5 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Conflict Over Harare Wetlands

THE issue of construction projects taking place on wetlands around Harare continues to court debate, with conservationists saying destruction of wetlands will worsen the capital city's water woes in future.

While the allocation of the wetland behind Dandaro village in Borrowdale for a massive retail shopping complex has courted significant controversy, the same businessman behind the project, Ken Sharpe, has again been given land in Mabelreign, specifically Warren Hills Golf Course, where it is alleged that he plans to build a five star hotel at the wetlands, which constitute about 21 hectares of land at the corner of Princes Road and Sherwood Drive in Meyrick Park.

Johnny Rodrigues of Zimbabwe Conservation Trust, told The Financial Gazette this week that environmentalists would continue to fight for the preservation of wetlands, which have been given to Sharpe and other businesses.

"These places are where our drinking water is coming from. We have to fight this, if not for ourselves, then for future generations," said Rodrigues in an interview yesterday.

"It is never too late, we have to keep opposing it," said Rodriques when asked whether it was not too late since the land is already in Sharpe's hands.

Harare City Council spokesperson, Leslie Gwindi denied that Sharpe was given wetlands and dismissed any opposition to the businessman's plans.

"Look, he was given land, not wetlands. Whether there is wetland or not, the ground breaking for the land you are talking about was done long back and Deputy Prime Minister (Aurthur) Mutambara was there," said Gwindi.

But Rodrigues lambasted government's decision to let construction take place on wetlands, saying something was really wrong.

"There is something very wrong happening with all this. What do they need a big shopping centre for when there are lots of people without jobs, food and water?" asked Rodrigues.

The Elected Councillors Association of Zimbabwe this year came out guns blazing in opposition to Sharpe's projects in Borrowdale and Mabelreign, charging that the country was in need of industrial recapitalisation and not shopping malls.

Another wetland next to the National Sports Stadium also courted controversy when a Chinese company started constructing a hotel and shopping centre on it. Construction is almost complete.

Conservationists claim that Sharpe, in conjunction with an international Christian ministry and Kentucky Fried Chicken, intend to build a conference facility and theme park in Meyrick Park. They allege that servicing of this land would destroy the vital wetland in the area.

A statement on the website, Kubatana.com says the conference facility would have a sitting capacity of up to 10 000 people with offices, a recording studio, bookshop and library. A sporting facility would also be constructed to provide recreational activities. Construction activities are confined to 3,6 hectares but the balance of the land, approximately 18 hectares, would be converted to a theme park.

"Harare's wetlands play a very vital role in providing the city's water source. Everybody is aware of the severe water shortages we have been facing and this is made worse by the destruction of the wetlands. Harare's major water source originates from the vleis and open green spaces around the city, many of which are now being destroyed by development, pollution and informal urban agriculture," reads part of the statement.

A vlei is an important type of wetland. It is a low-lying, marshy grassland, covered with water during the rainy season, and even though it may seem to be dry during the winter season and droughts, it actually stores water under the ground which it releases slowly into the streams and rivers.

Sharpe was given the contested wetlands around Harare as payment for a contract to build a new highway leading to Harare International Airport, which is still under construction.

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