Notes on the Geography of Zimbabwe: From Harare to Masvingo
We'll drive about 200 miles today, from Harare to Masvingo with a side trip at Chivhu to visit the church built by Arthur Cripps, a poet-missionary who spent his life in service.
Zimbabwe's a basket case, right? Well, there are basket cases and basket cases. If this is the way into (and out of) Harare on a weekday morning, it's safe to say that the economy has not reverted to the Neolithic.
This was early in 2018, with Robert Mugabe gone and a new regime in place. From a repeat visitor's perspective the most impressive thing, besides more traffic than a few years earlier, was the complete absence of police checkpoints, alias bribe-uptake stations.
Maybe an hour down the road. If we were bus conductors on the express service we'd sing, "Chivhu, Masvingo, Beitbridge, Polokwane (Pietersburg), Pretoria, Johannesburg, Harrismith, Pietermaritzburg, and Durban." That's a thousand miles.
The road surface isn't as good as in South Africa, but it's not bad, and there's a lot to be said for roads where most of the time you can drift over the center line without getting smucked.
A sign of poverty?
People buy firewood in posh American suburbs, but the wood there isn't hacked by axes, as it is here. Implication: the woodcutter can't afford a sharp saw, let alone a chainsaw.
Where's that rural economist when we need him? Here's the problem: who can pay $4 for 50 pounds of potatoes? Answer: not the people who live around here. Translation: the buyers are people rich enough to drive cars.
Despite the good news of traffic jams, the news in the countryside is bad, with lots of former cropland reverting to bush.
We won't see any tobacco, and there won't be much of anything else, except relics of colonial infrastructure like this low-level pipe culvert bridge.
This is what once made driving in Africa fun: no guard rails. It's assumed that you're a big boy and don't need them. Just don't try it at night after a good time at the pub.
Sissy stuff. Anyway, the bridge is a Callender-Hamilton prefabricated truss that requires no welding. The technology was patented in 1935 by the engineer who built Kurdistan's Hamilton Road, which obviously means that the bridge was built sometime after that. In this case it's still in use, though on the old road through Beatrice, now bypassed.
Power lines run along the road, too. Oops: tense correction. "Ran."
We're 80 miles from Harare and in Enkeldoorn ("one thorn," referring to a lone, now-vanished Splendid Thorn,or Vachellia robusta). The town is now called Chivhu, but the old name survives here at least.
The road is momentarily preempted by a caravan of mining-truck trays.
Yes, they have pilot cars.
Despite the name, this particular tray was made in Peoria, Illinois, probably came to Durban, and is working its way north. Destination? I'm guessing the coal fields around Tete, Mozambique. That's a 1,300-mile hike. Begs the question: why not offload at Maputo or Beira or Nacala?
Enough metaphysical speculation: here's the Chivhu pub, leftover from the days of Enkeldoorn.
The owner needed a bit more space, so sacrificed the portico.
The main commercial street runs perpendicular to the highway.
Poor but tidy.
Here's some recent investment: one of Zimbabwe's 40-odd SPAR supermarkets.
And here's a church from the days of Enkeldoorn. Guess the denomination: the facade on the right should tell you.
There you go: Dutch Reformed. The verse from Exodus is, in English,"Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." Well, it didn't work out that way. The Afrikaners have all left town.
A Type B pillar box made by McDowall and Steven, London and Falkirk. Somehow the royal identification has been removed.
Detour: we're heading back north on Cripps Road, parallel to the highway and just east of town.
Dare we? This is a passenger car. Answer: yes, by sticking to the right side and for heaven's sake not slowing down.
Here's what we want, the shrine one kilometer off to the left. Puddles from recent rain mean we mostly have to walk.
Whether it's a shrine is open to question. It's certainly the ruin of the church built by Arthur Shearly Cripps (1869-1952), an Oxford graduate and Anglican missionary who came to this place in 1902 and stayed with few interruptions until his death, by which time he was blind and dependent on the people he had spent his life serving.
Cripps made no attempt to build a Gothic or Romanesque church, as did, for example, Clement Scott, the equally untutored architect of the huge Presbyterian church in Blantyre, Malawi.
Without angles, the building instead echoes Great Zimbabwe, though in this case without shaping the stones or laying them in courses.
Original tombstone. Cripps has been the subject of at least three books: a sober biography( God's Irregular, by the Quaker Douglas V. Steer, 1973), a much more imaginative reconstruction by a great-nephew (The Dust Diaries, by Owen Sheers, 2004), and an appraisal of Cripp's practical accomplishments helping the people around him (Maronda Mashanu, by Murray Steele, 2017).
