Cry our beloved ‘Sunshine City’
Isdore Guvamombe Reflections
In the mid-1990s, I left my village in Guruve to work in Harare and it was a city of bliss and flamboyance. My uncle Obedience Masakara, who was streetwise aat the time, took me around the city centre to familiarise, and after trudging the length and breadth of the city he insisted we have pictures taken at the Africa Unity Square, just outside Herald House where I was about to start work. I did not understand his reasoning and tired, I obliged, albeit grudgingly.
There we were in front of the fountain, surrounded by lush greenery, posing for photos. It was amazing. In front of us was a Zimbabwean flag, flying high in colours of life. Many people competed for Kodak moments.
Only yesterday I looked at the picture and realised how things have changed for the worst in Harare. The current city fathers are a shame.
Everyone who has lived in Harare for the past two decades or so has painfully watched the capital city lose its past glory and the moniker Sunshine City disappear from the lips of all and sundry.
More than a decade without a drop of tap water for some suburbs, mounds of uncollected garbage, wafting stinks of air from the grid-lined alleys, commuter omnibuses that rattle, screech and stop at will in the CBD, tells nothing but the story of a dying city. Cry our beloved Harare.
Where children played, the land has been grabbed. Official recreational facilities have either been run down, vandalised or grabbed. Where bus stop shades used to be, there is nothing, where market stalls were, it is now history. And, the MDC-Alliance that runs the council is preoccupied with grabbing power from the ruling party, stripping the council of its assets and stealing land.
Dirty buildings, unkempt lawns, uncut grass, corruption and lawlessness have become the order of the day in town, in a brazen failure to adhere to city by-laws.
It is not an over- exaggeration that this is by far the most corrupt council in the history of Zimbabwe. Everything is going in the wrong direction except land grabbing and lining their own pockets. History and time, the most reliable contemporary teachers of all time, will judge the current crop of councillors as the worst, the most corrupt and indeed the most thoughtless.
The past year has been tellingly stinking of corruption and land grabs. No service delivery. They cannot even come up with a billing system. They cannot even carry out meter readings and rely on estimates; cooking up figures. They cannot control touts and vendors. These councillors honestly do nothing but feed their egos, pockets and stomachs.
It defies imagination that the city, which literally drinks from its sewage — hence the use of high cost and abnormally more purifying chemicals — still has the audacity to lose up to 60 percent of its treated water, between its Morton Jaffray Water Treatment Plant and the consumer. This is terrible by all standards.
It is, therefore, laughable when the council talks of the need to build new dams to supply water to the city, instead of plugging the leakages first, then see how much more is needed.
For starters, we all know that in the recent past the Harare City Council got money to build new water delivery infrastructure from a Chinese company and that the first thing they did was buy top-of-the-range cars for themselves. And, when MDC-Alliance, the mother of the councillors, does not raise even a whisker about it, it tells you of the politics it is built around; the politics of plunder and destruction.
In the high-density suburbs, roads have become dotted with potholes, some of which one could fish from during the rainy season. Diseases abound! Even there, erratic water supplies have become the order of the day. Residents are drilling boreholes and wells are built within centimetres of sewer systems. No one controls it and no one seems to know that there is seepage. But by-laws are there.
Uncollected garbage in high-density suburbs has seen people creating dumpsites that are, in fact, a breeding ground for the same diseases that backfire to hound the communities. Dumping sites are now a common sight.
The MDC-Alliance city fathers who run the council have no clue how to solve the problems. Only now that the Government has intervened and tried to sort out roads and the chaos is there a twinkle of hope.
The councillors running Harare are a lost generation of politicians, clueless individuals, whose main preoccupation has been looting council property and grabbing land.
All open spaces, genially referred to as green lungs, the spaces from which the city oxygenates, have been grabbed and structures are now in place. The council’s land distribution system is chaotic, corrupt, thoughtless and self-serving. It is bankrupt of proper planning.
But certainly much thought must be applied for feasible long-term solutions without those at Town House making themselves look silly and thoughtless.
This council cannot even maintain the water fountain in Africa Unity Square, the signature of the town’s green lungs?
But some people, whom it appears to me, accidentally found themselves at Town House, have become so clueless and thoughtless that their solution is to loot and bring the city to its knees.
How silly? Instead of investing in high salaries, the city fathers, mothers and sisters and indeed boys, must invest in sub-terrain traffic, railway lines, inter-suburb trains, clean water, overhead and skirting roads for those who have nothing to do in the city centre. They must invest in decongesting the city centre.
At the moment, motorists are forced to pass through the city centre where they have no business but cause congestion, while the city leaders are clueless.
In many cities in the world, where I have been, city authorities have prioritised and, not only prioritised, but invested heavily in transport systems that decongest the CBD. They have also invested in suburban shopping malls where everything found in the city is also found in the townships. There, people find no reason to go into town.
Councils the world over have also invested heavily in attitude change. Harare residents must be sensitised on the need to avoid unnecessary traffic into the CBD and using routes that skirt the city centre. Council should make those roads passable by maintaining them.
Harare residents must be taught to change their attitude and understand that one cannot vend anywhere; there are designated points. Council should indeed invest in attitude. Attitude change involving littering, jay-walking, vending and even driving.
From where I stand there are too many people seeing nothing at Town House, we need real people and mature people. In my village, an elderly man seated on a stool sees much further than a boy perched on a tall tree. It seems to me that we need more mature thinkers at Town House than the current crop. At this rate those at Town House are actually taking the town back and not forward.
Good thinking tells you that when a man is stung by a bee, he doesn’t set off to destroy the beehives. Never! Yes, the city council is stung by traffic problems, water problems, service delivery problems but they cannot find a solution.
My elders have always said it takes a fool to look for dung where the cow never browsed; the City of Harare is looking for solutions in the wrong place.
They need to think, rethink, consult. The Mayor, Clr Herbert Gomba, is a mere loudmouth and master of deception.
He is a sweet talker who delivers nothing. He is watching things fall apart. He is merely politicking and yet Harare urgently needs serious and more practical thinkers.
Well, I have relatives and friends at Town House and am sure they are frowning and wondering why I am attacking their system. But, you see, a frown on a goat’s face does not stop the farmer from taking it to the market.
Nothing is built from bootlicking. We must call a spade a spade.
The current council is a waste of time. It has brought more misery than joy. It has destroyed hope. Hope of a better city. Hope of the Sunshine City. Everyone wants service delivery.
The people of Harare are angry. They are bitter. They have been taken for granted for too long. The council has lost the trust of the residents.
They have great ideas when it comes to lining their pockets but archaic ones when it comes to service delivery.
The residents of Harare should start a new lease of life. What they are going through cannot be justified.
The failure is monumental.