My father used to tell me of his job- seeking cat-and- mouse relationship with the Rhodesia police while he stayed with a brother in the Matapi hostels in the 1950s.
He had to be hidden in all sorts of places to avoid being caught in what was generally called “spection” which I take to mean inspection by the police to weed out, arrest and “deport” out of the city, the unemployed, unregistered, especially those who had no business in the city.
The unemployed, poor and loafers of all sorts were unwanted in the city. The city was meant for the “citizens” of the city, that is the white community and, those blacks who had business to be in the city.Even for the blacks who were in the city, life and movement was controlled and regimented. First Street was infamous for its restriction on the movement of blackies, one needed a pass to walk and work in First Street.
Once the blacks were past their usefulness, they were chucked out of the city or confined to the locations, meaning the poor or high-density suburbs or back to the rural areas. Zimbabwe’s cities like Harare are even planned in such a way that when coming from Glen View, Budiriro, Mbare, you are facing the irritating rising morning sun, while if you are coming from Borrowdale, Greendale, Mandara, Marlborough, Avondale, the sun is behind you.
The same happens when you go back in the evening. The wind generally blows in the southern direction that is towards Mbare, Highfield, Budiririo, Glen View Kuwadzana and Glen Norah. The industrial sites are near the poor suburbs and industrial waste and sewage flows in that direction. The sewage works are in that direction.
Despite its clear message to the poor that they are only wanted for a purpose, the city has so many poor than the rich, and in the true sense of the world belongs to the poor even as they are unwanted.
The poor make the city function, they collect garbage, work in its industries, clean the home, wash the clothes and look after the babies of the Northerners. The city has maintained its aura, if not mysticism as a place of opportunity, a place of the good things in life.
Our elder sister Mai Mapuranga tells me that all the kids in the village are flocking to the city soon after writing their Ordinary Levels. As many people will tell you that most villages are almost empty as young people track to the city in search of fortune or in our circumstances mere survival.
Many even with no business in the city centre will still bath, put on their best clothes and hike a minibus to the city centre, just to walk its streets and admire what is in shops. In that way their hopes and wishes for a better life are maintained.
In the global scheme of things, the cities like Harare and Bulawayo serve the interests of the bigger cities such as Johannesburg which in turn serve the interests of the even bigger cities like London, Paris, New York and Brussels. Hence the loud wailing by our rulers over sanctions.
There is a luring slavish relationship with the city that humanity has maintained. It is for this reason that many Zimbabweans have also abandoned the smaller cities of Harare and Bulawayo, not to mention Mutare and Masvingo, for the bigger cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, London, New York, Brisbane among many others.
In these cities they are the efulefu, they live on the margins of society even as they were higher or middle-ranked in the smaller city of Harare. Our architects, teachers and technicians are the shop guards and postmen in London. Fashion trends are set in the city before descending to the periphery, the rural areas.
Many of us view in awe our family members in the Diaspora when they come we are all in anticipation of what they have brought, matiigirei we ask? (what have you brought us?) Those in the rural areas also ask the same question, matiigirei, when we visit, more so during these coming holidays.
The city represents riches and the good things in life. The mentality is that the city, be it Masvingo, Harare, Johannesburg or
London, is attractive and offers a better life. Humanity including Zimbabweans are now conditioned to congregate in the city and search for fortune, fashion, good men and women, houses, cars and power.
Our Members of Parliament, councillors and headmen who represent us at various levels also come from the city. Very few if any are based in the rural constituencies. Young women looking for marriage are likely to look at the young man in the city as compared to the one eking a living on a piece of land.
The very reasonable assumption is that the city offers a better life, you have water right at the doorstep and don’t have to walk to the village well or borehole.
You cook with your hot plate or four-plate stove and don’t have to walk kilometres to fetch firewood. The allure of the city is so strong that that even the chefs who got big farms still live in the city.
They want to be seen driving their latest cars in the streets of Harare and they won’t get that much recognition and affirmation at the farms or in rural areas.
They want to drink whisky and wine in the city bars and not verandas of the farmhouse. The rich and poor all love the city and it appeals to both, for reasons of its promises even as many are left worse off than they first came in and that includes the rich and poor.
I met a young man who walked all the way from Karoi to Harare in search of better things in life. Life in the city is driven so much by perception as by the reality on the ground. For this reason while many of us belief our dreams will be achieved in the city, as many are still unwanted and hounded out by various forces.
As a society it appears there has been a failing to redefine our relationship with the city. The city remains a contested terrain, between the majority and the new “city citizens”, those who own houses, drive good cars, hate the beggars and the streets kids, who hate the petty thief in Mbare, who hate the kombi drivers and hwindis.
The new “city citizens” are always in a battle to redefine and redesign the city hence the demotions of illegal structures and the daily marathon between vendors and city police. Not to mention the ZRP and prostitutes in the Avenues.