zimbabwean government is now fighting a vicious battle to prevent Zimbabweans from “africanizing” the city. Most African cities are marked by a chaotic order that provides some sustenance for the millions of poor that live on the continent. Harare is the exception. Much of the city is quiet, peaceful, and orderly. It is easy to fall in love with the city when you do not have to worry about your next meal. That is not the case for 7.9 million food insecure Zimbabweans (53% of the country), who are desperate for a lifeline that just is not coming. While much has been said about the government’s fight to win the country back from the white farmers, very little is mentioned about its equally vicious battle against the country’s black population. Since 2005, the government has waged a war against hawking and other informal economic activities that employ so many people across the continent. The launch of Operation Restore Order in 2005 displaced 700,000 people, most of whom lost both their homes and their businesses. As recently as 2017, the army and the police have destroyed informal (“illegal”) structures and markets in Harare, plunging more Zimbabweans into poverty in the midst of an economic crisis.

Zimbabweans have referred to Operation Restore Order as “Tsunami” because of the destruction caused by the authorities

As the government continues to fight its people, it is unintentionally smothering Harare, the city in the sun. While there is still life in the city, Harare refuses to grow and every passing day leaves it further in the past. In an ironic twist, the government now seems keen to preserve what the Rhodesians left behind, rather than build a truly African city. The sad result is a city where black Zimbabweans travel along streets with white names (Connaught Rd, Prince Edward, King George, Borrowdale) to neighbourhoods with white names (Belgravia, Avondale, Mount Pleasant), where a good chunk of them still work at white-owned businesses. And although most of the white elite have since left, they were simply replaced by a black elite, which is just as keen to oppress, control, and suppress the regular Zimbabwean. As long as this goes on, Harare will remain a progressively fading memory of what Salisbury was, never having a chance to flourish into a city with its own distinct identity.

Regardless of what happens in their country, Zimbabweans remain steadfastly patriotic
The Heroes’ Acre, a monument to Zimbabwe’s liberation fighters, features communist style murals and statues that were designed with the help of North Korean architects