HARARE – Analysts have roundly slated government’s plans to construct a new capital city in Mount Hampden — about 20km north west of Harare — at a time the country’s economy is in free-fall and poverty levels are shooting up.
In interviews with the Daily News yesterday, the analysts invariably described the plans as completely unnecessary, unjustifiable or “sheer madness that typifies the hubris” and perennial misplaced priorities of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF government.
They pointed to the country’s comatose economy and more pressing needs in areas such as the provision of clean water, health, sanitation, electricity and maintenance of roads as the reason why “pie in the sky” projects such as the proposed new capital city should not even be contemplated.
Christopher Mugaga, a Harare-based economist, told the Daily News that the project was at any rate over-ambitious as the government lacked the resources to “build a second Pretoria”.
“I doubt the take-off of this new city. Firstly, as we all know, we have become a country of blueprints and plans that never materialise.
“Secondly, government accounts are in shambles. The country has not heard about the investors set to fund this project and Harare has not seen new buildings in the last decade apart from Joina City and to build an entire city is just selling utopian dreams,” Mugaga said.
Rather, he added, the government should focus on fixing and expanding the cities that are currently in existence.
“Harare is one of the smallest cities in Africa. They must just expand Harare or Bulawayo. Cities are not just set up, there are factors that make cities happen and they do not happen just because someone says a city must happen,” he said.
Mugaga said the move pointed out to both policy vacuums and inconsistencies in government, as well as a “blatant misplacement of priorities”.
“This thing will not take off the way I see it. There are too many issues that need to be addressed. The only way this could happen is if bailout money was availed by some investor,” he said.
Another analyst, Issis Mwale, said the move by the government reflected that the country’s leaders were not in touch with the various realities of the Zimbabwean situation.
“I find this new city idea very ludicrous. The way I understand it, government is going to get funding from external loans which will be underwritten by Treasury. All things are wrong with this plan.
“They could not find a bailout package for ZimAsset and they slashed the Budget because of a lack of funds, but suddenly they can secure external funding for this city.
“These people do not care about the ordinary Zimbabwean and will just source for funds to complete selfish projects,” she said.
Mwale said the country did not need another city, but required “a refurbishment” of the existing cities.
“Harare and Bulawayo are just fine. They just need to be worked on.
“What is the point of creating a brand new city in this new place? A city is brought about by various factors including mineral wealth and things like that,” she added.
Economist John Robertson said the government initiative was extremely extravagant and inconsiderate of overburdened taxpayers.
“Apart from soliciting for external loans, government has to first build considerable reserves for capital expenditure and that takes several years.
“Authorities will have to find new measures of generating more revenue at a time when Zimbabweans are already overburdened by taxes.
“The plan is way beyond the country’s capacity. Planning is one thing and implementation is another different ball game,” he said.
But economist Brains Muchemwa said there was nothing wrong per se with the plan.
“Government can only create a conducive environment for private capital to come in and fund the development of key infrastructure. We can no longer ride on a city built during pre-colonial times. I believe planning our own capital will help ease congestion and create more economic activity.
He added that many cities around the world had managed to implement projects that decongested the old city projects through creation of a new central business district.
But another analyst who requested anonymity pointed to the “fallacy” of the concept of decongesting cities by building new ones.
“I’ve heard this talk of how Sandton City in Johannesburg, for example, was allegedly able to decongest the City of Johannesburg.
This is complete twaddle.
“The reality is that, firstly, Sandton City was built by the white community as democracy was dawning in South Africa, who were trying to run away from the Johannesburg CBD which was getting ‘blacker and blacker’ so to speak.
“But more importantly, the other incontrovertible reality today is that both Sandton City and the Joburg CBD are as congested as hell, which exposes both the lies and the folly around this new capital city proposed for Mt Hampden.
“Indeed, why waste resources on another city when the existing one is decaying due to mismanagement? Our country is resource-rich but we have very poor leaders and this has set us back decades behind other nations which are developing fast.
“Let us rather focus on getting Harare to work, or to where it was at the time of independence in 1980 when it was clean, tidy and full of shops, shoppers, operational offices and happy workers,” the analyst said, adding that he feared that the proposed new capital city would “just be another conduit for corruption”.
Lickspittle State media reported at the weekend that construction of the new capital would allegedly begin within the next two years after Cabinet approved the multi-million dollar project.
The government was said to have already engaged international experts to finalise technical details regarding environmental impact assessments and land use patterns, with authorities also said to be busy studying development plans from prospective investors.
Funding would be sourced through external loans underwritten by the ministry of Finance and Economic Development as well as land sales.
The city would be designed in “the mould of South Africa’s Sandton in Johannesburg” and it would accommodate government ministries,
Parliament, residential areas, shopping malls, hotels and industries.
A plan for the US$140 million Parliamentary complex had already been drawn up.
Regina Mutezo (38), a Harare-based vendor, told the Daily News she did not know why government was bothering with the new city.
“So you say government wants to build a new capital city? Why are they putting money into a new city yet Harare is so dirty? We do not even have proper stalls to sell our stuff on, totengesera pasi ivo vakutoda kuvaka new city (we sell our wares on the ground, but they want to build a new city).
“Why is this even supposed to bother us anyway? We know government does not care for us and they just do what they want,” Mutezo said.
Buhlebenkosi Ncube (25), a Bulawayo-based graduate, said if government saw it fit to build a new city, it had to cater for the people first.
“This is a very noble idea; however, my worry is who will benefit from this move? Infrastructure development is always welcome, but government must address such issues as employment and feeding the hungry,” Ncube said.