Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

A Scruffy Shanty Town December 2, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:57 am

I’ve just been reading the Bradt’s (ed. 3) guide to Mozambique and wanted to share the description of Beira:

“In its early days, Beira was a scruffy shanty town with a reputation as the most drunken, lawless settlement in Africa. At the start of the 20th century, the city boasted some 80 bars and a population of only 4,000, roughly a quarter of which consisted of Europeans, mostly of Portuguese or British origin. The town did not have the most amenable of settings: the company that built the railway line to Rhodesia lost 60% of its European staff to malaria in two years, and the surrounding area was so untamed that lions were frequently seen walking through the main street. …

[Today] it is quite possibly the most unpopular city in southern Africa, at least so far as travelers are concerned. Before arriving in Beira, I had received reports of an unfriendly, depressing, war-damaged slum, with nothing to see and a high incidence of crime against tourists, from travelers who had removed the city from their itineraries for precisely these reasons. So when I finally arrived in Beira, I was expecting the worst.

As it turned out, the city was yet another Mozambican victim of unjustified bad publicity and travelers’ Chinese whispers. For Beira is a town with character. OK, so it is rather run-down, though it appears to me that this is more through neglect than any direct war damage…and the city center itself is rapidly being restored to something approaching its pre-war condition. There is, of course, a great deal of poverty in Beira, but then so is there in any city in the so-called developing world, the difference being one of prominence: along with Maputo (Mozambique’s capital), Beira is one of the few places in Africa to have high-rise slums. As for the reported crime and unfriendliness, all I can say is that I felt pretty safe wandering around the city center at night, and I didn’t notice any hostility.

What Beira does have is a definite atmosphere, determined by its sticky Indian Ocean air, a quite preposterous mix of mismatched architectural styles, and a buzzing street and cafe life focused around the attractive city square and the bars in the grid of roads near the railway station and port. It’s a thriving, pleasant city, and with a bit of common sense I don’t think there’s anything to fear security-wise.”


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