We've arrived at the main corner in Masvingo, known as Fort Victoria or Victoria or Fort Vic until 1982. The sign to the airport is misleading: the airport is listed with flights to Harare and Bulawayo in the May, 1999, issue of the Official Airline Guide but is missing in issues from 2001. Beitbridge, across the Limpopo and 180 miles farther along the road we've come on, marks the South African border. The Great Zimbabwe University is a post-independence institution just outside of town.
Fort Victoria got a railroad in 1915, but it was only a spur from Gwelo, which is on the mainline from Bulawayo to Harare. That isolation was pretty much curtains for the town's ambitions.
The station is substantial enough that you might think there were passenger trains, and it's true that The South and East African Year Book and Guide for 1929 says that "since the completion of the Railway to Victoria in 1915, this township and the ruins at Great Zimbabwe have been brought within easy reach of the traveller." By the 1950s, however, Rhodesian Railways instead ran buses to and from Fort Victoria. It apparently wasn't quite the end: you can find photos of the occasional passenger train here at least until the early 1960s.
No point in being patient today, unless you're willing to ride the very occasional freight.
At the edge of town, an impromptu market has sprung up along the track.
Fort Victoria was mindful of its history, though, and in the civic center grounds there's an old German-built locomotive from the 1950s.
Across the street, and at least into the 1950s, the bell in the city's watchtower was rung every night and morning--and had been since the town was established in 1891 as Southern Rhodesia's first town.
Government offices next door.
The departmental tenants have changed over the years.
A hotel on the main street sticks with the city's old name.
Across the street and down a block is the old Meikles department store, part of a chain. By 2018, the building on the left was still in business, barely, but the building on the right, a supermarket, was done.
The customary shaded sidewalk survives; the bakery doesn't.
A once-stylish office building carries the name of a nearby reservoir heavily used for recreation, though of course built for serious business--irrigation.
The city's streets are very, very wide. Here's the most important of them. Now it's the A4, but in colonial times it was Allan Wilson Street. The name may not ring bells for Americans, but Wilson led 1893's Shangani Patrol, which was wiped out in the First Matabele War and became a symbol of pioneer sacrifice. There's a very substantial memorial near the grave of Cecil Rhodes (see the Bulawayo folder).
A true boulevard, though in need of sprucing up.
Here's another, in an industrial neighborhood near the railroad.
No median here, but still wide enough to more than meet the demands of traffic.
The town's one attempt at a highrise office building shares parking with the city's busy SPAR supermarket.
Things are generally pretty quiet.
Lots of colonial-era housing.
Some are well-hidden.
A late-colonial apartment block.
It's not all decrepit; on the outskirts, there's new construction.
The civic center is still impressive as a sign of pride in the 1950s.
Several buildings are laid out as a group.
Posters for productions in the civic center's theater.
Probably the most stylish building in town, this is on the campus of Masvingo Polytechnic, which celebrated its 25th commencement exercises in 2017 and was shut down the following year by students protesting the misuse of Zimbabwe Manpower Development Funds (Zimdef) by the college administrators.
From another angle.
We're parked for gas; see the Great Zimbabwe mimicry?
Another example; the business is a mortuary. The real tower is a half-hour's drive away.
* Argentina * Australia * Austria * Bangladesh * Belgium * Botswana * Brazil * Burma / Myanmar * Cambodia (Angkor) * Canada (B.C.) * China * The Czech Republic * Egypt * Fiji * France * Germany * Ghana * Greece * Hungary * India: Themes * Northern India * Peninsular India * Indonesia * Israel * Italy * Japan * Jerusalem * Jordan * Kenya * Laos * Kosovo * Malawi * Malaysia * Mauritius * Mexico * Micronesia (Pohnpei) * Morocco * Mozambique * Namibia * The Netherlands * New Zealand * Nigeria * Norway * Oman * Pakistan * The Philippines * Poland * Portugal * Senegal * Singapore * South Africa * South Korea * Spain * Sri Lanka * Sudan * Syria (Aleppo) * Tanzania * Thailand * Trinidad * Turkey (Istanbul) * Uganda * The U.A.E. (Dubai) * The United Kingdom * The Eastern United States * The Western United States * Oklahoma * Uzbekistan * Vietnam * The West Bank * Yemen * Zambia * Zimbabwe *