Our Failed Cities

THE shocking state of Zimbabwe’s local authorities is a sad story that speaks to rampant failures that continue to go unchecked and appear unstoppable.The poor service delivery, and in many instances, no service delivery at all, in many of our towns has seen them turn into chaotic environments. Cities are filthy due to poor garbage collection, poor water services and clogged drains which provide breeding spaces for disease.

Editor’s Memo

faith zaba

Roads in most urban settlements have become death traps with potholes having turned into craters. Traffic lights no longer work turning the roads into jungles.

Everybody refuses to take responsibility for the sorry state of our local authorities. The government insists that the councils that are failing because they are run by incompetent opposition MDC figures, while the MDC on its part says central government is interfering and is not supporting the local authorities..

The public perception is that the local authorities are corrupt, badly led, poorly financed and there is no reason to dispute this. Every week there are stories of corruption in procurement of resources, an opaque tendering system, theft of funds and corruption in the allocation of council land.

Headline grabbing arrests of council officials do nothing to instil the ratepayer’s confidence in our cities. Numerous damning audits and reports on the state of the local authorities, done at great cost, are regularly ignored and are gathering dust somewhere. Over and above all this, there appears to be no accountability, nobody seems to be asking questions about how we got here?

Central and local governments have an obligation to provide citizens with decent services. For instance, local authorities regularly run out of water purification chemicals, and once these stories make the front page of newspapers, the government seems to step in with cash and wait a few more months until the process is repeated.

Meanwhile bulk water delivery companies, now a very viable business, are doing brisk business delivering water to households and companies. Who owns these companies? Are they registered, safe or regulated and where are they getting this water that city authorities cannot seem to find and pipe for the citizens?

We have normalised pictures of Zimbabweans, mostly women, queuing at boreholes that have been sunk in the cities to provide water. In some cities, one of the many reasons citizens refuse to pay city rates is because no service is being provided.

However, there are thousands of other long-suffering residents all over the country and even some in our most exclusive suburbs, who have not seen piped water for years and yet continue paying council for garbage collection and water services but have received neither.

It is clear that we have real problems in our local authorities. Yes there are political problems that arise from what appears to be lack of communication between government and the councils, but there is also lack of innovation around outsourcing of services, financing the cities and how to transform them into effective, well run cities.

In Harare, the Simon Mazorodze flyovers are a disaster waiting to happen. The issue was raised as far back as 2006 but nothing to date has been done repair the serious structural defects that will eventually lead to disaster.

Gone is the sense of pride that many had in their cities. Order needs to be restored to our cities and urgent steps taken to rid them of the filth that has turned them into slum-like settlements.

Where is the master plan to reclaim our cities’ past glory and is there ever going to be an integrated approach to providing effective public service delivery?

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