Towering experiences


In between Gukurahundi’s “moments of madness”, the then excitable Zanu PF government experienced a “spasm of sanity” — constructing Harare International Conference Centre (HICC).

The towering Yugoslav brass structure is a showcase of architectural splendour still hogging the western horizon of Harare.

Thousands of global icons have had a “towering experience” at the centre’s adjoining hotel complex. Unlike wealthy Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), I am not inclined to regular five-star escapades, yet my hobby as conference facilitator means spending more time at HICC than the average “villager”.

DSK’s top job as head of the International Monetary Fund took him to exquisite hotels around the world, though I never met him at the “Rusty Towers of Brass” (RTB), except for a few African dictators. I can understand why. Sharing the coffee shop with CIO peeping Toms is not exactly an awarding-winning holiday experience!

I have patronised — for more reasons than seminars — RTB for periods ranging from one to two months at a time. Hotels are addictive, not least that I would do anything to avoid spreading my bed or worse still, irritating spousal reminders to “come home early before the boy sleeps”!

As a writer, I find long periods of solitude invaluable, especially under convivial “room service” conditions. The difference between DSK’s and my RTB experience is that my “Kambuzuma-trained” housekeeper shouts three times before unlocking. In Zimbabwe, we usually knock and wait patiently for a response. It is thus unlikely that she would raid me while I’m singing Zahara’s Mthwalo Wam’ in the shower!

Many colleagues I invite for dinner at the RTB grumble at how the restaurants have lost their Sheraton franchise glitz and glamour. I go to great lengths to explain that Gideon Gono’s “Monetary Tsunami” decimated service delivery in almost all Zimbabwean hotels. But more often than not, after dessert, they admit the RTB is on the ascendancy.

My experience in Kenya is that hotels are more about human capital than clean bathrooms and LCD televisions — although the latter does count. I have always joked with the “viciously charming” guest relations officer that one day Mbuya Nehanda will resurrect to claim her box television sets she left in RTB rooms! I mean, who wants to experience an Arsenal-Chelsea derby from a cathode ray tube TV in a five-star hotel, unless they have a hangover for Mukadota?

Anyway, Kenyan hotel workers know how to charm guests — infectious smiles! Ironically, Zimbabwean hotels tend to employ more women than men — at least front office. Male guests are easily vanquished by receptionists of the opposite sex (does not apply to Sir Elton John and George Michael, obviously).

At RTB, though I get disarmed by hostesses with “fluoride” smiles, those memories quickly fade when Miss Smiley books me into a room with dead Wi-Fi connectivity or where a Chinese couple has left a pungent trail of tobacco. Moreover, some RTB cooler fans sound more like discarded Pratt and Whitney jet engines, keeping my irritable nerves permanently on edge!

Being an RTB regular, I know exactly which rooms to avoid. I prefer city-facing top floors. I can spend evenings strumming Tracey Chapman’s Revolution staring at the distant lights, prophesying Zanu PF’s 2013 demise.

Nothing charms me like skyscrapers silhouetted against dimly-lit night skies, electronic billboards flashing in the distance and motor vehicles streaking along the streets below. I would not swap anything for a stay at the RTB. Vast parking spaces, sun-bathed conference rooms, immaculate lawns and good food, ooh, the charming (female!) front office and restaurant staff! Yet there still is the stunning steam of the Vic Falls, vivacious valleys of Nyanga and groovy granite rocks of Matopos to marvel at!

Local tourism could be a chartbuster, if promoted well.

Rejoice Ngwenya is a social commentator

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