28 April 2014

Zimbabwe: Time to Bring Sunshine Back to Harare


Harare City Council launched three years ago, with a lot of fanfare, a programme to make the city a proper 21st century capital, but besides buying a lot of T-shirts has done precious little since. The city centre still looks like a midden: plans to upgrade Africa Unity Square, renovate and upgrade First Street Mall, plan public transport properly, albeit still using the kombi fleet and cleaning up the Kopje area are still just that, plans.

Public street lighting is 99 percent a lost service, but with the poles still rising out of the long grass at the side of the road, tombstones of past glory.

Even the water supply is no better.

Not that everything is dismal. The police, as a result of unrelenting effort largely built around the constable on a bicycle, have made the central areas of the city centre and the Avenues safe and more pleasant. Soliciting for prostitution is largely gone from the streets, and break-ins, pickpocketing and mugging are at trivial levels in this part of the city.

Somewhere there is a senior police officer who decided to make a difference, inspired the teams and managed limited resources rather well. Vice and theft still exist, but both are largely indoors.

This police success shows that it is not necessary to have vast resources, speeches or even T-shirts. What is necessary is a vision, dedication, ability to inspire subordinates and professionalism, plus of course a willingness to do the same every day, all day.

A week without those police patrols, and all will be back as before.

Blitzes are not much use when aimed at combating continuous problems; the municipality needs more people like those other unsung heroes, the ladies who sweep the city centre streets every day, except Sundays, for paltry salaries and little thanks.

But let us think what the central business district would look like without them, shudder and start doing our bit, like putting our rubbish into bins instead of the street.

So what is needed is continuous repair of pavements, continuous improvement of facilities, continuous cutting of grass along road sides, continuous patching of potholes, along with a programme for road rebuilding and major renovation.

A lot more could be done if the city was willing to engage businesses and home-owners and here the police example is interesting.

The clean-up of the Avenues streets was assisted by businesses in that area willing to help the police with everything from a decent police post down to security guards being instructed to provide information and evidence.

First Street property owners could be mobilised to help renovate that mall; home owners already do much to make street verges decent, and it would not take much to make the minority who hide behind their walls do the same.

Even the hundreds of thousands who use kombis daily could be mobilised to insist rules are followed.

Harare can make strides to becoming a first-class city. But it requires leadership, management of meagre resources, and inspiration.

T-shirts do not really work.

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