HARARE, Zimbabwe – Domiciled in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, just at the beginning of the year, 39-year-old Denford Ngirazi drove his Mercedes Benz straight into a litany of potholes, instantly damaging all his tires and shock absorbers.
As if that was not enough, his three-year-old son, Dan, died after he fell seriously sick when he contracted dysentery after reportedly drinking contaminated tap water.
Ngirazi claimed that his son fell sick moments after he drank water from the tap.
Across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, the dilapidation of roads, buildings, water infrastructure, or even recreational facilities, has become the order of the day.
Yet, the dilapidation mounts amid commemorations of World Cities Day, an annual UN observance held annually on Oct. 31.
The global observance first held in 2014, is organized by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in coordination with each year’s selected host city to emphasize the world’s urban challenges and engage the international community toward the New Urban Agenda.
As many like Ngirazi bear the brunt of the country’s dilapidated infrastructure, Harare for instance has for the past few years dreaming of becoming a world-class city by 2025.
But to development experts like Vandirai Chihota in Harare, this is a pipe dream.
“It’s impossible for Harare to achieve world-class city status by the year 2025. We are just about three years away from 2025 and just look at the level of dilapidation in towns and cities. It’s just disgusting everywhere,” Chihota told Anadolu Agency.
Yet, with high hopes and excitement about the city’s dream a few years ago, Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme took to Twitter, bubbling with confidence.
“Harare to achieve a world-class city status by 2025,” said Chideme on Twitter on June 16, 2015.
But more than five years later, as poor service delivery turns progressively nastier across Zimbabwe, officials like Chideme are having their dreams quashed as the reality of mounting dilapidation sinks.
Even architects who have drawn up plans for houses and other city buildings stand in awe as the country’s towns and cities also face infrastructural chaos.
“This is certainly not what architectures like myself have laid down in our planning as we contributed to the rise of some of the structures we see today. There are residential areas that are from start to finish characterized by disorder, dirty and chaos, meaning even their planning was never done professionally,” Hilton Bheura, an architect in Harare told Anadolu Agency.
Even as many like Bheura remain pessimistic, government officials have for long cast hopes higher and higher for more world-class development.
“That’s the beauty of my position. I see roads in Zimbabwe as well as other world-class roads elsewhere. It places me in a great position for comparative judgment,” government spokesman Nick Mangwana said on Twitter just three years ago.
Demand for new political order
Opposition political activists such as Elvis Mugari from the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance apparently see dark and gloom as the situation in Zimbabwe worsens.
“There is no development to talk about in our towns and cities. The era before independence was way better. Everything is falling apart in terms of infrastructure, be it roads, water or buildings. There is no order. We demand a new political order to bring change,” Mugari told Anadolu Agency.
For Nigel Muzara, who has a degree in Development Studies from the Midlands State University in Zimbabwe, the urban situation has over the years turned out to be the worst in the region.
“Towns and cities here have continued to fall in standards. Instead of advancing, they are falling back to the dark ages of zero development,” Muzara told Anadolu Agency.
As a result, Reuben Akili, Program Manager for the Combined Harare Residents Trust said, “one of the major challenges which our cities have been facing for a long time is unfunded mandates especially on roads and health delivery.”
But as many urban dwellers like Ngirazi are having expensive vehicles damaged by poor roads, Akili pinned blame on the government.
“The takeover of vehicle licensing from local authorities by the central government through the Zimbabwe National Road Administration left local authorities without funding to finance road maintenance, rehabilitation, and construction,” Akili told Anadolu Agency.
Consequently, to Akili, “local authorities remain with a mandate, but without a source of revenue.”
That is not the only problem faced by Zimbabwe’s local authorities, according to Precious Shumba, director of the Harare Residents Trust.
“Zimbabwe’s local authorities lack leadership at both technical and policy-making. The residents are on their own without adequate representation,” Shumba told Anadolu Agency. The “central government is not allocating sufficient financial resources to support health and waste management services in local authorities.”
But Dewa Mavhinga, who is the Southern Africa Director with the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, blamed local authorities and the central government for the infrastructural messy gripping the country.
“There are many reasons why the conditions of Zimbabwe’s towns and cities are so deplorable, including rampant public sector corruption and mismanagement at the local and central government levels and failure by the government to allow for the devolution of power from the central government to the municipal level,” Mavhunga told Anadolu Agency.