THERE is an invasion of commercial buildings in the central business district (CBD) of Harare by a growing number of churches amid concerns that "gospreneuship" is slowly but surely taking root in the Zimbabwe.
Churches are now dotted around the CBD at the corner of First Street and Samora Machel Avenue where a bank was one housed; at a high rise building at the corner of Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere; Leopold Takawira and Nkwame Nkrumah; Chinhoyi Street and Nkwame Nkruma; Kaguvi and Harare streets; along South Avenue as well as Robson Manyika to name but a few.
Lunch time prayer meetings are now the order of the day for these churches as most of their followers congregate for prayers before going back to work.
However, these meetings have drawn the ire of some business people especially those sharing the same buildings with these churches or in close proximity, who are complaining that they are disturbed by the noise from those worshipping at such places.
They say that commercial buildings must be for commercial purposes only and likewise, church buildings must be used for church related-business.
Those who wish to engage in any other business should comply with the requirements of the director of Health Services and director of Urban Planning Services for appropriate rating.
Normally, the commercial buildings involved do not have ablution facilities to cater for the huge numbers of people.
Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda was not reachable for comment yesterday while Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi was said to be in a meeting.
But councillor Charles Joshua Nyatsuro who chairs Council's Education, Health, Housing and Community Services committee told The Financial Gazette that the main worry was worshipping and prayer meetings were now interfering with businesses otherwise some of the churches were properly licensed.
"Yes, churches are mushrooming all over town but some have permits. The permits are mainly for them to have their sessions during weekends so those doing it during weekdays while businesses are operational are doing so illegally," said Nyatsuro.
Pressed on the guidelines for a church to be awarded a permit in the commercial buildings Nyatsuro explained that consideration is given to the issues of times for church meetings and space.
He said that the churches are made to apply for a change of use of a permit in order to worship in buildings meant for commercial enterprises but professed ignorance whether sound proofing was not an issue since most of the churches utilise public address systems.
The Harare City Council is currently conducting an operation to rid the city of illegal vendors, car sales and billboards as efforts to plug loopholes in revenue collection intensify.
Last month the City Council started investigating churches using their premises for commercial purposes with a view to arresting the culprits.
The investigations follow revelations that several churches around the capital city are being hired out as crèches, schools and colleges and in some instances even shops, contrary to council by-laws.
"Investigations are underway, but I don't have the names of the churches and we have leases for churches, but if it's a church and it is engaged in commercial business, it becomes a crime.
"Church and commercial leases are different and they have to open up if they want to do business, not hiding under the name of churches," Nyatsuro told the media last month.