More Tirivashoma and Roselyne Sachiti recently in Johannesburg
When American RnB superstar Akon visited the country in 2010 for a gig at the National Sports Stadium, the late flamboyant businessman Prince Tendai took him to Mbare in a convoy of limousines. The idea was to give the singer, who rarely visits
Africa, first-hand experience of Zimbabwean culture and not to make him witness the poverty and the pothole-riddled roads that are associated with the suburb.
By passing through Jo’burg Lines, Matererini and Mbare Flats, National and the ever busy bus terminuses, Akon had a grand entrance into the country, which he will always remember.
He could have missed all this had his hosts chosen to enter town through the “polished” routes, normally used by people of his stature.
In the build-up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup finals in South Africa, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality, Sylvester Maunganidze, promised the nation that his ministry would explore ways of turning suburbs like Mbare into tourist attractions; one was left with the idea that the Zimbabwean tourism sector was poised for growth. But sadly the idea seems to have died a natural death.
While Mbare, one of Harare’s most famous and crime-ridden suburbs, equals Soweto’s unique culture and share the same calamitous levels of vice, it is the latter that has managed to market this distinct characteristic to the outside world and has suddenly become a tourist attraction, drawing tourists from as far as Europe, the
United States and Canada, and from all corners of Africa.
In Johannesburg, House Number 8115, along Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, Soweto, is flooded with tourists on any given day as it was the first home of one of the world’s icons, Nelson Mandela. A visit to the house, which is now a museum, last week proved how it has become one of the most sought after places to see in South
Africa as it is pregnant with the history of Nelson Mandela’s journey.
The Mandela house is managed by the Soweto Heritage Trust, a partnership project between the City of Johannesburg and Standard Bank Group, and the Gauteng Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation.
A tour of the house told a story through pictures, visuals and furniture.
Time spent there by The Herald revealed how the house provides an effective, efficient and meaningful experience to all visitors, informing them of President Mandela’s story, both in the context of his home and in that of his life as a whole.
This is done in a manner that promotes human rights, democracy, reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance amongst the people of South Africa.
The museum, a house comprising four inter-leading rooms, contains a rather mixed assortment of memorabilia, paintings and photographs of the Mandela family as well as a collection of honorary doctorates bestowed on Mandela from universities and institutions around the world.
There’s also a boxing belt from Sugar Ray Leonard, a multi-coloured cloak presented to the former president and a row of his old boots.
Once tourists step into the house, a voice from an audio walks tourists through Mandela’s life.
“He moved there with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase in 1946. After their divorce in 1957, she moved out.
“When Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958, she joined him at the Soweto home. However, during the ensuing years when his life as a freedom fighter was all-consuming, Mandela seldom stayed there. He was the ‘Black Pimpernel’, living life on the run, until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962,” explained the voice as it guided tourists through the house.
Adults visiting from the Sadc region pay R40 entrance fees while other rates vary from continent to continent. The house has also created employment opportunities for some South Africans living in the area.
Dancers take turns outside the house to wow tourists who give them money in appreciation.
The same can be done to market places like Old Highfield where President Mugabe’s first house, which also played a critical role in the liberation struggle, is located.
Cde Enos Nkala’s house, where Zanu, was formed is also in the same suburb. Mushandirapamwe Hotel, where liberation struggle meetings were held, is also housed in Highfield, making it a good tourism destination.
Mbare also played a pivotal role in the struggle for independence, in the same way that Soweto became a symbol of resistance during the apartheid era in South Africa.
This suburb also continues to contribute in economic development through cash cows such as Mbare Musika, Mupedzanhamo, Siyaso, Mai Musodzi Hall, Carter House and others.
When authorities in Zimbabwe are failing to market the towering, but run-down and dirty- walled Matapi hostels, with their numerous satellite dishes, as cultural tourism, South Africans have also managed to transform the crime-infested Soweto shebeens and brothels into “cultural hotspots” that have successfully managed to sell to the outside world the distinct South African way of life.
There is nothing special about Soweto, but it is the way they market it to the outside world that is special.
Mbare has a legacy, which should be utilised by preserving it and turning it into a tourist attraction, just as happened with Soweto.
Charles Mudarikwa, a sculptor and secretary-general of the once-famed Canon Patterson Co-operative in Mbare, lamented the lack of exposure by the media and the responsible authorities. He said the co-operative, which was formed in 1975, will sink into oblivion if nothing is done to market it.
“Sometime back we used to have tourists and even local people who came to buy our products but since the dollarisation of the economy business is low. We are only here because we are just passionate about our profession,” he said.
