Zimbabwe might not have sprawling mega cities like Toronto, New York, London or Johannesburg, but the country has its own metropolitan cities and growing towns. Contrary to prevailing views that the country is underdeveloped, the opposite couldn’t be more true.
Since its inception, a lot has been covered by this blog beginning with the publication of its first article in August 2015. Although a portion of the coverage has focused on the country’s success and dominance as a regional tourism powerhouse, the objective has remained the same: to introduce Zimbabwe to the outside world one article at a time. While the target audience is North America where, unfortunately, a sizeable majority still know little about the country other than an association with safaris, wildlife and the politically-engineered talking points, focus has expanded to encompass other areas.
While some in the west, Latin America or parts of Asia and Eastern Europe can be forgiven for their lack of knowledge including some level of ignorance pertaining to Africa and Zimbabwe in particular, the same cannot be said of our fellow Africans. It is both baffling and astounding how, despite close geographic proximity, some within Africa remain clueless and still less-informed about Zimbabwe as a whole. Whether one can blame that on the country’s lack of aggressive marketing or not having a singular defined country image, this publication’s aim is to fill that gap.
This article provides a brief insight to the other side of Zimbabwe that is less known and hardly projected by the media. It is a side that is often unreported mainly in western-targeted tourism promotions, whether by design or default, remains a big question. This is the side depicting a modern Zimbabwe and its metropolitan cities, an omission which has largely contributed to prevailing views in some western societies whereby Zimbabwe is associated with nothing other than jungles, wildlife safaris and dilapidated mud huts where people still forage for survival.
As shocking as this might sound, the unprecedented level of ignorance pertaining to Zimbabwe and overall perception of Africa remains unbelievably high. The prevalent view among large proportions of North Americans is that of a grossly underdeveloped country stuck in a pre-industrial period with no modern cities, infrastructure or technology of any kind. The almost ridiculous views are so prevalent that even in certain academic institutions and circles, there are those who lecture on Zimbabwe as if people there are foragers, live in dilapidated mud huts, walk around in groups to hunt but most importantly, that people trek long distances to fetch muddy water to drink and to get to the nearest village school.
While Zimbabwe’s continued biggest import is tourism, there is more to the country than just wildlife, safari and jungles. Although Zim did undergo and is still recovering from one of the worst economic challenges in a generation, it remains modern with big metropolitan cities, sprawling towns and suburbs that are ever progressing. Zimbabwe is not backward or underdeveloped, and yes, the country has modern technology, too!
For those not familiar with Zimbabwe, the country has five major cities. These are Harare, Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Mutare, and Gweru. Chitungwiza, although a city within a city (Harare), has become the third largest city in the country and a vital economic hub. It will not be covered in this article.
While Zimbabwe is known for its dominant tourism industry, very little is known of its cities and towns. Although the country’s major cities might not be as mega and sprawling as Toronto, New York, London or Johannesburg, they are nonetheless, big, modern and very metropolitan in their own way.
Each of these cities is unique in terms of cultural diversity, economic activity as well as cultural vibrancy. Differences are also exposed in their roles and contributions towards the country’s economic and tourism activities because of geographic locations. Although Zimbabwe’s major tourism activities are concentrated in two key areas of Matabeleland and Manicaland, they each play a pivotal role as proud cultural ambassadors of their respective regions.
Harare, The Sunshine City
For those not familiar with Zimbabwe, Harare, locally known as the Sunshine City, is the capital and central economic hub of the country. The sprawling city with an estimated population of 1.6 million was first founded in 1890 as Salisbury and later renamed to its present name in 1982. The name Harare when translated means “One Who Never Sleeps”, a befitting name to this modern contemporary city reputable for its glitz, glamour high-rise buildings and beckoning bright lights.
The “City That Never Sleeps” is also known for its endless social, economic and cultural activities of local and international nature. Like other big metropolitan cities elsewhere, Harare is a thriving social and cultural hub where one can enjoy the best of everything in terms of culture, local and international cuisine. Harare is the lion of Zimbabwe that dominates and leads in every aspect of social, economic, political and cultural activities.
Where Harare lacks in terms of tourist attractions, it compensates for the deficit in other key areas that are fundamental to the success of the tourism industry. The Sunshine City boasts of world-class accommodations and top-notch restaurants of international repute. Furthermore, the city is the major gateway into the country with a great network of transportation that is easily accessible. The city is a must visit for anyone when in Zimbabwe.
Places of Interest: Harare is like a mini-version of New York, London or Toronto where a fusion of cultures and exotic tastes co-mingle and dominate. Great restaurants of local and international cuisines with diverse cultural tastes are great places to sample local and exotic foods. Host to a thriving art community with world-class art galleries and museums, some of the highlights in the Sunshine City include botanical gardens and parks, Heroes Acre, cultural centres as well as numerous world-renowned events and festivals.
Bulawayo, The City of Kings
Bulawayo, known as the City of Kings is the second largest city in Zimbabwe after Harare with a population of almost a million. The city is located in south western Zimbabwe and is the provincial capital of Matebeleland. A former capital of a bygone era, the City of Kings is part of UNESCO World Heritage protection due to its historical and cultural significance to the country and region.
