City council putting cart before the horse

HARARE City Council, which curiously entertains the lofty ambition of attaining World Class City status by 2025 despite the enormity of challenges it is grappling with, service delivery-wise, has warned it would in the next two weeks demolish about 20 illegal settlements scattered in the city.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

Council authorities say following a housing audit, they have written letters to culprits who have built structures in undesignated areas advising them they have two weeks to demolish their own properties or council would do it for them.

With politics at play, council is woefully incapable of halting mushrooming illegal settlements in areas including Hopley Farm, Mabvuku, Waterfalls, Chitungwiza, Glen Norah and even Borrowdale.

Its lame excuse last year that it would only act after a land audit when illegal settlements were sprouting up in various areas literally overnight exposed the cluelessness of the authorities.

What is the logic in council waiting and watching as patently illegal structures are completed so that it can carry out a “land audit” before demolishing them — which is costly to property owners and council itself?

This confirms suspicions local authorities are at the mercy of politicians, more so during the run up to national elections. Many of the settlements sprouted up prior to the 2013 general elections when land barons and bogus cooperatives claiming to belong to the ruling Zanu PF party illegally dished out land to attract votes and raise cash. It is a measure of council’s impotence that it was forced to turn a blind eye instead of acting from the get-go to restore order by enforcing council by-laws.

The widespread illegal settlements are but one of several factors in the worsening service delivery conundrum Harare faces, reducing its World Class City ambitions to mere pretense. The city cannot put the cart before the horse: before aiming for global status, it must first attain mere normality which has long since deserted the former Sunshine City.

According to Harare’s City Council’s website “a World Class City is one that has eight or more attributes of a modern city”.

These include “effective urban planning and management, decentralisation policies and appropriate institutions, a system that creates equal opportunities for all, participation of civil society, elected local officials, a favourable business environment, access to basic amenities and public transport and mobility”. How many of these can Harare honestly tick?

But most Harare residents would be eternally grateful if council could just regularly collect garbage choking neighbourhoods and streets, supply adequate tapped water that at least looks potable, patched gaping potholes and repaired street lights, restored order in the CBD, improved health facilities and paid its workers around the time salaries are due — not months later.

Before setting itself goals that do not resonate with the majority of residents it serves, Harare must first get the basics right.

Presently, many Harare residents are yet to receive the promised increased water supply following rehabilitation of council’s water treatment plant courtesy of a US$144 million China EximBank loan.

Will they have to wait until Harare attains “World Class City status”?