“Segregate the garbage you generate, or get set to pay a fine” read one of the stories in The Hindu, a daily newspaper in India.
This was in reference to the imposition of penalties for the serious problems of littering, spitting, urinating, open defecation and other acts of nuisance on roads, bus and train stations, playgrounds, parks and premises of public utility.
A similar scenario is in the offing in Zimbabwe after government last week, through Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister Ignatius Chombo, announced it was taking a tough stance against litterbugs who have turned most of Zimbabwe’s towns and cities into an eyesore.
The move comes at a time illegal dumping areas have mushroomed in almost all urban residential areas as well as the central business districts (CBDs), with Harare, once regarded as one of the cleanest cities in Africa, particularly affected.
During the colonial period and until the late 1990s, Harare was known as the “Sunshine City” because of its beauty and clean environment. In those days it was rare to find litter on the streets, especially in the CBD, where municipal workers were always on standby to pick up any rubbish while dustbins were found on just about every street corner.
But now, even historically clean streets such as Harare’s First Street are now strewn with litter and spoilt by signs of general decay.
Chombo announced at the launch of government’s mega clean-up campaign at Mbare-Musika last Friday that government had instructed all local authorities to review their by-laws so that littering becomes a punishable offence.
Chombo also said public transport operators without trash bins in their vehicles would be penalised.
Harare Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi waded in, announcing people found littering would pay fines or perform community service to curb illegal dumping of litter.
“… We have by-laws, but they were not punitive enough, hence we will send our proposal to the government so that we can have them enshrined in the Urban Councils Act,” Mahachi said.
“In terms of fines for littering, we will propose say US$20 to US$25 for individuals, US$50 for commuter omnibus operators and US$100 for bus owners and companies. These are only proposals.”
Senior Minister of State Simon Khaya Moyo, Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Tourism minister Walter Mzembi and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, among others, were part of the clean-up campaign, as government attempts to drive home the anti-littering message.
While most residents believe the government is right to take action on littering, there is also a belief that the country’s cities and towns have become dirty because of the government’s failure to provide social services.
“They should lead the way by providing the same sort of services they were providing when the cities were clean,” said Miriam Nyangoni of Warren Park.
“As long as refuse is not being removed regularly, then the problem of littering will continue. Long back, refuse would be removed every week without fail. There was a timetable which the city council adhered to, and you would not find people littering.”
City councils are currently struggling to offer decent service to residents, with neighbourhoods sometimes going for weeks and even months before refuse is collected. This has left residents with few options but to empty the bins at undesignated places close to their homes. Even in the city centre, the site of skip bins overflowing with uncollected litter is not uncommon.
Section 83 of the Environment Management Agency prohibits littering while also giving property owners the responsibility of ensuring cleanliness at their places.
“No person shall discard, dump or leave any litter on any land or water surface, street, road or site in or at any place except in a container provided for that purpose or at a place which has been specially designated, indicated, provided or set apart for such purpose,” reads Sub-section 1.
Sub-sections 2 and 3 read: “An owner of a transport conveyance shall ensure that no litter is thrown from his transport conveyance.
However, a stroll in the streets of Harare revealed there were very few dustbins in and around the CBD with both the Harare City Council and property owners culpable. Even at public places such as commuter omnibus termini bins are scarce.
The chairperson of the Combined Harare Residents Association Simbarashe Moyo said littering was a serious concern because of the dirt in both the CBD and residential areas.
“But I believe the government is being heavy-handed by suggesting heavy fines and community service. They are presupposing that we have enough infrastructure to deal with littering, which is not the case,” he said. “Before they start fining people, they should make sure the infrastructure is there. They should provide enough dustbins and collect refuse regularly.
“In addition, they should educate the public on the dangers of littering. We need a multi-pronged approach and we need everyone’s buy-in for the programme to succeed. People should stop littering not because they are afraid of fines, but because they want a clean environment.”
Harare City Council spokesperson Leslie Gwindi said the residents’ views were valid.
“We will seek to improve on all those areas. We will play our part,” he said.