Monthly Archives: July 2014

When Not To Stop Aim And Shoot In Bulawayo

Whilst in Bulawayo Zimbabwe last week I spent a few days photographing sites and scenes around the city. I recently posted a blog of my visit to Centenary Park but today’s post will have no photographs.

On Sunday morning I went to the iconic Bulawayo Railway station, a place I had not visited since I was in high school some twenty years ago. On arrival I was impressed at how well maintained the main station entrance area is and it photographed really well in the morning light. I walked onto the platform and as I expected I found it in dire need of attention but much of the original structure is still intact.

The platform is a budding photographer’s dream with combinations of colonial and art deco architecture that have blended together over the decades as the station grew from it’s original structures. The long views down the railway lines as they disappear out the station to far off destinations. The iron struts that hold up the platform roof look like they have been there an eternity and will be there for an eternity still.

The faded advertising boards feature products that have not been seen anywhere in Zimbabwe for years, some since the eighties. Whilst quaint and photogenic, none of the advertising light boxes work anymore and I wonder when last anyone paid rent for the advertising space they still take up. There are no engines on the platform today, just fully loaded coal wagons and a few closed wagons possibly loaded, possibly empty. As I photograph a concrete pillar a passer-by says to me, “don’t get caught” I look up but he is already moved on so I continue with what I am doing.

I walk to the end of the tracks looking for the shot that will make my day and notice a guard sunning himself on a bench with his back to me. Not sure I have found what I wanted I make my way out of the station only to be stopped by a now wide awake security guard who asks me what I am doing. I tell him and he asks me to come with him, I ask why I should if I have done nothing wrong but he is insistent, politely so. After sparring for a few minutes like this I realise this will end badly if I continue to resist so I get in the car and we go to his office a short distance away.

At the office he asks to see my photographs so I show him, it is at this point that he tells me I have broken the law. He points to a notice on his wall which states there will be no unauthorised photography of any national railways structure or property and violation will result in a fine or jail time or both. Lucky for me we had had a cordial discussion so he allowed me to leave with a warning and advised me who I should seek permission from in future, a Mr. Masikati at the NRZ Head Office in town.

This was not the first time I had been stopped from taking photographs at a train station, a few months earlier at Johannesburg’s Park Station the guards there had threatened to take my phone but let me go when they realised I was a tourist.

Still reeling from that close shave I went across the road to shoot the power station who’s cooling towers are a famous Bulawayo landmark. No sooner had I taken my first shot a security guard comes across the road to usher me into the station’s guard house. Turns out it is a criminal offence to photograph any power installation punishable by a prison sentence, a US$2000,00 fine or both. Mr. Banda, the guard, told me i had broken the law and that he was required to call state security, known locally as the President’s Office, believe me, these are the last people you ver want to deal with. I asked why this was so serious an offence he explained thus:

If Zimbabwe was to ever come under attack the two places to first be neutralised would be the power and fuel supplies therefore all such installations are regarded as national key points requiring the highest security. He then asked to see my photographs and asked me to delete them as he watched. I was gutted but grateful the situation didn’t go further than it did, I may not have been here today to write this.

You know how they say bad things happen in threes? Turns out fate was not done with me yet, fast forward to Friday, my last morning in Bulawayo. After shooting in Centenary Park I walked to the council buildings looking for unique angles for my blogpost. I hand’t taken five shots before a security guard approached me and the now familiar dance began. “Who are you, where are you from and what are you doing? Let me see your photographs because what you’re doing is not allowed. Ok last warning, don’t do it again, be gone.” After a great morning shoot in the park this was deeply frustrating, to make matters worse, the guard told me they were simply enforcing a verbal instruction from some superior and he was not even sure if it was enforceable.

Whilst I can appreciate national security concerns I find barring tourists from taking photographs of state structures is an archaic and unenforceable regulation. You would think the station in a city that suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in history would have the most restrictive measures but no, New York City’s Grand Central Station has an Instagram account and hundreds of photos are uploaded daily by travellers passing through it. Johannesburg’s Gautrain has no problem with photographers at it’s stations or on it’s trains as long as they don’t cause a danger to themselves or others.