The name Bulawayo which means “The Place of Slaughter” in the local Ndebele language, is one of the oldest and historically relevant cities in the whole of Zimbabwe. It is also known for its deep cultural pride and heritage. For those history buffs and students of ancient African kingdoms, Bulawayo is the place to visit especially if one is to understand the trajectory of Zimbabwe and its intriguing history.
The City of Bulawayo has the great African Elephant as its Emblem, a befitting symbol of this culturally proud place. What better way to represent the City of Kings than The Elephant which symbolizes majestic strength, pride and stability – components of which are considered to be the foundations of spiritual, political and societal stability. The bustling city of Bulawayo which was once the industrial capital is also a major transport hub for southern Africa. It remains one of the country’s most attractive cities that is a must visit.
Places of Interest: history and culture buffs will feel at home here. Places to quench one’s historical quest are Khami Ruins, Bulawayo Natural History Museum, Matobo Hills and Bulawayo Railway Museum housing Cecil Rhodes’ coach with all its fine cutlery. Other attractions include Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage, Tshabalala Game Reserve, Matobo National Park that is home to the endangered white rhino, Hillside Dams, local markets and events.
The city of Mutare in eastern Zimbabwe located amidst a picturesque mountainous range bordering Zimbabwe and Mozambique is the fourth biggest in the country. This city of almost 200,000 is the provincial capital of Manicaland, the region popularly known as the Eastern Highlands. Mutare is the economic hub of the region that is a paradise on its own with many breath-taking views.
Manicaland is home to some of the warmest, down to earth and kindest people in the whole of Zimbabwe with a very rich cultural heritage. Modest behaviour, integrity and eloquence in speech are a few things that make Mutare a unique place. What else can better represent this culturally proud people than their own local resident, the majestic, eloquent Leopard and one of Africa’s Big Five.
Located in the Eastern Highlands and one of the country’s major tourist destination, Mutare is the gateway to regional attractions and popular resorts such as Nyanga and Leopard Rock.
Places of Interest: Mutare is surrounded by endless world-class attractions such as Mount Nyangani, Bvumba (Vumba) and Chimanimani mountains; Mutare Museum and Utopia House Museum; National Gallery of Zimbabwe; Nyanga National Park, Mtarazi and Nyangombe Waterfalls plus many more; Iron Age Village, lush botanical gardens and Murahwa Hill known for its rock paintings.
Gweru, The City of Progress
Located centrally in the Midlands province, Gweru is the fifth largest city in Zimbabwe. This city of close to 160,000 is the provincial capital that was founded in 1894 by Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, the presumed partner of Cecil John Rhodes. Gweru also known as the City of Progress is situated between Bulawayo and Harare, making it a central economic hub. Once an industrial and agricultural hub, Gweru is known for industries such as Bata Shoe Company and Alloy industries.
The agricultural dominance resulting from cattle ranching, primarily beef and dairy is the reason for Bata’s success and why it has its own tannery. With Bata’s success, the tanning industry and cattle ranching, what better way to represent the City of Progress renowned for its meat and (rawhide) leather shoes than the strong Buffalo, another member of the Big Five!
Places of Interest: Gweru is home to two of Zimbabwe’s many archaeological wonders, Naletale Ruins which is considered one of Zimbabwe`s best kept secrets as well as Danangombe Ruins. The latter is known for its Portuguese remains while the former for its patterned brickwork. Also of interest is the Boggie Clock Tower, an iconic landmark of this beautiful city; Antelope Game Park; Thornhill Airbase and the Zimbabwe Military Museum. Gweru is known for its great flora and fauna making it a perfect destination for nature and outdoor lovers.
Although Masvingo is not part of the big five cities, it’s importance warrants inclusion in this article, albeit briefly. This city of almost 100,000 located in south eastern Zimbabwe is the ninth biggest after Kadoma, and is the provincial capital of Masvingo province. Like the preceding cities, Masvingo, the original birthplace of modern day Zimbabwe, is represented by the untameable, stubborn rhino whose anger rages at the sign of fire but also wise enough to stamp it out.
What better way to represent the stubborn pride and great wisdom of the Karanga people in their Great Zimbabwe than this equally stubborn and yet wise Rhinoceros. The horn-like feature depicted on the left side portion on the Zimbabwean map is said to symbolize the rhino – a representation of the Great Zimbabwe of the ancient Mutapa Empire.
Places of Interest: Close by is the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, the national symbol and monument where the name Zimbabwe is derived from. Other nearby attractions include Kyle Game Reserve where one can spot the endangered white rhino, a symbol of this proud people, and Lake Mutirikwi, great for outdoors and fishing.
While the depicted cities differ in size and economic activities, they each contribute towards Zimbabwe’s cultural, economic and tourism development and relevance. There is also shared commonality in that each city is representative of different, strong cultural heritages and backgrounds, something depicted by the Big Five wildlife that is also rare, endangered and fundamental in the country’s tourism industry as indicated below.
- Harare is represented by the Lion
- Bulawayo by the strength of the Elephant
- Mutare is the eloquent Leopard
- Gweru is the strong Buffalo and
- Masvingo is represented by the stubborn and yet very wise Rhino.
In the future, we hope to feature the uniqueness of each city in detail while also highlight the differences in terms of tourism and cultural relevance. Keep watching this space!!
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