17 February 2012

A letter from Bulawayo, the City of Kings

It's surprising how many people have asked me why I haven't updated my blog recently. My deepest apologies, I have been travelling and am currently in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; the city I was born and raised in for the first nineteen years of my life. It has been a hectic week and a half which has included a job interview (anyone hiring a Computer Scientist out there? Hint hint nudge nudge wink wink), hanging out on street corners with my friends (the pleasures of being young no?) and basically seeing people close to my heart who I only get to see once in an unseemingly (my Google Chrome is insisting unseemingly is not a word but I know better) long time.

Anyway in the rush of life (I now seem to have one) it has been pretty difficult to find time to sit down and write anything let alone blog but don't worry as soon as I get back to Johannesburg I will have plenty of time to spin my usual tales and delight (or shock) you with the ramblings of a (slightly) disturbed mind. In the meantime I'd like to share with you dear readers a letter I wrote to my mother more than six years ago. She had just emigrated to South Africa leaving me and the rest of the family in Zimbabwe. I had at that point never travelled anything more than a hundred kilometres beyond Zimbabwe's borders and I could not even begin to fathom the new sights she was beholding in the famous 'City of Gold'.

I felt as if I was stuck in Zimbabwe, especially as the economic situation slid ever closer to collapse and each day was a miracle of survival. But one day walking home from school I had a glimpse of the Jacaranda's that famously line the avenues of Bulawayo, the City of Kings, and a feeling of inexplicable hope for my future, and that of the country, filled me with such inspiration that when I got home I grabbed my little exercise book where I wrote my short stories (I had no access to a computer at that time except once a week at British Council). This letter would later serve as the template to the story, Purple, that I wrote when I came back to Zimbabwe from Algeria for the first time in three years and that won the Dr Yvonne Vera Award for 2010. Life is funny isn't it? Enjoy.


Portrait of A Half Remembered City

It is jacaranda time again in the City of Kings again, that time of the year when the jacarandas launch their annual celebration of life. And as usual, the trees never fail to disappoint; it is a spectacular scene that blows the mind away with its beauty and for a moment hides the dark scars buried beneath.

I know that Johannesburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and that you are probably perpetually amazed in the City of Gold, but mom it is hard to picture anything more picturesque than the two lane avenues of Bulawayo carpeted by the fallen purple blossoms and the trees on guard in rows of two and three on either side. The gentle summer breeze occasionally stirs them and for a moment the trees come alive, waving their burly branches and discharging more purple bells into the air. Down by Ascot shopping centre, the flamboyants are coming alive so you have not only purple but red as well. It is a time of simple beauty; when the jacaranda’s rule.

Bulawayo 1975, Public Domain Image
"Portrait of a half remembered city"
But look closely and the scars become more and more apparent. Centenary Park is an insult to the word. There is nothing park-like in the dirty brown rug that covers the ground in threadbare patches. Or the once proud fountain that used to send water soaring ten metres into the air in beautiful shimmering patterns that sparkled like diamonds under the African sun. No, now the fountain stands empty, a sad reminder of the times that used to be and now are not. One wonders why they have switched it off, after all it did use reclaimed water. But perhaps the city fathers are wary of having conspicuous jets of water gushing endlessly at a time when some townships have not had water for weeks. But I think it would be an encouragement, a sign that we are down but not out. No matter what I think, the fountain stands dry and empty.

Empty is now a buzz word in Bulawayo. It describes everything from supermarket shelves to the water tanks we now keep at home. It describes people’s bank accounts as well as bakeries which now sell Zap-Nax of all things in the world. I can just imagine the management meeting that decided to shut down the ovens and fill the shelves that once were loaded with doughnuts, pies and sausage rolls; with crisps that used to be sold on the road sides, once, so long ago it seems. They must have shook their heads In silent wonder at the level to which they had sunk to but in true Zimbabwean style asked themselves, “what else can we do?” the answer must have been obvious to them as it is to me: Survive.

Scott Wheeler, GFD Licence
"...the political drought in Zimbabwe"
And that is what we do every day; we survive. Cars still fill the roads even though no garage has officially sold a drop of fuel for the past few months. People still get into kombi’s and buses smelling fresh or of the latest brand of perfume even though there has been no water for the past three days. Our smiles still reach the sides of our faces, penetrating the dark corners of our minds with the light of a bittersweet joy that helps Zimbabweans come through these dark and turbulent times. The drought that affects Bulawayo is a metaphor for the political drought in Zimbabwe. But even though the rain might be long on coming we know in our heart of hearts, that it is on its way. One day we will wake up to its fat drops exploding on our windows and the thunder chasing away the demons that lurk in the air, lightning flashing brightly like the eyes if God.

But until then, we have only the jacaranda’s to console us and heal the wounds in our hearts. The beautiful purple blossoms floating gently to the ground, whispering so gently you might not hear it if you don’t listen hard enough, don’t open your heart to the beauty of this created world. They say, “He is there, He remembers you; always.”

"He remembers you. Always"


  1. Your writing is absolutely breath taking and rings true in every word. Beautiful Zimbabwe.

  2. Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Yes, Zimbabwe is so beautiful in so many ways, I just hope we never forget it no matter what.