Foreign tourists usually fly into Harare, and rush to get out as quickly as possible, as if they are running away from a disease.
Johannesburg, Lusaka and Nairobi face the same problem. Whilst cities like New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Sydney and Beijing attract huge numbers of visitors, easily spending there a week or more, African cities seem to be places to be avoided, with Cape Town being the only exception.
Hararians perceive their city as a place where they earn a living. The place they call Home is the family farm in Banket or the village (Musha) near Gutu, where their grandfathers were born. A Berliner is proud to be a Berliner, but I have never heard someone say: “I am proud to be Hararian”.
So how does one promote a product whose maker is not proud of it?
I suspect that tour operators do not promote Harare either. They think tourists don’t enjoy towns and are simply here to look for a giraffe or a lion. A misconception of the first order.
However, insiders know better. Visitors do like to interact with the People, the locals. Not only do they like to interact with the waiters, drivers and guides, but tourists are usually interested in meeting and interacting with the people of Zimbabwe. Harare has plenty of those! But, where does one meet them? Local flea markets, Mbare Musika or townships are ideal and welcoming places where outsiders will be safe and comfortable, especially in the company of a local guide. Harare has a wide variety of restaurants, pubs, bars and other eating places where one can socialize and mingle. Here one can find and meet the Hararians. They have a great sense of humour, are very welcoming and never shy to chat with anyone. The huge urban arts scene in Harare is relatively unknown to outsiders. The National Gallery, Reps Theatre, Alliance Française with the Restaurant Chez Zandi and Theatre in the Park are just a few of the many where one can go local. These are all great places with mainly young performers of all sorts of art forms who have great talent. Not to forget are the new class of stand-up comedians who are all very different but have a typical raw type of city humour.
There are a good number of pubs all over the place, friendly, safe and entertaining.
Then there are the typical places to see around Harare: the local Bushmen rock paintings, the amazing and breath-taking views at Domboshava meaning “red hill” in Shona , the mountain called Goma Kurira meaning where the drums drum, the Balancing Rocks in Epworth, Lake Chivero, the Queen Victoria Museum and the many galleries with beautiful pieces of Stone Sculptures and local art. The National Gallery in Harare City Centre offers a bit of Contemporary Art and has a beautiful garden cafe where one can mingle with some local people.
Harare is an African city full of hobbyists. It has many active societies and clubs with special interests: fauna, gardening, trees, flowers, orchids, archaeology, history, wildlife, fishing, rock climbing, philately, photography and many more. Do you have a hobby? If yes, with a bit of research, you will find your fellows in Harare.
Sometimes you need a non-Hararian, like me, to tell how interesting and likeable the place is. Indeed, its treasures are a bit hidden and sadly they are not sign posted like the national parks in Zimbabwe. It needs a bit of courage and research to walk on unfrequented paths, but I assure you that the rewards are definitely worth it.
Goof de Jong