Elliot Ziwira Senior Reporter
The Africa Unity Square in Harare is more than a repository of history: it is a site where life plays out in all its forms, and where often, time appears to replay itself, or even stops awhile.
Nobody minds anybody’s business in this square, known as Cecil Square in colonial lingo in honour of then Prime Minister of Britain, Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, the Third Marquess of Salisbury (Lord Salisbury).
Befittingly, the Zvimba, Seke, and Chinamhora people named the place Suoguru, as their religious shrine. Could still be a religious shrine anyway!
To frequenters of this area it is a way of life; mingling with strangers, sauntering across, downwards or upwards, whether aimlessly or purposefully, sitting on the green benches, slumping on the once upon-a-time green loans: Either as groups, couples or singles, staring at the water fountain that once was, or simply getting engrossed in the now and thereabouts.
It is, indeed, a unifying place; and has been since 1987. Many friendships, unions, and marriages have been fashioned from this square. Perchance other vows have been broken here as well; probably.
But whatever happens, for better or worse, photographers are always teeming around to immortalise such moments. Click! Click! Click! They go, behind their lenses.
With a lot happening in their minds as reflected in their face mask-shy eyes, and burdened gaits, it is possible to gauge how visitors to this square have learnt to partner the fear of the unknown, harness expectation and manacle hope for it to remain within their reach.
And to make it out sometimes, one has to have an unending reserve of hope. Here, as in many other settings where time and space are the levellers, what separates today and tomorrow is survival, where the desire to live is closely linked to the loss of life through its challenges, not necessarily death.
This is what sustains the everyday travails of those who frequent Africa Unity Square, who in all essence are Africans: the belief that a man only lives once, and, even though he knows his fate to be linked to his birth, he has to keep the body and soul together.
But even as you sink, hope tells you how hopeless it is to taper when your soul is burdened. Hope takes a different hue then, and hardship becomes more than toil.
That is when one remembers Madzimai Nyaradzai Machoti (34), who has established her “crawar” (holy ground) at the centre of the square of repute.
She and three of her followers have set base a few paces from the water fountain of yore, and appear to be unperturbed by the hordes of visitors to the park, and gawking passers.
One sees them all here, “Maud”, of the long eye lashes and cascading curves, striding with the fluidity and grace of a Geisha; the 14-year-old “Yulita”, who touches your heart with her face telling stories of woe and her body baring the tale of early toil; and “Clotilda”; yellow bone Clotie, of the dreamy eyes that tell stories of journeys in the dark recesses of life.
And “Gilda” again; Gide, of the musical voice with a tinge of iron, that keeps ringing in your ears long after she stops speaking. Even Jimmy MaCrook, the smooth talker, the one who can sell you your totem, if you are not careful, frequents this square.
Looking around one sees faces that are masks of deeper travail. There are stories that lie untold deep in the heart, but they reflect in the eyes. The eyes are the culprits; they cannot hide the journeys the soul and body have endured.
Yet, Madzimai Nyaradzai keeps on prophesying, and doing what Angel Gabriel had send her to do: deliver multitudes from the shackles of the devil.
There are three believers kneeling in front of her, facing the east, as is apt in apostolic sects, so as to face the angels of good fortune.
She is in a trance, communicating in the spiritual realm, invoking the Holy Spirit to intercede on behalf of the faithful so that they can always cultivate fertile fields.
Draped in white regalia, she stands in the middle, with two of her helpers to the left, and another to the right; all adorning white apparel. Their names are Luke Chekwa (52), Madzimai Sarah Mushore (61), and Patricia Gwara (35).
Mateu is next in the queue, and am next. He is an artisanal miner, Mateu, so he needs spiritual guidance to face the demons of the red soils. He comes from Banket in Mashonaland West Province, at Plot 7, he says, but the proverbial honey bird has led him to Makaha in Mutoko, Mashonaland East. He has been there for a month now.
In Mateu’s trade options are limited; it’s either life or death. Underground death growls, and life snarls back oftentimes. With gold always coming draped in deathly shrouds, it becomes difficult to decide, for sometimes decisions decide on their own.
So, here he is, for the Holy Spirit to decide for him through Madzimai Nyaradzai. He knows that spirituality in the African’s worldview is real, he confides in me.
In 2018, he was involved in six severe accidents, but in each incident he came out unscathed.
After the session, Madzimai Nyaradzai informs The Herald that the quartet had been camped in Africa Unity Square since mid-June. They are from the Masowe eChishanu sect based at Gazebo near Ruwa.
“The holy spirit has led me here to deliver souls from spiritual bondage”, she said.
“This coronavirus pandemic will soon come to pass. It is only the devil’s plan to deviate God’s plan for the people of Zimbabwe, whose Canaan is at hand. Many people from all walks of life come here for spiritual deliverance. Some come from as early as 3am, and others even sleep here.”
It is mind-boggling how they have been living in the park for close to a month now, without cooking utensils, food, water and toilets.
“We live by the grace of the Angel Gabriel. We rely on well-wishers for food; but usually we only do with maputi and water. My five-year-old son here is used to the situation. He doesn’t mind.”
“Sleeping in the open without blankets is not new to us,” said Madzimai Nyaradzai.
For ablution facilities, she pointed out that they had made arrangements to use toilets at the Simon Vengai Muzenda Terminus.
Her pensive eyes tell a story of toil, resoluteness of spirit and resilience of hope.
“There is a beautiful house somewhere in this city that the Angel Gabriel has promised us. Soon, very soon, all these hardships will be a thing of the past, not only for us, but all Zimbabweans,” she affirmed.
Dwellers of the square, particularly photographers say they are yet to see such a spectacle, because usually those who come to worship in the park are done in a matter of hours. But the quartet has been here for some time without being bothered by the police or City of Harare authorities.
As Mateu and Tawanda bide me farewell, they look contended, and ready to face the devil no matter in what garb he comes.
And as they leave, others take their place in the battle of souls, and the quest for survival in a spiritually ensconced society, in the middle of Suoguru: the Zvimba, Seke, and Chinamhora people’s religious shrine.