With high unemployment and equally high property rentals, many of Harare's youths cannot afford privacy for their romantic encounters. As a result, the capital's largest public park, the Harare Gardens, is the meeting point for amorous youths.
I was in Harare Gardens recently, after several years without setting foot in the public park. I had been invited to a wedding in held there. The programme was running late so I took a roundabout route through the park. I was quite impressed with the condition of the gardens. The council may be failing in other areas of service delivery, but at least they remain committed to keep the flowers blooming in the parks. The benches are generally painted and in good repair. Rubbish bins are placed all over.
Harare Gardens - youth hangout zone
The majority of the people in the park were youngsters - between 16 and 24, with a few kids thrown in. Some lay on the grass, appearing to be just waiting for time to pass. I imagined that they were waiting for a phone-call or SMS. Others appeared to be studying as they pored over books. Children ran around and played games. I later found out that the children's play center in the park is still functional although some rides are out of use.
Lovers in the park
It was the lovers who really blew my mind. It seemed like there was a loving couple everywhere the eye coudl rest. I let my imagination soar as I tried to guess who these lovebirds were. The young couple taking selfies were courting and had come to the park to make precious memories. They could be students and did not have much money and both were still living at home so could not find private space there. Others could be married people keeping clandestine assignations in the park, I concluded. But whoever they may be, there is no doubt that the likes of Chicken Slice and Chicken Inn are getting good business from the lovers. Discarded food containers told their story.
Hormones out of control
Moving further into the park, the atmosphere had changed. It seemed as though the area had been declared a zone for the exclusive use of lovers wanting to get physical with each other. Openly smooching, the young people seemed unaware that they were in a very public place.
In some secluded enclaves, a few couples looked like they might soon take matters beyond the confines of public decency. I felt like a voyeur as I watched one young woman brazenly grab her companion's crotch. I quickly averted my eyes and walked past.
I caught up with two middle aged women who were walking towards Herbert Chitepo Road.
"This is disgraceful. These people have turned the park into a brothel," I heard one say.
"Is it normally like this?" I asked them after relating the incident that I had just witnessed.
"I've been coming this way for this past month as I go to see my daughter in hospital. Every weekend the park is like this. During the week it is okay," the woman replied.
Her companion said that she was sure that young people with no money to book hotel rooms had created a sex haven in the park.
"And these domestic workers on their weekend off come here with their lovers," she added.
Sundays and Saturdays are the worst
I let the two women take a path that would lead them to Herbert Chitepo while I branched off towards Leopold Takawira. I eventually came to busier path where a photographer was offering instant photo services. I paid him a dollar for an image of me hugging a huge tree with ridge-like roots so that I could engage him in conversation.
"People have sex here all the time, especially on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. If you go into that part there you will probably find them in action right now," he pointed towards the central area that I had so recently passed through. He said there is a part that is completely out of sight of the footpaths and it is there that many young people will escape to if intending to 'go all the way.'
"You will see condom wrappers all over the park before council workers clean the place up on Monday morning."
He said the park is only used by lovers during the day and very early evening.
"At night the homeless youths take over and no-one dares enter. Otherwise this would be a proper brothel," the photographer told me.
A municipal worker tending the flowers said that they chuck out any people who they catch getting too amorous.
Caught pants down
"Vamwe vakambosveredzwa nevanhu pano tavabatikidza masikati kumaThree. Asi hatizvitsvage hedu. (A couple was jeered by the people when we caught them pants down around three in the afternoon. But we do not really go searching for indiscreet lovers)," she said.
She admitted that used condoms are regularly found in the park, especially in the central part.
"These kids of today have no shame. They will have sex anywhere. The world is surely coming to an end," she concluded as she got back to work.
What about the children?
For the following three hours as I sat through the wedding proceedings I could not help wondering if somewhere in the park one couple or another was crossing the line at that moment. And if they continue unchecked will they not soon make all of Harare Gardens a sex haven. Where will the children from the nearby flats go to play? Maybe if the cops move in to arrest and fine offenders we may be allowed to keep this beautiful oasis in our city. Much as I agree that young people have a right to pleasurable sex, they must not have it in public places because we also have the right not to see them do it.