Of suburb names and colonial hangover


HARARE is the capital, and most populous, city of Zimbabwe.
Situated in the north-east of the country in the heart of Mashonaland, the city has an estimated population of 2,8 million.
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.
Company administrators demarcated the city and ran it until Southern Rhodesia achieved responsible Government in 1923.
To date, the city has 135 suburbs.
And out of those, only 10 suburbs have Shona names.
Most of Harare’s suburbs have colonial names.
It could be a name of a former white settler or white-owned farm or just an English name of a certain place in England.
Borrowdale, Avondale, Alexandra, Emerald Hill, Highfield, Belvedere, among others, are some of the suburbs.
Very few suburbs today have African names, values or even ancestors; Mbare, Chisipiti, Kambuzuma, Budiriro, Kuwadzana, Dzivaresekwa, Mabvuku, Tafara are among the few.
It is pitiful that even new suburbs have chosen English names: Bloomington, New Caledonia, Crowhill, Westlea, Southlea Park and so on.
This week we explore how some of the suburbs earned their names.
Situated north of the city centre, Avondale is the earliest suburb established in Harare, having been laid out in 1903.
Prior to becoming a suburb, Avondale was a dairy farm. It was named after County Wicklow, Ireland – the home of 19th Century Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell by Edward O’Connell Farrell. He was a veterinary surgeon attached to the occupation forces. Avondale was incorporated into the Salisbury Municipality in 1934.
The first official marriage ceremony in colonial Rhodesia took place on Avondale Farm in 1894.
Borrowdale is one of the leafy and most sought after suburbs in Harare. It has the most expensive settlements in real estate.
Borrowdale was named after a pioneer Henry Borrow. Borrow set up the area as an estate which combined residential and farming areas. The estate consisted of 22 275 hectares of land spreading out northwards. The estate was purchased at the price of 17,5 pence per hectare.
Borrow worked with his colleagues Heany and Johnson to produce vegetables and other horticulture products on the farm.
It is reported that Borrow built a dam on Borrowdale Brooke River in 1892 to irrigate crops on the farm. The name Borrowdale comes from Borrow.
Emerald Hill
A north-western suburb of Harare, named so because of either the green colour of the hill due to the large number of trees or a possible Irish connection – many of the roads in the suburb have Irish names.
Roads like Dublin, Belfast and Berkshire are some of the names which have an Irish connection. Dublin is the capital of Ireland and the largest city while Belfast is another city in Northern Ireland.
The second-oldest high-density suburb in Harare was established in 1930. It was established for black settlement during the colonial Rhodesia era.
Highfield was primarily set up by the white settler-colonial Government to provide labour to the Southerton and Workington industrial areas. In England, the name Highfield is found in Southampton, Sheffield, Bolton and Wigan, among other cities.
Some of the places in Harare have names from England like Belgravia, Kensington, Belvedere and Hillside, among others.
Mabelreign is a north-western suburb of Harare. History has it that in 1892, Edward Walter Kermode claimed a farm and registered it as ‘Spring Valley Range’.
He arrived in the country from the Isle of Man with the Pioneer Column as a personal servant of Archibald Colquhoun, (who has a street named after him in the Avenues in Harare) the country’s first administrator.
Shortly after registering the farm, in 1895, Kermode returned to the Isle of Man where he married.
Mabelreign was named after Miss Mabel Mann, who was a fiancée of a surveyor named Harry Sawenthal.
Miss Mann laid claim to the land despite the fact that the title was already held, and apparently, she got away with it. Kermode’s son then subdivided the farm to Monavale derived from Mona’s Isle, Meyrick (his mother’s maiden name), Sentosa — a Malayan word meaning peaceful and Greencroft.
The origins of the name ‘Mabvuku’ are not very certain. Possibly from the Shona ‘bvuku’, ideophone for ‘emerging’, to denote the water sprouting out of the numerous swamps in the area.
