Though Harare is thousands of kilometres and oceans away from the German city of Munich, the romance between the two continues to blossom. A fact marked recently by a visit by a delegation from Munich, which included the Lord Mayor of the City himself, Hep Monatzeder.
Acting Mayor of Harare, Councillor Emmanuel Chiroto, was delighted to welcome the delegation from Munich.
“It’s a great reminder of our international relationship with Germany,” he said during a cocktail event.
He calmed the concerns of those who question the point of twinning cities, by explaining how the two mayors agreed to establish functioning joint ventures and projects of mutual interest.
“The interest has stayed with twinning. I was actually in the delegation that undertook a trip to Munich back in 2008 to revive the twinning arrangement and the results are there for residents to see,” he said. Munich and Harare first established ther relationship in 1996. Since 2009, delegations from that city have visited Harare.
As a result of the 2008 trip, City of Harare received a donation of medical supplies worth over €500,000 from their European counterpart.
“It has been very, very successful,” Chiroto continued, observing: “You make friends, you get to know the people over there, the way they live and you become fond of them and they become fond of you.”
Dr Constanze Sollner-Schaar, who was part of the delegation and has been a councillor for Munich for the past five years, concurred.
“One of the great things in life is to work with other people other than your own,” he said. “It makes us a better people and certainly a better place today to have these fine folks from Zimbabwe visiting and working with us in Munich.”
For Munich-based Zimbabwean ICT engineer Shepherd Mushayavanhu, the relationship has been positive and mutually beneficial.
“I have been attached to the Municipality of Bayern since 2011 and travel here [to Harare] three times a year, assisting with the ICT structures within council,” he said. “I am optimistic the fruits of this relationship will be there for residents to see.”
To those who doubt the advantages of twinning, he asked: “Do you want to keep Harare as a small, technologically backward provincial little town or do you want to become an international city?
“Even though we’re miles apart, the cities also exchange information and expertise in urban planning, architecture, municipal improvements, transport, communications and urban governance,” he explained.
Despite noble intentions, some Harare residents insist that town twinning must evolve if it’s to remain relevant – and not be just a holiday perk for local dignitaries, as some suspect.
“Friendly is fine – but let’s not yoke two different animals and expect miracles! In a word: respect,” said councillor Sasha Jogi. “Although we respect that relationship, we should be aware of different statuses and what each ‘partner’ is looking for,” he cautioned.
Angus Baden Martens, a Harare special interests councillor from Arcadia, says he knows Harare has received several requests to twin with cities in China, Germany, Italy, France, even from as far afield as Korea.
“But I still wonder if the residents benefit,” he says. “When it’s good and healthy, it puts its people first. It introduces them to new experiences and new friends. It helps communities to meet, mix and get along. The relationship is about you and the people in your twin town – not councillors or committees.”
But, other than providing a destination for councillors in need of a holiday, what is the point of twin towns, Amandalia Stevens, hailing from Mayfield Park, wonders.
“I haven’t seen the benefits of the relationship accruing – except on paper,” she declared, challenging: “Here in Harare, I doubt there’s a councillor – or a resident – in the city who could name all the towns we’re twinned with. So far no one has been able to tell mewhy Harare is twinned with Prato in Italy.”
Harare has “sister-city” relations with several other world cities, including Moscow and Kazan (Russia), Nottingham (UK), Lago and Prato (Italy), is on course to revive its relations with Cincinnati, the capital of Ohio State (US) and is also working on an arrangement with Guangzhou in China.