I am lucky enough to have lived in the same house in one of Harare’s low density, ‘leafy’ suburbs for many decades. Over the years I’ve seen many changes in the character and appearance of the neighbourhood – some for the better, some not so good and some downright ugly.
When I was a kid, we had a hawthorn hedge across the front of the yard, supposedly for security because it was quite prickly. I am not quite sure how effective it was at keeping out burglars and other undesirables as we had no gate.
First the gates went up – ours was a metal frame covered in chicken wire, but it was open during the day and only closed – not locked – at night. Then we started locking the gate at night with a padlock, although the key was always getting lost. If visitors came round at night – a rare occurrence – they had to hoot at the gate to be allowed in. Then the dreaded durawalls began to appear. In the beginning they were considered quite classy and modern. Imagine that!
Recently the walls have been embellished – some with razor wire, some with electric fences perched on top. The old gates have been replaced by electric sliding gates with intercoms sticking out on poles like weird exotic tentacles. It’s hard to make a Durawall and an electric gate look attractive or welcoming.
TV aerials began appearing on the roofs of most houses, which looked like bizarre clothes drying racks. Later those enormous discs for satellite TV became the trendiest roof accessory. These have disappeared now, replaced by the small DStv dishes which are not nearly as impressive. Nowadays we have massive cell phone towers dotted around to prove how technologically hip we are.
Many gardens now boast big, green plastic water tanks, which hover a few metres up in the air on Meccano-like stands. Solar geysers lurk on roofs so you know who’ll be having a hot shower tonight. They’ve become a status symbol and a conspicuous display of the good life.
Out on the streets things have changed too. Streetlights and traffic signs lie crumpled on the ground in a variety of creative and imaginative shapes to form street sculpture. The streetlights that do work and are still standing tall, often blaze during the day and rest at night. They are still useful however, as I can tell at a quick glance outside whether my lack of electricity is due to load shedding or a fault.
Other things have changed too. Our little local shop, the Poldene Café run by a Greek immigrant family, stocked bread and milk and other essentials as well as my all-time favourites, apricot gob stoppers and marshmallow mice. Next to it was the butchery and beside that, a lady’s dress shop. These have been replaced by a bottle store and a pub – far more important services for the modern day suburbanite. Anyway I can grab a few tomatoes and onions, or even a whole chicken, from the vendors just outside my gate.
Kombis have taken over from the buses of the Salisbury United Omnibus Company with their beige and maroon behemoths. The kombis are more frequent and they have the added advantage that they can stop anywhere and not just at boring old designated bus stops. An added bonus is that they provide a cheerful cacophony of hooting and the melodious shouts of touts which helps to drown out the incessant rumble of generators.
One of the more positive changes in recent years is a greater sense of community. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together and help each other out when we can, whether it’s giving water to a neighbour whose borehole has broken down, slinging a cable over the wall when their generator malfunctions, or simply watching out for suspicious characters lurking around our neighbourhood. All in all, I definitely prefer the new, friendlier character of our neighbourhood.
Image: Old amenities such as unused tennis courts have been repurposed to provide homes for chickens and goats.