In Zimbabwe the people expected to enforce these rules are bored and disinterested, you just have to google these places and you will find hundreds of photos. In an age of drones and spy satellites who would walk up to the front gate of a national key point in broad daylight and start taking photographs in full view of security personnel? This is an example of technology outpacing technology and those who write our laws are woefully ill-equipped to meet this challenge.

Until that day, take this as a word of advice from one who got lucky twice in fifteen minutes on a Sunday morning, you may not be so lucky when next you’re out gramming wherever you are.

A Centenary Of Childhood Memories (Part 1)

Over the last four weeks I have travelled to various parts of Zimbabwe and South Africa on  what started out as a trip to Kimberley to see family but has evolved into quite an adventure. One of these adventures was a visit I made yesterday to Centenary Park in Bulawayo Zimbabwe.

The last time I went to the park must have been over twenty years ago despite driving past it numerous times over the years. Growing up in Bulawayo in the eighties Centenary Park was an integral part of our life with many a happy Sunday family outing spent there enjoying the numerous attractions for all ages. I could write to no end about the mini train that took you on a ride around the park or the mini-golf course I never got a chance to play because I was too young to be interested. There was a sailing pool for model boats where I remember watching those who had them sail them as I wondered to myself why I didn’t have one. I remember the skating rink which I never got to try because I never owned roller-skates. I remember the life-size chess board and pieces in the gardens that we would imagine were real and came alive at night to do battle before becoming statues again just before dawn. I remember the wishing well and the many people I saw cast coins into it making silent wishes, meanwhile my brother and I would scheme on how we could fish out all those coins and be rich, rich, rich. I remember the zoo with impala and zebra, the aviary with all kinds of wonderful birds and the amphitheatre though I can’t tell you of a single event that happened there.

I remember all these things but what I remember most of all was the place where I spent most of my time, the playground. The sound of the swings and merry-go-rounds as they swung and spun. The thud of hundreds of feet running in all directions, the joyous sounds of youth unleashed. The inevitable tears when somebody got hurt that were quickly forgotten when the next game began or your turn on the slide was up. I remember the tank we used to play in, yes a military tank, I even remember the smell inside it when we would pretend we were at war blasting away at an invisible enemy.

That was many years ago now and although I knew the park was now run down nothing could have prepared me for the state I found the playground in.

There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.

There used to be two train engines here but now there is only one. The paintwork is fresh though.

The train doesn’t run here anymore but the station and the track are still there from what I could see.

The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.

The railway line is still there but I have no idea when last it was used.

I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.

I remember this tunnel being a lot more imposing, but then, I was nine.

Bulawayo is known for it’s tree-lined streets, most famous are the jacarandas that bloom in late October. The park was always home to many different trees and thankfully they are still there for the most part.

Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.

Dawn breaks behind a dying tree that has probably stood here longer than anyone in Bulawayo today has been alive.

In the playground you could be a King, a general or the lord of the jungle, your only limit was your imagination.

The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.

The castle fort where many a battle were fought in an effort to be King.

The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.

The highest of highs upon the tallest slide ever built, or so we thought.

One moment you're on top of the world the next you're picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.

One moment you’re on top of the world the next you’re picking yourself up off the ground, dusting yourself off and getting ready to go again. Just mind the jagged rusty edges.

what games did you play when you were growing up?

what games did you play when you were growing up?

In the years since I became an adult I have often wondered about the intention behind putting a military vehicle that had literally killed people in a children’s playground. Was it some effort at mental manipulation, some plots to desensitise us to violence? I don’t know but i think for the most part we turned out alright.

There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can't get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.

There used to be a tank here. I remember the cannon and the caterpillar tread. Also, this vehicle is sealed so you can’t get in, unlike our tank in the eighties.

It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.

It all looks so innocent and playful, the children are none the wiser.

All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.

All broken dreams once gave someone hope, meaning. Some broken dreams can be restored and realised.

This playground is in fact a microcosm of what has happened across Bulawayo, a city that is today barely a ghost of it’s past. It pains me to see the playground of my youth reduced to a dusty field of broken children’s toys, their dreams broken on the rusty iron of military surplus junk, but I live in hope that the glory that once was Centenary Park can be restored. It honestly wouldn’t take that much but for now I fear the imagination of children is lacking in the City Fathers.