Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Kombis are the main way people get around in Zim, especially in the cities. Mostly Japanese-made minivans, they are designed to seat 15: one row of 4 at the back, three rows of three, and two in the front - but the standard practise is 4 in every row, plus 2-3 more facing backward behind the front seats, seated on the engine console. Children don't get included in the count, as long as they're on someone's lap, so including the conductor it's common to have a couple dozen people crammed in, along with bags of maize, boxes of goods for resale, flats of eggs, fertilizer, plumbing pipe, etc. 
The routes are fixed and kombis leave whenever they are full, stopping anywhere along the route to drop off or pick up passengers. The conductors are in charge of finding passengers and collecting money. They hang out the door whistling and calling for business, thumping on the roof for the driver to stop if they spot a customer, thumping on the roof when they're ready to go again. It's not uncommon for kombis to go off-route, especially on a return trip against the rush hour flow, trolling the streets for passengers.

The conductors don't get a seat if there are passengers to fill them; they crouch in the door-well, bent over the outside passenger. Outside Harare writing out passenger tickets seems to be the norm, but this is ignored in Harare. Kombis are a favourite target for police; on the 25 km stretch from Harare to the bedroom community of Chitungwiza (Zimbabwe's third largest city) there are usually around 5 police roadblocks, looking for infractions they can 'spot fine'.

Children are handed to other passengers if the mother already has one or two on her lap. It can be a man or woman, and I've never seen anyone complain; they will help the child eat, clean it's hands after, and generally treat it as they would a niece or nephew.

The conductors at the kombi ranks vie with one another to fill their vehicles first; their is much shouting of destinations, banging on the roof, and teasing and coaxing of possible customers. In very competitive areas they will jump into the crowds and intercept customers as they approach, steering them by the elbow towards their own kombis, and away from the competition's.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sam Levy's

 I've been feeling somewhat guilty about presenting a rather selective portrait of Zimbabwe in these posts. In the interests of fair and balanced reporting it behooves me to say that there are also plenty of wealthy suburbs in Harare, full of grand - or at least expensive - houses with immaculately kept grounds and gardens, as well as posh shops and malls. The epicentre of this poshness, catering to mostly whites, ex-pats and rich blacks, is Sam Levy's Village in Borrowdale. I went there on Sunday hunting for an Oliver Mutukudzi CD. (This could be a whole other post; it is almost impossible to find legal recordings in Zim these days. The streets and flea markets are full of vendors selling pirated cds and dvds, which has put almost all the 'record bars' out of business and devasted the local music industry.) Sam Levy's is full of upscale shops and restaurants catering to European/North American tastes, and is quite... bland. I did have an excellent veggie wrap and americano though, something unimaginable here during my previous trips.


The one thing I found interesting was that virtually all the white kids were running around without shoes, while the black kids all wore them.

Since I was in Borrowdale anyway, I stopped in at the race track to see how it was doing. Zimbabweans sometimes refer to the fast footwork of pantsula (an urban dance style) as 'Borrowdale', referring to the quick-stepping horses at Borrowdale Race Course.
 The last time I was here was New Year's Day, 1999. ( I remember because I came down with malaria that night.) It's much, much quieter these days; two betting windows out of about 80 were open, with only 4 or 5 races scheduled. Kind of amazing that it's still going at all, since most of the white racehorse owners have left the country. I watched one race, but alas, both my picks were out of the money.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I get a tickle out of Zimbabwean names. The English ones especially, which are often direct translations of traditional Shona names. They have a directness and simplicity that I find compelling. My current all-time favourite is Topshelf. But they all have their charms. Just scanning the previous two newspapers I find:

Lovemore Madhuku
Memory Nguwi
Praise Tonhai
Givemore Makoni
Justice Gubbay
Saviour Kasuku
Wonder Sitole
Ocean Mushure
Knowledge Musona
Innocent Dzviti
Obvious Mutani
Last Paulosi
Beauty Moyo
Gift Chimanikire
Desire Sibanda
Anyway Mutambudzi
Border Gezi
Perseverence Makave
Thanks Nyamapfeni
Egypt Munhenzva
Fortune Charumbira

and some others I noted along the way:


I personally suffer from an acute lack of syllable-age, having single-syllable first and last names.
Hmmm... Syllables, that's actually pretty good....

Shona names can be quite interesting too: Tichaona ('We will see' this kid turns out?); Mari Apera ('The money is finished); Tinotenda ('We are thanking'). And the hopeful name for one of the big markets in Mbare: Pedzanhamo, 'end of poverty'.



Friday, March 2, 2012

Mbare Msika 2

This is a slice of life from last Monday morning in Mbare Msika, waiting in the back seat of the truck for Ticha and Tsitsi to return from the produce market. Best viewed with Alick Macheso as the background soundtrack, but Oliver Mutukudzi or Thomas Mapfumo will do, or any music from southern Africa :)