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Harare: The Sunshine City that lost its lustre

Elections are a time when politicians set up their stalls so the electorate can “shop around” and make a choice. All over the world when politicians hit the campaign trail they make outrageous promises which they know fully well they cannot fulfill. Over the years we in Zimbabwe have heard our fair share of unfulfilled promises. Remember when we were promised two million jobs and mega investment deals? Developments we are still waiting to see materialise as we head for another general election.

By Ish Mafundikwa

But, even before the election date was announced we were bombarded by promises, promises and more promises. And, this time, billions are being bandied around by the leading protagonists. Billions of dollars promised to dig us out of the hole we find ourselves in, billions of dollars in foreign direct investment blah-blah-blah! All out and out lies and misrepresentations.

Election day will come and we shall make a choice. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” In other words, if the result reflects the will of the people, they should not moan when they discover they have been led up the garden path.

Anyway, I shall not belabour the obvious here. Instead I am going to focus on an issue very close to the hearts of many of us but which is however glossed over by the politicians on their hustings. This is the issue of our rotting urban areas.

Though this is a country wide malaise, I shall stick to what was once known as “The Sunshine City”, the capital city Harare simply because that’s where I reside. Although the epithet was about the sun that shines on Harare most of the year, it also had a lot to do with the fact that the city was so clean, so clean that some visitors from the so-called developed world would complain that Harare was not “African” enough citing the uninterrupted running water, roads without potholes, street lighting and no garbage on the streets among many other positives.

But that was then. Harare has lost its luster and is now characterized by craters on the roads, dead street lights, burst sewer pipes, inconsistent running water (when available, the water is not safe to drink), streets that have been turned into an open air market and garbage all over the place. The city fathers have clearly failed us over the years and we, the residents or at least some of us, have not helped matters by dumping refuse anywhere with open spaces being the dump site of choice for residents in some areas.

Besides the resultant health hazards of this anti-social practice, we are causing much harm to this planet we call home. Among the garbage we recklessly throw out is plastic which, because most of it is not biodegradable, poses a serious threat to the environment.

Residents pay for running water even though when they do have it, what comes out of their taps is some slimy liquid not fit to even do laundry with. But then those that do are supposed to count themselves “lucky” enough to have this basic human right. In some areas, taps have been dry for years.

Some of our roads are now just dusty trails which are a deadly hazard for all road users. What irks is we actually pay for those roads just as we pay for all other services for which we are short changed. I remember when the pothole problem started, the then mayor of Harare demanded a 4×4 SUV because his official luxury vehicle which, if I remember correctly, was a Mercedes Benz could not negotiate the crater-strewn city roads! So, instead of fixing the road, he wanted a vehicle in which he would not feel the discomfort of being driven over those lunar like craters. Tacit admission that nothing would be done about them and they would multiply and get deeper!

These craters are bad enough during the day, but driving through them in the dark is an unmitigated nightmare. Most street lights have long stopped working and the poles are keeling over as rusts devours them. The level of neglect is just astounding!

I can go on and on about the challenges needing the attention of whoever takes over at national and local level after July 30. The to-do-list is long. The manifestos of the two leading parties do mention fixing some of the issues above, but as we all know these could all end up on the long list of unfulfilled promises.

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