Ma (place of) + bvuku (emerging waters) is a plausible etymology. Mabvuku was the home of the VaShawasha people before colonisation. The Shawasha people of the Soko Mbire clan settled in this area about 300 years ago.
Mabvuku, as opposed to the present day site of Chishawasha, is the native home of these people. The present site of Chishawasha village became prominent with the
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establishment of the oldest Catholic Mission Church there. The ancestors of the Shawasha people are commemorated in the street and road names of Old Mabvuku, namely, Tingini, Godzonga, Marembo, Chauruka, Nyamare, Nyahuni, Chaitezwi, Nzvere and Shambare.
This was Salisbury’s first high-density suburb (township) and was established in 1907. At the time, it was located near the city sewage works, cemetery and abattoir. Its original name was Harare (Harari) Township, but the suburb’s name was changed to Mbare when the city of Salisbury was re-named Harare at Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Harare is a corruption of Haarari, which means ‘One who never sleeps’. It is named after Mbari, of the Shumba Guru Rendoro totem who used to reside in present day Matapi.
Waterfalls is a residential suburb in the south of Harare. The neighbourhoods within Waterfalls are Derbyshire, Grobbie Park, Houghton Park, Induna Park, Midlands, Mainway Meadows, Malvern (named after Sir Godfrey Huggins, who later became Lord Malvern), Parktown, Uplands and Shortstone. The suburb was named after the rapids on the Mukuvisi River which flows through the Houghton Park/Parktown areas.
Newlands was named by Colin Duff, the secretary for Agriculture in the 1920s, who had played for Western Province before heading north. When Gerhardt Van der Byl retired back to the Cape in 1927, he sold his farm Welmoed to the Salisbury Real Estate Co, a property vehicle owned largely by Scotsmen, who decided on the name Highlands, partly because it is one of the highest pieces of ground in Harare, but largely because they wanted to have a Scottish flavour about the project. The first road to be cut was called Argyle Drive.
A Certificate of Occupation was granted to a German, George Haupt, and Greendale Farm was transferred to Haupt and Henry Spreaker trading as Haupt and Co. on December 17 1892. Haupt, an engineer from the Rhine Valley, was one of the first people to follow the occupation forces into the country. It is not known how the name came about, but 1890 saw considerable rainfall (Father Hartmann measured it at 63 inches, or about twice our normal mean average of 850mm a year) – a record that was only challenged by the 2008 rain season.
Mount Pleasant
Little is known about the genesis of Farm No 10, which was called Mount Pleasant, as the original owner is not known. John Kiddle sold it to Mollie Colenbrander for £100 after owning it for only five days. However, because of water issues, no development took place until 1902 when it was acquired by the Cape Town property developer Alfred Blackburn, who also acquired and subdivided Avondale.
Milton Park
Situated west of Harare’s city centre, Milton Park was named after Sir William Milton, the ‘much-respected’ administrator from 1898-1914, who was known as the ‘Father of the Civil Service’. The street names in the suburb are all of former mayors. William Harvey Brown (1909-1910), J. Van Praagh (1900-1901), James Lawson (1913), William Ernest Fairbridge (1897-1898 first mayor of Salisbury) and H. L. Lezard (1914-15).
The place was named after the area where the Meikles came from, in Scotland. Thomas Meikles was one of the members of the infamous ‘Looting Committee’, created to steal Ndebele cattle after the 1893 War of Dispossession. The majority of the cattle was used as capital for the Meikles business ventures which include the Meikles Hotel in Harare. More than 350 000 cattle were looted by Meikle and his Looting Committee.
Alexandra Park
This suburb was named in honour of Queen Alexandra to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.
Hatfield was named after the ancestral home of the Marquess of Salisbury. It was first settled on by Robert Snodgrass and David Mitchell, two transport riders who made a lot of money selling whisky to the settlers in 1891. The partnership broke up shortly after another property, a subdivision of the farm Willowvale, which was given the name of Ardbennie, had been acquired. William Edward Webb was granted title to Prospect in 1894 although little is known of his activities. In England there is a place named Hatfield in Hertfordshire.
