City of Harare: A business case

When a city is well-run, residents do not have to think about how it is being run. When I was growing up, my only interaction with Harare City Council was when we went to that boring Mayor’s Christmas Cheer Fund dinner. Fast forward to today, and city services have deteriorated to the point where residents have to get involved to ensure that most basic services are provided.

Deborah Peters,consultant

I am now on several WhatsApp groups in my ward for service delivery and garbage collection. The posts from the residents consist of notices of areas where there is no power, garbage has not been collected for a month, burst pipes and chronic potholes such as on West Road in Avondale. The number of daily complaints is overwhelming on groups for different parts of the city.

Various communities in the city have taken matters in their own hands and are paying for private garbage collection, buying electricity transformers, repairing roads and paying for neighbourhood watches. The Economic Intelligence Unit has ranked Harare as one of the 10 worst cities to live in out of 140 cities in the world based on stability, healthcare, culture, infrastructure and education. Services have broken down, so we need to understand how the city is run.

Harare was formed in 1890 as a trading fort for the British South Africa Company and it later grew to serve the mining and farming communities around it. Today it is the financial, communications, political and commercial hub.

As the capital city of Zimbabwe, you would expect Harare to be the best administrated city in the country, but Bulawayo City Council is out-performing Harare.
Bulawayo is extremely proud of how well their city is administered compared to Harare. Civic-mindedness has always been a strong part of their culture. Harare city fathers have lost their moral compass with their self-serving greed.

The city is run by civil servants headed by the town clerk and city managers who are the executives of the city and manage the city workers. Right now Harare has no town clerk because there has been a series of scandals involving town clerks and financial mismanagement. The top four city executives are suspended. An astounding 84% of the rates paid by Harare is going towards the pay for top management of the city while their workers have not been paid for months. It is hard to motivate city workers when they have not been paid for six months.

Now when you need a housing or road inspector to come and look at a site, you have to send them money for transport otherwise they have no way of getting there. Only 9% of rates paid goes towards service delivery in Harare. The municipality had pledged to return 25% of rates collected to each ward but so far they have failed to do so because city managers have been paying themselves almost all the revenue. Residents in Mutare successfully sued the city to collect their own rates for service delivery and Mount Pleasant suburb has started a similar court action in Harare.

The councillors represent the interests of the residents in their ward and are supposed to ensure the best services for residents. Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been collusion between the councillors and city workers who have been awarding themselves stands and tenders for city projects.

Historically, councillors were chosen from community leaders, but nowadays councillors are mostly from the winning political party and at the moment the MDC-T runs Harare and they have done no better than Zanu PF. The calibre of the councillors is mediocre at best and most people just get into city council in order to get a paycheque. Now councillors are even agitating for more pay.

The city council is made up of town management boards and city decisions are made at these committees. Harare City Council is made up of 46 councillors and nine committees.

The committees are: finance and development, audit, procurement (which was suspended so procurement is questionable now), business, environmental management (the biggest), human resources and general purposes, information, media and publicity, informal sector committee, health, education, housing and community services, and licencing.

City of Harare used to have a US$500 million budget from property tax or rates (2014). It is the biggest economy in Zimbabwe, but systems have broken down. There are developments all over the place whose valuation has to be captured for rates so there needs to be an updating of valuation law to include new developments. All houses must be registered.

Historically, only ratepayers were allowed to vote for council but 80% of city revenue comes from 20% of the residents including pension funds like Old Mutual and First Mutual which own a lot of property in the city so they used to wield a lot of power.

The city is owed a lot of money by big debtors. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the rate payments of foreign embassies and subsequently government owes the city rates.

The city used to collect revenue from vehicle licences, but that was handed to the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara). So it is necessary to have restoration of motor vehicle licences from Zinara back to the city to repair roads. There are 10 000km of tarred and paved roads in Harare. Zinara was supposed to retain only 10% of the revenue from vehicle licences but they now retain the lion’s share.

