Moments before landing at Harare International Airport on my return from a recent excursion, the aircraft’s intercom crackled slightly before the pilot made a dramatic announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, the safest segment of your journey ends here. Please don’t drown in the potholes.”
Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
The passengers roared with laughter. But soon enough, as I navigated my way through Harare’s perilously pockmarked roads, it became clear to me that the joke was really on us.
How times change! Not so long ago, the advice you would dispense to a first-time visitor to Zimbabwe’s fallen “Sunshine City” was: “Don’t drink the tap water; it’s sewage.”
Not many things shock me anymore—but when I saw potholes at the intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julius Nyerere Way, right in the heart of Harare’s central business district, I was astounded.
Get me right. It was not the potholes per se which caught my attention; it was their location. All along I have noticed, as a rule of thumb, that the roads with the least potholes are those frequently used by President Robert Mugabe’s motorcade.
If you doubt this, go to Borrowdale Road and tell me how many craters you can count. After that, you should visit a rutted thoroughfare like High Glen Road which traverses through low-income neighbourhoods and connects the Bulawayo and Masvingohighways. In many ways, potholes are shared and distributed according to social class.
When potholes make a grand appearance at the corner of Machel and Nyerere, of all places, there is no escaping the grotesque symbolism. Machel and Nyerere are titans of African liberation. What are these rude potholes saying about the state of our continent today?
Last weekend I met a pastor who told me, tongue in cheek, that the pothole menace has become so catastrophic that the only conceivable solution is divine intervention. Tickled by his banter, I asked him in mock seriousness: man of God, what exactly do you mean? He went into overdrive. Holding my hand and, without skipping a beat, the pastor reminded me that the biblical Moses parted an entire sea through the power of prayer. We both burst into laughter and went about our business.
Have you noticed how laughter has become a panacea for all manner of maladies in Zimbabwe? It’s not necessarily a bad coping mechanism—seeing as it goes a long way in preserving our sanity in these dreary times—but we cannot be laughing when potholes are wrecking our cars and typhoid is terrorising poverty-stricken communities.
Harare’s pothole-afflicted roads have become a reference point for anyone who wants to understand Zimbabwe’s astonishing story of infrastructural decay, leadership failure, corruption and squandered opportunity.