Harare is nicknamed the Sunshine City; not only because it is bathed in a sunny glow all year round, but also for the warm smiles and famous hospitality of Zimbos.
Through economic hardships and occasional political turmoil, the (famously clichéd) resilience and optimism of her residents has seen the city change shape and transform itself to suit.
The growth of new industries and settlements have contributed to the almost schizophrenic nature of Zimbabwe’s capital, helping the city blend into a heady mix of high-rise commercial hub, heavy industrial areas, small enterprises and flea markets, vibrant townships and quiet, leafy northern suburbs.
It was also becoming an established regional arts hub, with the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) a must-visit stop on the international circuit, before HIFA as we knew it disappeared from the map. Whatever they are bringing back next year, I wait to see if it will regain all the lost momentum.
I am a great fan of old buildings and Harare’s city center and suburbs feature a range of interesting architecture dating back to the late 19th Century. The physical landscape reflects the varying cultures of the city’s original, settler and modern inhabitants – from Cape Dutch and Western European to modern interpretations of traditional buildings.
With the crippling economic downturn affecting all aspects of life in the country as a whole, Harare can at times feel slow and lethargic, as if the entire metropolis is holding its collective breath. The destruction of Harare’s light manufacturing sector and subsequent job losses have left many people with no option but to linger in the city center all day, burning daylight in a search for opportunity.
This in no way distracts from the unfailing friendliness and sense of solidarity among the city’s inhabitants, and it isn’t rare to witness a friendly conversation between a well-dressed youth and a drunken old vagrant.
It is almost customary to give a cheerful and polite greeting, although anything after that is purely optional.
Harare is a funny place – sometimes ugly and overbearing, sometimes soft and enchanting. Although some of it is urban and gritty, you’re never too far away from the trees and hills in unexpected enclaves and on its outskirts.
Although parks and wetlands keep getting parceled out to unscrupulous developers by even more unscrupulous (and possibly corrupt) city and government officials, Harare retains the potential to be a massive attraction on the Southern African map.
This can be achieved if we all work together, and get rid of that infernal Pomona dump site.