The City of Harare (CoH) has tabled a new by-law requiring residents to look after the space between their property boundaries and the road, the area known as the verge.
City Engineer, Mr Pfukwa, has told Harare News that residents will be obliged to ensure verges along their properties are well-kempt. He also said residents should not plant tall vegetation or place stones or other obstructions on the verges as this can impede vehicles that might need to swerve off the road. In the case where there is an open plot, the resident occupying the land opposite the plot is obliged to take care of its verge.
The new by-law serves to transfer the responsibility for verges from the CoH to residents. It does not, however, transfer ownership of these verges: they remain the property of the City.
Harare’s verges serve many purposes. They provide safe sidewalks, protection from spray from passing vehicles, visual aesthetics and space for benches, bus shelters, streetlights and other public amenities. Many residents have already been taking care of verges adjoining their properties: some have manicured lawns, others maintain barren earth and yet others plant crops such as sweet potatoes and beans.
Verges have always posed a unique conundrum: they are owned by the CoH yet they directly affect private property in a variety of ways. The state of verges has an effect on the value of private properties. Many house-owners keep the lawns they have planted there well watered. The upside of this is the beauty of the lawn and flowers for passersby but of more concern is the downside that treated water and groundwater is unnecessarily used, putting pressure on the already inadequate City of Harare water supplies and depleting the water table. Holiday Inn, for example, constantly waters the verges around its premises, often making the Samora Machel sidewalk impassable as it becomes flooded.
The new by-law brings in a dilemma with regards to vendors operating on verges. The vendors are operating on public property but some home owners consider them to be sullying the image of their properties. With the responsibility for the maintenance of verges now on home-owners, does this give them a right to allow or deny vendors from operating on ‘their’ verges? One example is the flower vendors who have been conducting their business on the corner of The Chase and Quorn Avenue. A new house-owner has recently forced them to conduct their business from across the road where there is no shade and thus not conducive to the sale of flowers. This raises the question: is a licensed vendor obliged to ask permission to conduct business on a verge from the house-owner?
One house-owner in Mt. Pleasant who has maintained a lawn on the verges on two sides of his property says he believes the City Council should subsidise his rates for the work he is doing on the Council’s property and this subsidy should be included in the by-law. Another house-owner who was unaware of the new by-law and resides in Greencroft says she has left the verge on her property unattended as it is the City Council’s duty to cut the grass. She says that the state of the verge has led to the dumping of rubbish on the verge which ranges from cans and fruit skins to used condoms.
The City Council owns verges and thus it is its prerogative to ensure they are well looked after. The new by-law transfers this duty to Harare’s citizens without compensating them. Without more guidance and subsequent monitoring, this could result in the wasteful use of Harare’s water resources and a misplaced sense of ownership.