A square that misses African symbols
Christopher Charamba and Fortious Nhambura
Fifty two years ago today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 32 leaders of independent African countries gathered to sign the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Charter.
Among their chief aim was the desire to promote the unity and solidarity of the African States; to co-ordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa; to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity and independence; and most importantly to eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa.
Although the continent managed to complete the goal of eradicating colonialism with South Africa being the last country in 1994 to gain majority rule, there remains in Africa a colonial legacy in statues, monuments, names and relics still standing.
The year 2015 has already seen a massive movement at the University of Cape Town where students launched a “Rhodes Must Fall campaign” that saw the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes that stood on the Rondebosch campus.
Zimbabwe too has taken steps to rid the country of its colonial imprint. A number of statues have been removed, buildings and roads renamed after the African leaders.
Among the places that were renamed was the Cecil Square, in Harare. The open square which marked where the colonisers first hoisted the Union Jack, when they came to Mashonaland, it now bears the name Africa Unity Square.
The renaming was done not only to remove the remnants of the British colonial period but also as a celebration of the African continent and the achievements of the OAU now African Union (AU).
One, however, can question whether the renaming to Africa Unity Square was enough to remove the colonial legacy as the design of the park still resembles the Union Jack. Should the square’s architecture not reflect the current name it bears?
Representations have been made to the city for the redesign of the open space to ensure that it reflects struggles underwent by the people of Zimbabwe to free themselves from the burdens of the Union Jack, Britain and the western world.
A new structure depicting Zimbabwe’s history of struggle will be most ideal for the square that is not only in the central business bordered by three roads with names of African liberation icons and the country’s Parliament.
To the north is Nelson Mandela Avenue, to the west is Sam Nujoma Street and to the south Jason Moyo Street, all correctly named after individuals that sacrificed a lot in the liberation of the country.
History has it that at around 10 am on September 13, 1980 members of the pioneer column tied the Union Jack at the end of a Msasa pole and hoisted it in the centre of the park before offering a prayer and firing salutes from two field guns.
The place named Suoguru by the local people was a religious shrine for the people of Zvimba, Seke and Chinamhora, was christened Cecil Square – after the then Prime Minister of Britain, Lord Salisbury Cecil.
The pioneer column was forced to use the Union Jack because no one had a British South Africa Company (BSAC) flag, which was a Union Jack with the BSAC crest at the centre, in his wagon.
The square is bordered by Parliament Buildings to the north, Harare chamber building to the east and Meikles Hotel to the south.
The Angelical Cathedral is located to the North West.
The Parliament buildings were originally planned to be a hotel; the buildings were taken over by the BSAC after the developers went bust, first to be used as a post office in 1898 and a year later to host the first Legislative Assembly. After independence in 1980, the square was renamed Africa Unity square in commemoration of the unity of Africans in fighting colonialism and the search for unity among all the peoples of Africa, the square’s design has remained the same.
Historian and political commentator Mr Edward Tome says as things stand the Africa Unity square does not reflect the country’s struggle against colonialism but was in fact celebrating British conquest of black people of the continent.
“The design of the Africa Unity square is an albatross on the necks of the black people.
“It is unfortunate that for 35 years, we have failed to erase the Union Jack from the city of power. It is worrying that mayor after mayor and council after council has come after independence and saw no reason to redesign the square.
“Even Parliamentarians and Senators using the adjacent buildings have not said anything about the design of Africa Unity square. How can we have the British memorial of conquest next to the highest decision maker in the country, the Parliament and no one talks about it,” he said.
He said the Africa Unity Square and the buildings surrounding it were a clear sign of colonial power through ownership, architecture and design.
“We cannot continue to celebrate colonial conquest and memorabilia right in the heart of the city of Government.
“Why have the Harare Chamber Building, housing Mercedes and Club Chambers remained under the control of the white community despite it being a government building?” he said.
Mr Tome said there was need to take out the Union Jack and the white spiritualism symbolised by the effigies in it and replace them with African spiritualism.
“Let’s bring back African cosmology. Do we really need to maintain the buildings in the design of the colonialists? I don’t know what we are passing on to the next generation by keeping the Union Jack design,” he said.
Political scientist Dr Charity Manyeruke concurred saying there was need to bring in African images and symbols that show Africa’s victory over the Union Jack.
“The square must be redesigned to ensure that it carries African symbols that tell the struggle of the black people against white supremacy.
“The square must be recreated in such a way that it tells the African story of struggle for independence to generations to come. The design must show what Zimbabwe was before colonisation, colonial period and after independence. It is a record of that needs to be developed further as a concept,” she said.
Dr Manyeruke, however, added that it was not just about the statues, renaming and removal of some colonial symbol but attitude of our people.
University of Zimbabwe Political Science lecturer Dr Joseph Kurebwa however argues that relics of colonialism are impossible to change and that the name change alone is enough to alter the colonial legacy.
“In terms of the design of Africa Unity Square it cannot be changed and it is not important to do so. Changing the name was enough and renaming it after African Unity is a reflection of the importance of the AU in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Zimbabwe is a former colony of Britain and as such there is a connection and a history that will always remain in the country that is impossible to change Dr Kurebwa explained.
“It does not matter that the square remains modelled on the Union Jack in fact that illustrates part of our colonial history which is important as we are a former colony. Changing the name however creates our own post-colonial narrative and therefore there exists at that square a link between the colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe,” he added.
Dr Kurebwa stressed that all Africans should appreciate their long history and that it was important to recognise the steps taken by the OAU/AU from the signing of the OAU Charter to bring the continent to where it is today.
“Africa Day means a lot to Africaness. It is not only about commemorating the formation of the OAU but should be about celebrating African identity and the important roles that Africa and Africans carry out in world affairs,” he said.