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Harare: The city that lost its sparkle

I get into the Harare central business district (CBD) at around 7.30am every weekday morning. This is the time when the streets are swept either by the council people or shop owners who clean up the fronts of their stores. Vendors also play their part as I have seen them sweeping up the areas they operate from before carefully displaying their wares.

By Thandekile Moyo

The streets at this hour look their cleanest. The air smells okay and the only pollution you encounter is the noise from the kombi hooters. Now that’s a sound one hears all day. Harare drivers hoot at everything and anything. They honk their horns in greeting, they honk their horns at pretty girls, they honk their horns in frustration…they even hoot to attract potential passengers. This hooting is a serious menace to the Harare environment (noise pollution), but that’s not what this piece is about.

The Harare streets at 4.30pm tell a difference story from the glory of the morning one. By the time I return to the city centre from work the streets will be littered with all sorts of rubbish. Sweet wrappers, used condoms, cigarette stubs, fruit peels and even things as big as maize cobs and believe it or not, one day I came across a large rotten water melon thrown right in the middle of Chinhoyi Street.

Two things are apparent to me. Harare citizens do not throw litter into bins. Harare City Council does not provide enough bins in the CBD. Whether the people do not use bins because the council does not provide enough or the council does not bother to provide bins because they realised Hararians are allergic to using bins is a true chicken and egg argument.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, they say. This is something that must be drummed into the Harare populace. One would think this is something they would respect. Judging from how much they love God evidenced by their obsession with prophets of all kinds, but that, again, is a story for another day.

The land pollution in Harare is a serious cause for concern and must be addressed urgently. We need to come up with a waste management programme not only for the CBD, but for our residential areas too. Almost every bush in the suburbs has been turned into a dump site. It is shocking how educated men and women collect all the rubbish from their homes only for them to go and dump it at the nearest bush or deserted “stand”. This shows that our cleanliness is superficial as we just want our immediate sorroundings to look clean but we actually do not care about wholesomely keeping our environment clean.

It is embarrassing to note the number of used diapers one comes across as the dogs spread the rubbish from these dumpsites across the neighborhoods. I don’t know how many times I have been disgusted by the sight of a used sanitary pad on a foot path or even in the middle of the road.

Waste management is something other countries take seriously. In this era of renewable energy, scientists have devised ways of turning waste into biogas. In this era of recycling, isn’t it a shame that Zimbabweans, who boast of phenomenal literacy rates, are not involved in the recycling of their own waste?

Municipalities and the people have to work together to embark on a campaign to clean up Harare. We are always complaining that the government does not do this and that; but this is something that you and I can do as it only requires a change of attitude. Keeping our city clean requires a self respect we all must develop
It is an issue of ubuntu/hwunhu. No self-respecting person should throw wrappers of anything on the ground. No self-respecting person should carry or instruct or let their gardeners or children to dump household waste at undesignated points. That said, the citizens cannot do this alone. The council has to avail enough bins in the city centre. I don’t know how many times I have had to use my handbag as a bin because I could not find a bin in the vicinity.

Business operators must put bins outside their premises. Harare needs to have so many bins that nobody has an excuse not to throw litter into the bin. Frequency and efficiency of waste collection by the relevant authority must improve in our neighbourhood.

The Environmental Management Agency must heavily police and fine Industries that dump their waste at illegal places.

Cleanliness is as much an environmental and hygeine issue as it is an economic and development issue. Clean cities attract tourists and dirty cities repel them. Clean cities raise the value of infrastructure and dirty cities reduce it. Dirty cities breed diseases that kill our people. Thousands of dollars are spent each year on the treatment of cholera, typhoid and other “waste related” illnesses.

Harare is known as the Sunshine City, but there’s no “sunshine” in all this rubbish!

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