Why the Name: Harare ?

A street of Harare, then Salisbury, in 1930

Many cities around the globe have had their names changed during colonization times (by Europeans colonizers) and were made to carry names foreign to the local people, as denoted in Bombay (Mumbai), Léopoldville (Kinshasa), and Canton (Guangdong) to name just a few. Ever since independence, many of these cities and countries have been renamed to reflect the local culture. Harare is one such city. Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe (which used to be Rhodesia during colonial times), used to be named Salisbury.

So what’s in a name? Well, a name is everything, and characterizes who you are, and your connection to the place. So why shouldn’t Bombay remain Bombay…. Why the need to change it back to Mumbai after over a century as Bombay? Well simply because Mumbai or Guangdong is the way the local people call it, and these cities and their names should be seen through their eyes and not those of a foreigner who oftentimes loathes the local people, and sees them as inferior.

Harare’s skyline today (Wikipedia)

Back to Harare… During the time that the British with the infamous Barbarian Cecil Rhodes ‘colonized’ the place, it was known as Fort Salisbury. The city was founded in 1890 by the Pioneer Column, a small military force in the service of the British South Africa Company, and named Fort Salisbury after the British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury. It retained the name Salisbury until 1982, when it was renamed Harare on the second anniversary of Zimbabwean independence.

zimbabwe_mapSo Harare, the most populous, and capital city of Zimbabwe owes its present-day name to a local Shona chief by the name of Ne-Harawa, whose name meant “He who does not sleep.” The name of the city was changed to Harare on 18 April 1982, taking its name from the village near Harare Kopje of the Shona chief Ne-Harawa. Prior to independence, “Harare” was the name of the black residential area (indigenous area where the Black locals where allowed to live) now known as Mbare. It used to also be known as the Sunshine City.

A Conical tower at Great Zimbabwe

Situated at an elevation of 1,483 metres (4,865 feet) above sea level, Harare’s climate falls into the subtropical highland category. Administratively, Harare is a metropolitan province. It is Zimbabwe’s leading financial, commercial, and communications centre, and a trade centre for tobacco, maize, cotton, and citrus fruits. Manufactured goods include textiles, steel and chemicals, and gold is mined in the area.

National Heroes Acre (ZimbabweTourism.org)

My Dad visited Harare in the early 90s and loved every part of it. So if you ever visit Harare, remember that its name is for “He who does not sleep, and enjoy its streets full of Msasa trees which color neighborhoods wine red in late August, and other streets filled with Jacaranda and Flamboyant trees. If you love colonial architecture, you will have your fill. If you are in search of African arts, visit the National Gallery (a side note, if you ever visit the Atlanta airport, one of the transition corridors is filled with Zimbabwean Shona sculptures); for flora lovers, the botanic garden is full of species only found there. The Mukuvisi Woodlands reserve is not too far, and you can visit the Shona village of Chapungu Kraal, as well as check out the Epworth rocks, the National Archives, and the Heroes Cemetery.

10 thoughts on “Why the Name: Harare ?

  1. Joseph Phillip

    It was great that Zimbabwe was a to free itself from the shackles of colonialism, but somewhere along the lines mistakes were made by Mugabe and the rest of the freedom fighters. I think they were too eager to to take fully control when the Black population was not ready. There should have been a gradual transition.


    1. For America to enjoy its status today, it took quite a few hundred years of mistakes… nobody ever mentions all the mistakes made by the American fathers of independence. Nothing happened overnight. People even forget that in the American declaration of independence, women (not to talk of minorities) are not even considered citizens.
      Just to say that perfection for brand new nations is not achieved overnight… it takes years of work, and when surrounded by greedy adversaries, one needs a long-term view because a lot of things will not work out in the first years.


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