Lovemore Chikova Development Dialogue

The 21-day lockdown announced by President Mnangagwa, which enters its 11th day today, has taught us vital lessons, apart from being so far effective in controlling the spread of Covid-19.

The President has been commending Zimbabweans for heeding the call to stay at home, as the country strives to register low figures of Covid-19 infection.

If the people continue to prioritise their safety by avoiding unnecessary movements, maintaining social distance and practising hygiene, then we might be on the right track.

It has since been proven that the basic line of defence against Covid-19 is taking the preventive measures seriously.

The lockdown, apart from teaching us how to deal with such a virus, has also brought a fresh look at issues, especially for a big city like Harare.

Harare has completely changed in a matter of days because of the lockdown, and it is everyone’s wish that the changes are maintained beyond the Covid-19 era.

Of course, there is no way the city can continue having empty streets after the lockdown, but there are a lot of positives that can be carried over from this experience.

One of the important observations is that from now on and beyond Covid-19, let those with nothing to do in the city centre simply stay in their residential areas or better still at their homes.

It is a fact that during times when everything is normal, the Harare city centre is always teeming with people who have completely no business being around there.

Vendors and pirate taxi operators, of course, have their own reasons of being on the city’s streets, but these too have become a nuisance with their presence already declared undesirable by both the council and the police.

The vendors have been creating problems for the city council as they block pavements and operate under unhygienic conditions.

They sometimes display their wares in front of shops which sell the same goods, thereby competing for customers with ratepayers.

The Harare City Council has been battling to clear the streets of illegal vendors, but it has been a hide-and-seek game for a long time.

With the lockdown which brought business to a halt in Harare, vendors too have been underground for the past 11 days.

The vendors will argue that they have no business in an empty city centre, but their disappearance should give the city council ample time to devise how to prevent them from returning.

The ideal situation would be for the illegal vendors to always stay away from the street pavements even in times where there is no threat from Covid-19.

It then becomes prudent that the city council maintains the status quo created by the lockdown in terms of keeping the vendors at bay, as this will enhance its vision of attaining world class status in the next five years.

Harare is the capital of Zimbabwe and is naturally expected to take a leading role befitting the hype surrounding its status.

Another threat to Harare’s ambitions has been coming from pirate taxi operators, and just like vendors, the city officials should ensure that these find it difficult to return to the streets.

In fact, the lockdown has since proved that these illegal taxi operators can actually stay at home and perhaps concentrate on something else, instead of causing havoc in the city centre.

There has always been no convincing reason from the city authorities why the pirate taxi operators, also known as mushikashika, seem to have the freedom to roam about the streets.

Illegal taxi operators have been responsible for congestion that characterises the city centre and some of the accidents caused by their reckless driving.

The pirate taxi drivers go through red traffic lights, drive against the flow of traffic, block lanes, especially during peak hours, and disregard the right of other drivers.

The city council is not expected to continue turning a blind eye to this blatant disregard of by-laws by some of its residents and there is no justification for the continued existence of pirate taxis whose drivers appear immune to prosecution.

The 21-day lockdown has seen the deployment of municipal police officers to numerous check-points within the city centre to remind motorists that they have to stay at home.

This municipal police presence is most welcome during this lockdown phase, but the ideal situation is that it continues even after this period to ensure law and order returns to the city.

The way the city council is operating during this lockdown period is a clear indication that with will and proper planning, the city centre can be cleared of vendors and pirate taxis.

It should dawn on the city officials that there is need to maintain order after the lockdown because Covid-19 will remain a threat even after this lockdown.

The presence of vendors, pirate taxi operators and loiters causes overcrowding under which contagious diseases thrive.

Therefore, preventing vendors and pirate taxi drivers from returning to the streets will be one of the greatest contributions by the city officials in effectively dealing with the spread of Covid-19 and other diseases caused by poor sanitation and overcrowding.

So, the work starts now.

The city officials should be devising means of how they will ensure no vendor or pirate taxi driver is on the streets the day the lockdown is declared over.

The lockdown should also give the city of Harare ample time to work on its water infrastructure so that residents continue to receive water from their taps even after the lockdown.

There are many areas in Harare which started receiving water during this lockdown period, after going for some time with dry taps.

It is also crucial to note that some areas continued without water during the lockdown, with residents queueing at boreholes, but this was not as widespread as it used to be.

Constant availability of water is important to prevent not only the spread of Covid-19, but other diseases caused by poor hygiene.

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