Rip it all up, says Mr Tome

So Edward Tome, described as a political analyst and historian, wants to campaign for Africa Unity Square, Harare’s central square, to be ripped up and redesigned.

He finds it offensive that the square – its resplendent much-photographed lavender-blue jacaranda trees in full bloom once a year – was laid out as a copy of the British flag – the Union Jack – by colonial-era settlers more than a century ago.image

Right: Africa Unity Square on Google Earth

The square, Mr Tome says, does not reflect the country’s struggle against colonialism but “celebrates the British conquest of the black people of Africa.” Zimbabwe university academic Dr. Charity Manyeruke, always openly and fiercely pro-ZANU PF, Mr Mugabe’s party, in appearances in the state media, agrees.

“The square must be redesigned to ensure that it carries African symbols,” Manyeruke tells the Zimbabwe Herald newspaper to coincide with this week’s Africa Day, the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, forerunner of the African Union continental body of which Mr Mugabe is the present chairman.

The central square marks the site where the first settlers – settlers of the British South Africa Company – raised the union flag in 1890 and declared their new outpost ‘Fort Salisbury,’ forerunner of the city of Salisbury and of the Harare of today. The square, copying the union flag with the alignment of trees, paths and a central fountain, was named Cecil Square, after after the British Prime Minister of the time, Lord Salisbury, Robert Cecil, not Cecil John Rhodes as many believe. It was changed to Africa Unity Square after the former Rhodesia, named after Rhodes, became independent Zimbabwe in 1980.

Mr Tome tells the newspaper some of the buildings around the square remain a clear sign of colonial power by their architecture and ownership – still “under the control of the white community” today.

He can’t be referring to the Zimbabwe Parliament, surely? Or its neighbour, the Anglican cathedral, or the very Herald House across the square all these 35 years after independence? Club Chambers, the Harare Club, the gleaming Mercedes showroom and the Meikles Hotel, perhaps.

The Herald might be trying to whip up a storm where there isn’t one. Mr Tome’s credentials as a historian and analyst are not easily found. The paper and state TV are in the habit of rolling out experts and analysts to suit their purposes.

After the recent removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at at the Rondebosch university campus in Cape Town, the paper suggests the time might be right to take another look at colonial symbols closer to home. The square is bordered by three streets named after African liberation icons – Nelson Mandela, Sam Nujoma and Jason Moyo – and parliament lies on its north east corner. In recent times, that corner became a rallying point for opponents of the government until police banned most public demonstrations and marches that were heading there.

We are led to believe by the paper that past representations have been made to city authorities and parliamentarians to alter the square but to no avail. Mr Tome points out that legislators have never been much bothered by the Union Jack lying over the street from the parliament building, theoretically the seat of county’s ultimate power.

But the paper does have the good grace to carry the realistic view of political science lecturer Dr. Joseph Kurebwa who says all relics of the past can’t be simply erased.

He says the name change from Cecil Square to Africa Unity Square is enough. That “creates our own post colonial narrative and therefore there exists a link between a colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe.”

“In terms of the design, it cannot be changed and it is not important to do so,” he says. ” It does not matter that the square remains modelled on the Union Jack … in fact, that illustrates part of our colonial history which is important as we are a former colony.”

2 Responses

  1. Fennie says:

    I think we have bigger problems to fix. Potholes in the city, prolific vending and the attendant noise pollution, inconsistent refuse collection for example. Or if you really want to get talking – unemployment, power shortages, inconsistent water supply. The layout of Africa Unity Square pales in comparison.

  2. Kevin Cooney says:

    Let it be. Or we might as well take down Capitol Hill for the close on elimination of the inhabitants of the Great Plains. Take down Buckingham Palace as the seat of Role Britannia.
    History is History, let it be. How can future generations comprehend their past if there exists no past to show.

    Kevin Cooney.

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