A vendor at the Mbare Covered Market, Tsungai Shiridzinomwa, said tourist arrivals had declined in the past decade. “We can go up to between four and six months without selling anything. In the past, the United Touring Company would bring tourists, but they stopped a long time ago,” she said.
Although Sowetans are spared from walking in streets filled with free-flowing raw sewage and uncollected garbage that would turn any dump site green with envy, there is something special about Mbare.
It is special and quite different from other old suburbs like Makokoba or Sakubva.
Any discerning tourist would surely be fascinated by spending a day with people like Chamunorwa Matedza, who is popularly known as “Doctor” and epitomises the way things go about in Mbare.
It is only in this side of town where the likes of Matedza, who is a hardened resident, have no complaints about living in a crammed, dingy, three-roomed and dirty-walled “house”.
A suburb whose residents have the same qualities like those of Matedza, who has money to import 30 tonnes of maize, but cannot replace his worn-out sofas, tells of a community that has a unique culture, a culture that should be marketed to the outside world.
A suburb where it is not surprising to witness old women, old enough to be grandmothers, graphically describing their sexual escapades with their numerous clients to the younger generation, should be exposed to the tourists.
The piercing voices at the popular vegetable and fruit market, the loud disco at the nearby Matute shops, combined with the sight of people cooking sadza and braaing in the open, sometimes even too close to the “barber shops”, can surely compete with any scene-viewing in the Eastern Highlands.
“I was born in this little house and even if I have money, I will never desert Mbare because I am emotionally attached to this place,” says Matedza, as he relaxes in his “lounge”, downing his favourite beer with his fellow “dealers” who sit on the “sofas”.
Outside, his wife and a group of women sell sadza and large chunks of meat under a plastic shed they call the kitchen. Among the customers is a seemingly well-groomed, middle- aged man who drives a BMW X5. “We live differently from the people in other suburbs. Many people say a lot of bad things about us but if you grew here as well, you wouldn’t want to leave Mbare and go to Borrowdale even if you had the money,” says Matedza.
Despite this unsavoury image, the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality, in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, can do more to market this unique way of life.
If the South African government can preserve, not only the Soweto cultural and anti- apartheid legacy, but also that of the notorious Robben Island which was home to Nelson Mandela for 27 years, in the process turning it into a world famous tourist centre, our own ministry and other stakeholders can do more with Mbare.
The suburb was or is still home to some of Zimbabwe’s finest sons and daughters — politicians, entertainers, educationists, businessmen, among others.
Some of the personalities born and bred in Mbare include Louis Mhlanga, Richard Chiminya, Proud Kilimanjaro, The Bhundu Boys and some members of the Mukadota family not to mention radio personalities such as Mbuya Mlambo, Charles Mabika, and the late Evans Mambara.
Moreso, the ceremonial home of football, Rufaro Stadium, is situated right in the heart of Mbare. As if this is not enough, the country’s most supported and popular team, Dynamos, has its roots in Mbare. It is even known as DeMbare. By inviting tourists to take the short drive to Mbare and Highfield, it ensures that they will experience Zimbabwean culture and will have something to share when they go back to their countries.
This can lure more tourists instead of concentrating on the traditional tourist attractions like Victoria Falls, Nyanga and Great Zimbabwe.
It baffles the mind why the responsible authorities cannot tap into this potential tourism cash cow, even turn Mai Misodzi Hall into some sort of museum that tells the history and culture of this part of town, thereby luring both local and foreign tourists.
Mbare, like any other community in Zimbabwe, does not have high crime rates like Soweto, but tourists, even those from Zimbabwe are more fascinated with Soweto than Mbare.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority spokesperson Sugar Chagonda said the idea was still very much alive. “When tourists visit the country we go with them to areas such as Mbare, Borrowdale, Makokoba, Sakubva or even Binga so that we showcase the way we live.
“As ZTA, we believe that every province or area has something unique. The problem is that the idea is not being marketed fully by the media. For example, sometime back we did tour Binga and the tourists even produced a documentary of the area.
“Even when Akon visited our country we are the ones who organised Akon’ s drive to Mbare so that he could experience our culture, the way we do things. It is township tourism” he said.
Can Mr Maunganidze’s declaration, made just before the commencement of the World Cup in South Africa and the claims made by ZTA that the idea is still alive, be a case of what Metternich, the boastful man who once ruled Austria in the 18th century, termed “a loud sounding nothing”?
Only time will tell.