Zimbabwe’s key corporations like Delta are located in Harare and these companies require stable infrastructure, including water for brewing beer. Sorghum brewing belongs to the city so it is essential to review those leases as they are a big source of revenue. The city is self-funding so it needs to be run like a business, Harare needs a mayor from the business community and councillors with professional and business skills who can understand how to maximise revenue from city assets.

The city runs 30 housing estates, including Chishawasha Hills and Caledonia (Mabvuku and Tafara) and Epworth. The city provides health services, water and housing. The city runs Beatrice and Wilkins hospitals which are now treating more than the infectious diseases they were initially built for. The hospitals work with Centres for Disease Control in the United States which can be a source of funding. Wilkins is a World Health Organisation-certified ebola centre. There are 14 polyclinics delivering 2 500 babies per month with Mbare being the busiest.

Edith Oppelman has facilities that are as good as the Avenues Clinic, delivering 600 babies per month and Mabvuku delivers 450 babies per month. The Mabvuku polyclinic is being converted to a district hospital. It has 32 primary healthcare centres dealing with expectant mothers. Mbare Polyclinic and Beatrice Hospital treat many transient people and refugees going through the bus station. They are world-renowned centres for STDs — 75% of drugs were sourced through Unicef and the Red Cross. There are 32 schools run by the city, as well as libraries so education is a major priority. The city has not built any new school, yet the population is growing with people moving to Harare from the rural areas.

The city carries out licencing for shop licences and vendors. It also owns sports clubs and 13 golf courses, including Ruwa and Harare South. Wingate and Country Club are the only golf clubs not owned by the city.

Royal Harare Golf Club, which was founded in 1898, belongs to the city and it has a housing estate site. It is exceptional because it is run as a business.

Harare owns 5 000-7 000 cattle on five farms — Ingwe, Pension and Crowhill on the periphery of the city and Porta Farm. During Muchadeyi Masunda’s tenure as mayor, he consulted with the Commercial Farmers’ Union, supplied the Cold Storage Company slaughter facilities. The city can run model farms and supply milk to dairy product manufacturers.

City Parking comes under the environmental management committee and the director of works reports to it, but there is not a single engineer in council. There is no clarity on how the revenue from City Parking is spent.

Water supply management is a challenge; 80% of Lake Chiwero and Manyame and 100% of dams belong to the city.

Harare has nine twin cities in the world. It needs to resuscitate twin city relationships but they depend on the perception of democracy in Zimbabwe. The longest partnership is with Munich which supplied city hospitals with critical medical supplies and a generator to Beatrice Hospital during Masunda’s tenure.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave US$5 million for low-income housing and there was a commitment for another US$20 million. The city council also needs to work with the diplomatic community to assist development. There are 30 ambassadors in Harare who are especially useful with the Mayor’s Christmas Cheer Fund.

The city needs to start an internship programme to build a pipeline of skills. Even basic tasks like the maintenance of its vehicle fleet are not well-managed leading to frequent breakdowns so long-term, the city needs mechanics and apprentice mechanics.

If you want to see the true state of the city, take a look at the City of Harare buildings themselves because most of them would not pass an inspection. The elevator at Cleveland House where the city planning department is housed has not worked for years and Rowan Martin Building is falling apart. Various city halls around the city such as Mt Pleasant Hall should now be condemned as a safety risk.

Finally, Harare needs proper city planning. The city planning department works using a map from 1976 and they are not computerised!

In 2014, architects from the University of Pennsylvania came up with a city planning project called Harare 2040, combining commercial, residential, recreational and green spaces in an inclusive vision for the city. Harare infrastructure was built for 300 000 households, decades ago, but the population is now at four million. Water pipes built in the 1960s keep bursting and we now lose 60% of our water supply through burst pipes!

Peters is a business and investment consultant. She can be contacted on Twitter: @debbienpeters and e-mail: deb.n.peters@gmail.com.

Top