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The fate of Zimbabwe’s colonial monuments

The colonial administrators of Rhodesia left their imprint in the names of streets, places, hospitals, schools and rivers. Many of these were deemed controversial and offensive by the new majority government that took over in 1980. Changes were swift.




I look up as I cross the street and realise that Fourth Street is gone. The ‘kombi’ will still drop you off ‘muna Fourth’, but the road signage has changed. The sequence from First Street to Tenth Street is once again broken. Fourth Street is now Simon Vengai Muzenda Street. (Muzenda was Mugabe’s deputy; he died in 2003.) In a notice published in the Government Gazette on 23 January 2015, an announcement was made to this effect, in terms of the Schedule of Names (Alteration) Act Chapter 10:14.

This part of the city forms a grid – a sequence of numbered streets that now has another break. Harare has First Street, then Sam Nujoma Street, Third Street, Simon V Muzenda Street, Fifth Street … and then smoothly down to Tenth Street. “We want to wipe the slate clean and present our image of independent Zimbabwe without these vestiges of colonialism,” Mugabe explained in parliament in 1984.The first decade of the country’s independence had numerous and frequent name changes. In 1982, a cabinet committee on place names set about re-inscribing controversial, offensive and misspelt names from the colonial period. And so, among numerous others, Montagu Avenue and Moffat Street became Josiah Chinamano Avenue and L Takawira Street respectively. In this manner, and fittingly, roads renamed for the former liberation-war comrades Chinamano and Muzenda now intersect in the heart of Harare’s Avenues. And yet, in a bizarre twist, the project to revise the colonial cartography has resulted in Cde Muzenda’s street intersecting with streets named after some characters from the height of the colonial enterprise.

Josiah Chinamano Avenue

Josiah Chinamano Avenue Photo: Farai Mudzingwa


In the Avenues area of Harare, one of three nodes around which the original city of Salisbury grew (the other two being Causeway and Kopje), the acknowledgment of liberation-war luminary Simon V Muzenda now incongruously intersects with those of Messieurs Baines, Fife, Livingstone and Selous.


The current government chose to replace a numeral, ‘Fourth’, rather than a coloniser, ‘Fife’.

Lord Fife sat briefly, but largely ceremoniously, on the board of directors of the British South Africa Company, the vehicle through which CJ Rhodes invaded this land; Frederick Courteney Selous was a hunter hired by Rhodes to ‘guide’ the Pioneer Column up from South Africa into present-day Zimbabwe; Thomas Baines was primarily a landscape painter who produced artworks of the colonial period. He also once led a gold-prospecting expedition into what is now Zimbabwe. More familiar is David Livingstone, whose gigantic statue overlooking Victoria Falls reminds us that for a long time our school syllabi taught that he discovered the falls.

Figures with contrary political views regard one another uneasily at these four intersections.

The current government chose to replace a numeral, ‘Fourth’, rather than a coloniser, ‘Fife’.The post-colonial project to rename places, schools, institutions, rivers, buildings, hills, streets … is either complete or has been abandoned. The government removed the ‘top-down’ approach to these changes in 1993, after which citizens were required to initiate the process via local councils. Effectively the name changes should this be ‘slowed down’ or ‘ground to a halt?’. There are now instances of half-done conversions. Was this a case of revolutionary laziness?

Monuments and statues

On 13 September 1890, the Pioneer Column hoisted the Union Jack on what colonial administrators would name the Kopje. The Kopje is a hill overlooking the central business district of Harare from the south. It still retains remnants of its origins as a historic site in the founding of the colonial settlement. On the Kopje is a toposcope, which used to have plaques with names of places and distances and directions to each place. The plaques have since been stolen. Is the presence of an army unit on the Kopje, presumably to protect the communications towers on the hill, not a deterrent?

Simon V Muzenda Street

Simon V Muzenda Street Photo: Farai Mudzingwa

The original plaque embedded in the side of the toposcope read:


The Kopje memorial is one of the protected national heritage sites and yet the site is in dire need of repairs and maintenance. Even more confusing is the co-option of the site by the Zimbabwean state by means of the addition of a ‘torch of independence’ at the monument, which now commemorates two opposing historical events. Perhaps more contradictory is the deliberate retention of the name of the waterfalls and the town Victoria Falls. The statue of the man who named the falls after the British monarch stands at a choice spot with an imposing view of the waterfall. The statue, the falls, the quaint colonial-themed hotel and the faux ‘traditional’ dancers cater for a European and British tourist seeking to trace Livingstone’s footsteps into the dark jungle – all this while the state ostensibly wants to do away with the colonial past.

On sacred ground

Outside Bulawayo are the Matobo Hills, the burial place of Rhodes, Allan Wilson, Leander Jameson and soldiers of the Shangani Patrol. The area is considered religious and sacred by the local inhabitants. The oracle Mlimo was assassinated in one of the caves by a mercenary from the invading colonial party. The colonisers chose to bury their leaders and fighters at the summit of Malindidzimu – a parting and lasting affront.

A proud statue of Rhodes used to stand tall on what is now Samora Machel Avenue. It stood between the Harare High Court and Munhumutapa Building, Mugabe’s offices. The statue is now in the grounds of the National Archives, along with that of a seated Alfred Beit and the mounted man, ‘Physical Energy’.


What once again raises eyebrows is the marble statue of David Livingstone, which stands in the courtyard of Munhumutapa Building, a short distance from where Rhodes’s statue stood. We need to ask ourselves: Are vestiges of colonialism to be erased, preserved or celebrated? What is clear is that Zimbabwe has a conflicted relationship with its colonial past and relics.