In which Chris Kabwato reminisces about how trips to the capital were a badge of honour and a big deal for for locals in Dangamvura
Growing up in the township of Dangamvura in the 1970s, our country’s capital, Salisbury (later Harare), was both an idea and a physical place. Being a place very far from us then, we were both fascinated and terrified by what this huge city represented.
Just catching a bus into the central business district of Umtali was a novelty for children and the unemployed.
Legend had it that at the end of each month, rural school headmasters in Mashonaland would drive to Harare to pay off their instalments for furniture or other items. However, they would park their vehicles in places like Norton or Msasa for fear of navigating the traffic in the capital city. In our own house, it was claimed that our patriarch would drive to Msasa and then call his best friend, John Billie, to come and take over the driving.
The ones who travelled and brought back tales of the City
We marvelled at the stories of those who had been to this great place. It was fast, they said. People spoke fast. Walked fast. They all wore the latest fashion. Mabharanzi could not survive in that place, only mafast.
There was even a famous call-and-response chant:
Call: Kumusha here?
Response (with gusto): Sozibheri zvakare!
Our storytellers would come back from Harare after a four-week school holiday having lost their Manyika accent. We marvelled at how they now said “nhingirikini” instead of “onini”. They brought new slang words and the enterprising Masowe guys crafted cheap copper rings that had various messages: SIYASO; TIGERE GADAGA; YAKAZVIMBA MAKEYI. People bought and wore those rings proudly, flashing those messages at the intended targets and, in the township, they were a dozen and a half.
We loved the sound of the exotic names of the places our returnees had stayed at: Seke, Zengeza, Tafara, Mufakose, Egypt. The point for us was that they had been over there and seen the amazing city whilst we remained trapped in Dangamvura.
The migration to the capital city from Manicaland had its stereotypes that were not far from the truth. The Manyika were overrepresented in the hotels and restaurants where they were chefs, bartenders and waitrons.
A standard joke was that, over Christmas, a young man had been asked by his Samanyika elders as to where he was working in Harare. “Swift,” he replied. The old men whispered to each other: “Mupwere ungonyepa uyu. Mwakambozwepi hotera inonzi Swift.”
A personal pilgrimage to the Capital, finally
In 1978 my turn to pay homage to the metropolis arrived. I was going to stay with my aunt in Mabvuku. Until then, the furthest I had ventured out of Umtali was to Rusape. In those days there was a day train. In the economy section, they sold all fare: chips, ice cream, cream soda. I always sat by the window wondering why the trees were going so fast in the opposite direction. Getting into Rusape you were first greeted by a large lake where you saw hippos showing off their teeth as if in some macabre Close-Up toothpaste advert.
Stepping off the train, my Sekuru Steven Tambula would be waiting patiently to receive us. Despite our bellies feeling tight like a drum from feasting in mbombela, he would take us to his workplace, Duly’s. There I would slowly ponder on which drink to choose from the fridge as if I was Einstein calculating E=mc2. We could never get used to this democracy of choice when Koka-Kora was usually reserved for Christmas.
But, as usual, I digress. So, to Mabvuku I headed by bus. But it was not as simple as that. The choice of a bus from Umtali to Salisbury was a carefully considered one. B & C Luxury Buses? Pungwe Star? Shu-Shine? Zvinoira? Mundondo? Musabaeka? Derera? The pricing was the same: two Rhodesian dollars. The choice would come down to the driver, the speed and the time of day. Was the driver prone to stopping a lot along the way – stopping at Bromley for 30 minutes just to get free sadza nenyama whilst passengers had to buy curry pies they did not really want?
Right into the 1980s and early 90s, buses and their drivers held our serious affection. The drivers at Sakubva Market (Musika weHuku) never disappointed – acting as if they had the best job in country, revving the bus, blowing the horn, backing it out a little, returning into parking spot whilst the conductor banged the door shouting himself horse: “Harare! Harare!” The bus horn could even be modified, and we added lyrics to the sound – “Sauramba ndakubata ndakusiya.” On radio there was a jingle on Uzumba Bus Service:
Anyway, I was put on some bus and arrived for the first time in the Land of the Brave, the place where the streets were paved with the proverbial gold. In the first few days, it was so difficult to go to bed. I was excited to explore Mabvuku and discover Donnybrook Raceway where we watched in awe as white boys played all sorts of tricks on their bikes in the dirt.
Next assignment was getting on a ‘United’ bus which we called Albion (for that was the model’s name before Leyland took over the company). The Albion Viking EVK was a short ugly dolphin-headed bus with a proud maroon strip over the predominant beige colour. For some reason the drivers loved to change the gears of this bus, pretending to throw the long stick gear about whilst stepping on and off the accelerator. We seemed to be a people given to theatrics.
Heading into the city of Salisbury, I begged my aunt that I wanted to see the Jarzin Supermarket. That supermarket’s jingle at 06:45am weekdays on radio had been my alarm to dash off to Rujeko Primary School. Now I could brag that I had been to the famous place. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the non-descript place posing as a supermarket – in Salisbury? The CAPITAL city? The pain of disappointment subsided as we walked on and entered Nyore Nyore Zimbabwe Furnishers. I had an uncle who worked there. But more importantly, he acted as the hero in a photo comic that appeared in PRIZE magazine. With his handsome face, sideburns, checked jacket and tie he was a shoo-in for the hero. And to be associated with such a character that everyone read in the magazine every month as he kicked and punched the villains of Salisbury! Photocomics were big then and my favourite was one called SHE.
I enjoyed so much walking in the city of Salisbury with my aunt. The men looked like they had dropped out of some American magazine – afros (thank you Hair Glo and Brylcreem), flared bell-bottom trousers with a single small pocket, maroon shirts, platform shoes, leather jackets and, of course, a folded newspaper and a ubiquitous cigarette dangling on the lips. And the women? The women looked beautiful, and it seemed they had signed permanent deals with Ambi skin-lightening cream, Ponds and whoever made pulling stockings (keza). The dear iron hot comb used to stretch hair was clearly being overworked.
Going back to Dangamvura after such an introduction to Salisbury was not a very happy prospect. However, on the flip side, I had yarns to share with my friends even if I could never acquire the Zezuru accent.
Catching the Harare bug
In 1984 I made the radical decision to board a morning bus from Mutare and go to a shop called Karl’s Fashion in First Street in Harare. I had heard stories of the gear in this store, and I was determined to buy a pair of shoes, trousers and a shirt. The result was a classic baggy khaki trousers and matching thick-soled sneakers.
I wore this attire with pride to the disco at either Dangamvura Hall, Sakubva Hall or Queen’s Hall and to music concerts at Sakubva Stadium, especially the Battle of Bands/Black August series featuring Brian Rusike and the Pied Pipers, Cde Chinx and the Barrel of Peace, Ilanga (Don Gumbo, Keith Farquason and Busi Ncube). Years later (circa 1995) I would meet and befriend Karl Dorn who was the proprietor of Karl’s Fashion. In the 1980s, he made clothes for export from his factory in Msasa.
In 1988 I was to return to Harare – for good. I was no longer furtively dipping my toes in the Mukuvisi River. Together with a number of friends from Mutare including Puwayi Chiutsi, Kevin “The Kitten” Masamvu and Lloyd Chasinda, we were going to come of age in the big city – far from the eagle eyes of our guardians.
What could go wrong?
Let’s catch up next week on Part 2 of this odyssey of small-town boys encountering the big city.