Warren Park
It is a high-density suburb located west of the city centre. It was named after cousins Robert and Hebert Warren who came from the Eastern Cape, South Africa. They pegged their farm on present-day Warren Park. Hebert left Rhodesia in 1892 after Robert contracted blackwater fever and died in November 1891.
Arlington is a new residential settlement east of the capital adjacent to Harare International Airport. Owned by former mayor of Salisbury, Brown named his farm Arlington farm. He was from Iowa and joined occupational forces to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
Glen View
Glen View and Glen Norah used to be a farm owned by one Baxter. Glen Norah got its name from Norah, who was Baxter’s wife. ‘Glen’ is old English for narrow valley. So used in conjunction, it became Norah’s valley while Glen View, on higher ground, gave the view of the valley.
High Glen Road was part of the farm to Mukuvisi River. The Africans used to call the place KwaBhakasta. The farm house is at present day St Peter’s Kubatana. The gum trees in that area were in the farm and today the place is nicknamed Mapuranga. The park in Glen Norah was a dam on the farm that until the mid-1960s was in existence before the farm was developed into a residential area. Before that, people used to buy cheap pork skins and bones from Baxter Farm.
This place of controversey today was named after the Methodist founder’s birthplace, Epworth. It was one of the farms selected by Reverends Watkins and Shimmin of the Methodist Church. In England, Epworth is found in North Lincolnshire.
The issue of suburbs named after former white settlers is not peculiar to Harare alone.
Almost every urban settlement in Zimbabwe has one or two suburbs named by colonialists.
In Chegutu there are Hartley Hills and Waverly in Kadoma named by colonialists way before independence.
In Bulawayo, suburbs have been named after Pioneer Column members like Paddonhurst, after Major Cecil Paddon.
Newton is an estate name together with Parklands. Rangemore was adopted from the original estate name together with Raylton.
Romney Park suburb was named after George Romney, a British painter.
However, there are several suburbs in the City of Kings and Queens that celebrate our names.
The leafy suburbs of Khumalo, Matsheamhlophe, Mqabuko Heights, Ilanda, Mhlangeni, Malindela, Mahatshula and high density suburbs such as Lobengula, Nkulumane, Nketa, Pumula, Njube, Tshabalala, Makokoba and Magwegwe, among others, reflect the society of the majority in the City.
The issue of naming suburbs is a contentious issue in Zimbabwe.
The classic case is that of the residents of present day Westlea, next to Warren Park in Harare.
Residents bought stands in that area and held a meeting at which they argued to have the new suburb named Westlea.
It is said one of the arguments was that a European name would ensure that their houses would accrue a high property value as people would think white people also stayed there.
They convinced the Harare City Council to adopt the name Westlea.
But the question that begs an answer is: What’s in a name?
Does a Shona name diminish the structures in a suburb or make the property of less value?
If it did houses in Matsheamhlophe in Bulawayo and Madokero in Harare would be sold for a song in these upmarket settlements.
But Africans know that a name means everything.


  1. “The classic case is that of the residents of present day Westlea, next to Warren Park in Harare.
    Residents bought stands in that area and held a meeting at which they argued to have the new suburb named Westlea.
    It is said one of the arguments was that a European name would ensure that their houses would accrue a high property value as people would think white people also stayed there.
    They convinced the Harare City Council to adopt the name Westlea.”

    but it is not right that residents of westlea wanted an english name after all warren park itself is an english word. westlea residents were upset that the same colonial laziness of naming black townships as 1,2,3, etc as in zengeza 1,2,3 or warren park a,D, 2,3, etc was set to continue with naming of their suburb as warren park extension. They quite rightfully argued for an alternative name and settled for westlea as a counter to eastlea on the eastern side of samora machel avenue. kudos to them for standing up to colonial laziness nonsense.


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