Part 1 – The Setup and catalyst for the sequence of events can be brought back to the dual patterns of urbanization, which in our case is spurred in 1891 by the settlement of Fort Salisbury by the British South Africa Company (BSAC).
6 April 1652. The arrival of Jab Van Riebeeck in what is known today as Table Bay, marks the beginning of the permanent settlement of white people in Southern Africa. As the 1748 map of Cape Town shows, the city was established as a prototype of a company town for the VOC (Dutch United East India Company). Meanwhile roughly two thousand five hundred kilometres North North East, many »dzimba-dza-mabwe« (or »houses of stones« in Shona language) occupy the plateau, vestige of a civilization dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth century.
The project of greedy extraction of resources from the African continent is for the settlers the occasion to write their own reading of history. These parallel stitches manifested through two drawings, one by Karl Mauch, the first German geologist to visit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe in 1871 and publicize them to the Western world, which illustrates settlement activity around great Zimbabwe, and the second by Percy Wagner, which shows Pre-European Mine Workings and Settlements in 1929.
The punctual graphic of the maps is intriguing when combined with the linear arrival of the railway tracks. Railway infrastructure is customarily alluded to as the permanent way in reference to regular cadence of its composition: a pair of parallel rails laid firmly on sleepers or ties that are embedded in ballast, which repeat unvaryingly across any landscape. But the lines, again here a reference to Foucault’s definition of dispositif, can be crossed, bend back, meander, go underground, turn back on itself, act/affect itself, break.
However, in Harare, as in many other African cities, railway lines represent a division, a barrier. In this they act according to the scheme well illustrated by René Schoentjes’ drawing »Schéma d’une ville congolaise« published in the Bulletin des Séances Koninklijk Belgisch Koloniaal Instituut, Brussels, in 1933. What the architectural engineer from the Ministry of Colonies draws is a grid where, for »hygienic reasons« a »neutral zone« separates the »European« and »native« areas. With a total width of 500 metres, this was, according to its designer, the maximum range of a malaria carrying mosquito. Through multiple iterations across continents, this will become the blueprint of a segregated city, where healthy and technocratic measures become nothing other than a divisive racist tool.
Much like the measurement of leagues travelled by seafaring colonisers, the pace of land colonization and issues of land ownership were derived from the proliferation of infrastructure such as roads and railways. In other words, shifting railway gauges informed the cadastre of land privatization appropriated from Indigenous communities, which parcelled large arable spaces to white settlers and small units of arid land was left for local Black laborers.
In between the parts of the divided city lies the hole of the railway yards, the site of our investigation. To question and read it we borrow from De Boeck and Baloji’ conceptualization of the hole »to express the dismal quality of living in a city in today’s postcolonial urban context.«5 Looking at the traces of the void left behind by the extractive process, our research traces stratigraphic investigations into Harare, an ontological paradigm analogous to other artificial African agglomerations.
By manifesting how the city was built on farms, promoting subdivision and dispossession, and forcing native housing in hostels, the analysis points to African ideas about landscape (nyika) as holistic. In this regard the establishment of neighbouring »reserves« (ruzevha n., plu: mar-, Tribal Trust Land), where white settlers relegated black inhabitants, – in connection with the land tenure process and concentration of means of extraction/production/cultivation leads is a clear strategy. When looked at from the sky, both the Chimandura »native« reserve in the basolith and the railway yards emerge as examples of a hole.