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Harare: City with no by-laws

By-laws are an important part of running a city and in their absence, there is bound to be chaos and mayhem. Looking at the current state of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, it is easy to believe the existence of and adherence to bylaws is now but a thing of the past.

environment By Chipo Masara

Vendors sell wares along pavements in the city centre
Vendors sell wares along pavements in the city centre

By-laws are established to regulate activities and control modes of behaviour in an urban setup. Places where bylaws are in place are normally characterised by an orderly mode of operating. In such areas, one would rarely find people conducting themselves in any manner that promotes havoc as the law just would not permit it.

Today, Harare — particularly the CBD — is the home of havoc. It has become so chaotic it is hard to believe it is the same city that was at one time so beautiful and peaceful people saw it fit to name it the “Sunshine City”. Then, it was a city that even tourists from all over the world jostled to visit. All that is but a distant memory now. A tourist visit to Harare today would likely be to get a first-hand account of how the once vibrant city has fallen.

Harare is now a place where filth, mayhem, jostling and rampant lawlessness is the order of the day, a city in which people basically do as they please — in broad daylight, with clear disregard of the implications of their actions. In fact, evidence seems to suggest many lack the general knowledge of the existence of by-laws.

The city’s CBD is now so filthy it’s as though it was perfectly legal for people to litter as hard as they can — and littering they do. So relentless are the litter bugs they do not seem aware of the fact that littering is in actual fact a finable offence. For its part, Harare City Council has on numerous occasions expressed its inability to deal with Harare’s overwhelming waste management problem.

But then, as bad as the filth has gotten, the city’s litter problem is a tip of the iceberg.

Not owning a car and having to use public transportation has for many become a terrifying experience. In addition to having to deal with unruly public transport operators that park their commuter omnibuses anywhere and anyhow, often blockading entire streets — when they are not driving at dangerous speeds — it has become necessary for especially pedestrians to be wide awake to the dangers presented by the never-ending war between police/municipal police and kombi operators that often involves high speed chases — right in the CBD. Many unsuspecting people have gotten injured in the process.

The noise that characterises the public transport operators’ presence in the city centre and their general rowdiness also points to a group of people that feel they can act, however, they want and get away with it, and there are so many of them operating in Harare CBD. Additionally, owing to the absence of proper ablution facilities, the areas where the kombi crews operate from have become synonymous with all manner of stenches, mostly urine.

And then there are vendors. Now this group of people has literally taken over the city. Because Zimbabwe is a country where the unemployment rate is believed to now be hovering above 90%, many have realised the need to appreciate that vendors are just people desperately trying to earn an honest living in a country where formal jobs are scarce. The question that needs to be answered however is: could the vending not be done in an orderly fashion that doesn’t disturb the city’s peace so much? And could the vendors not leave so much filth in the areas they operate from?

When the government gazetted regulations it called the Harare (Hawkers) by-laws 2013, gazetted in May of that year, many felt it would be the panacea to the confusion that had been created as a result of vending in the CBD, but four years down the line and the chaos has all but multiplied. Vendors have now literally taken over every space on Harare CBD’s pavements — and every other open space.

In the meantime, all that the Harare City Council seems concerned with now is milking vendors by charging them vending fees.

Harare is quite clearly now a city where by-laws only exist in writing but are not conformed to and as a result, the city is threatening to become one of the most chaotic cities in the world.

Feedback: cmasara@standard.co.zw/ acmasara@gmail.com

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