Peter Matambanadzo Senior Reporter
The Celebration Centre building in Borrowdale was allegedly constructed without Harare City Council approval and has been operating illegally since 2006. According to documents in our possession, the city’s fire department claims certain material used to construct the 3 100-seat auditorium, rendered the building a fire hazard as they do not meet model building by-laws which is a set of construction standards on safety.
Investigations by The Herald show that Hear the Word Ministries, now Celebration Ministries International, got authority from the Local Government, Public Works and Urban Development Ministry to occupy the building on condition that they meet some stipulated conditions.
According to a document signed by Local Government Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo, the church was to provide additional fire protection in the form of a sprinkler system by July 30, 2006.
Dr Chombo said the building should have a ready telephone link with the Fire Brigade by April 30, 2006 and all fire escape doors should have panic bolts for emergency escapes by May 30 of the same year.
The minister said that by September 30, 2006 additional hydrants required by the Fire Brigade should have been installed.
Dr Chombo said upon meeting these conditions the church should then obtain a certificate of occupation from council.
The municipality on Friday confirmed that the building was operating without approval and work was underway to regularise its use.
“Once that process is done the owners will be issued with a certificate of occupation. The work involves a fire rating assessment of the building material to establish how long it takes to evacuate the 3 000 seater building in the event of a fire,” the city’s corporate communications division said.
The building, the city said, was constructed using unapproved materials.
“We therefore condemned the building and issued a notice that the building was in use at owner’s risk. The city has not issued the owners with a certificate of occupation.”
The Fire Brigade distanced itself from the minister’s letter claiming that it was not aware of the application for a departure certificate for stand number 17445 Harare Township, 162 Swan Drive, Borrowdale West.
“We do not know who was consulted when the ministry set out the listed conditions. It will be unfair for the Fire Brigade to be expected to endorse a document that we were not part to,” Chief Fire Officer Mr Saviour Mugava said in a letter dated July 6, 2006 to Harare’s acting chamber secretary.
In an interview last week, Mr Mugava said the building was not yet regularised.
He said the church structure was constructed using steel and boards in breach of city by laws and posed safety concerns.
“It’s a public building. It has to have solid building brick work of at least nine inch walls and concrete columns to make the structure strong and safe for the public,” he said.
“The structure does not resemble the building plan and it’s not safe to the public and cause problems for fire fighting.”
Mr Mugava said the Fire Department suggested that the church erect a plaque at its entrance stating that the public should enter at its own risk.
Contacted for comment a spokesperson at Celebration Centre who refused to identify himself said: “We are at a church service. We don’t jump to your beat. You should come during the week.”
He asked The Herald to disclose its source before hanging up.
Celebration Centre, in their application for a departure certificate, argued that they used galvanised steel frame technology.
Deacon Misheck Humure said the technology was used extensively in the United States, Europe and other parts of Africa. The church said the technology was cost-effective compared to conventional building methods and reduced construction times.