The putrid smell of urine greets the visitor to the Matapi Hostels, the dilapidated, filthy, overcrowded, crime-ridden former single men's apartments in the capital's oldest township of Mbare.
In the corridors and outside, hard-faced youths smoke marijuana, drink beer and gamble away the day as skimpily dressed women offer their bodies to passing men. This is inner-city decay at its worst, the kind described so effectively by the prize-winning writer, Dambudzo Marechera, in Mindblast.
Nearby is the Mupedzanhamo market, a source of livelihood for thousands, but also a recent flashpoint for battles between traders and local residents. So sensitive has the issue of Mupedzanhamo become that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had to personally intervene to end the conflicts there after local government minister Ignatius Chombo fuelled the fire by politicizing the disputes to benefit his party, Zanu (PF).
According to a recent report by the Harare Residents Trust, an independent lobby group, the issue of toilets has been one of the major causes of conflict between traders and local residents as the Harare City Council has apparently failed to provide sufficient ablutions in the market.
Chalk and cheese
But, say experts, the problems experienced in Mbare are a symptom of much greater challenges facing Harare, which cannot be resolved by just painting old buildings, patching up potholed roads or drawing up expensive plans.
“You've got to realise that Harare has become a primate city, that is a capital city which is also the largest city in the country,” said Dr Sasha Jogi, an urban planner who is director of Arup and also a special interest councillor.
“The population of Harare is more than half the urban population of Zimbabwe. That's a very difficult thing. At the end of the day, the city of Salisbury and Harare are like chalk and cheese. In addition, we have a new wing in an old city. The city planner is not doing enough. Mupedzanhamo is a good example. Mbare is a hotspot as far as business is concerned: that's where the people are, that's where the people live. We should cut off some of council's money and put it into that. I'd suggest this is the number one project in the city,” said Jogi.
“In light of the new developments, those flats (Matapi) are an insult to us. It's not good enough to paint fancy murals on them. This is a business hub,” he said.
Harare's worst problem has to do with corruption. From the municipal cops who clamp wrongly parked vehicles only to be bribed to free them, to business managers running down once viable enterprises like Rufaro Marketing, the city appears to be neck-deep in the muck.
Recent revelations that Chombo was involved in land-grabbing within the city using his ministerial portfolio to intimidate officials and cover up his tracks have shocked the public.
Last week, mayor Muchadeyi Masunda presented councillors with a report on suspected land theft in the city by high-profile individuals linked to Zanu (PF). Sensational details of the land scandal are still being discussed by the relevant committee with a view to taking action against the named individuals. What has shocked the public, however, is the amount of confusion Chombo has created by displacing elected officials, especially those from MDC-T, in order to facilitate dirty deals.
Investigations by this newspaper have shown that most illegal land deals took place when unelecte commissions appointed by Chombo were in office. Property mogul Phillip Chiyangwa obtained vast tracts of municipal land and built his famous 18-bedroom mansion in Ballantyne Park during the tenure of one such commission.
The commission took over when then mayor Solomon Tawengwa was fired after granting himself prime council land to build a service station along Simon Mazorodze Road. Tawengwa was sacked but allowed to keep the land. Chiyangwa then built a house for the commission chairman next to his own, according to well-placed sources. The two are related.
There has also been more than a whiff of smoke over tenders. For example, former Zanu (PF) mayor Tony Gara gave his own company a contract to transport garbage, without going to tender and against all ethical norms. When Elias Mudzuri took over as mayor and tried to reverse the garbage deal, he was instantly kicked out by Chombo, who imposed the turncoat Sekesai Makwavarara, who has been accused of running the city into the ground.
While the big fish have obtained vast amounts of city land for a song, millions of ordinary people remain homeless. The issue came to a head recently when councillors told Masunda that they wanted municipal land rates in the townships reduced from the current $10 per square metre to about $3.
One councillor expressed shock that land in the elite Gunhill suburb was being sold for $7 per square metre, less than that in Budiriro. Masunda, however, told the councillors that the matter could not be decided by a simple resolution, as the councillors had demanded, as there were revenue implications to be considered.
“The council is always giving excuses,” said Renson Mpindu, an unemployed business graduate in Budiriro, where 4 000 stands await allocation amid fears they will be grabbed by top civil servants and army officers as in the past. “What we need is land. We voted for MDC-T because we thought that as a social democratic party they'd understand that even the poor need houses.”
Said Clr Peter Moyo: “We've discussed this in the finance committee. These cheap stands are bought by the rich. They come to the poor areas and buy stands, build houses and then let them out to us. Our priority should be to give poor people houses.” – Don’t miss Part 2 next Sunday, when we expose Chombo’s interference and hair-raising mismanagement.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis