It takes courage and determination to walk on Harare’s streets at night, thanks to the darkness that engulfs the city’s suburbs. Most of the lights that used to service the city are nonfunctional. Those that remain are in shambles: parts are falling off, electricity cables dangle from the damaged metal and concrete poles stand wobbling by the road side. Some of these are beyond repair and should be removed as they are a danger to pedestrians and motorists alike.
Poor street lighting has also compromised the safety of many home owners, night shift workers, and drivers. Criminal activities and road accidents are on the rise. A medical student from the University of Zimbabwe describes walking home after eight as a gamble as many potential dangers lurk in the darkness. Tafadzwa Muronzwi, a motorist from Avondale, pointed out that it is hard to discern road markings because of poor lighting which puts motorists in danger especially during the rainy season. Motorists end up incurring extra expenses to repair their cars. A Glen Norah resident and night shift labourer Mr Rukanda said that the last time he remembered seeing proper functioning streetlights was in 2008 saying it has become a scary experience just to go to work during the night.
Harare Residents’ Trust director Precious Shumba says that while it is the mandate of the council to maintain streetlights, there have been numerous complaints from almost every Harare suburb in focus group meetings about the increased cases of murder and crime owing to the lack of proper lighting. According to Shumba, “These matters have been brought to the attention of the council’s Urban Planning Department but they have always reported back that they lack financial resources but will rectify the problem if allocations are channeled towards that.”
Corporate communications manager at City of Harare, Leslie Gwindi agreed that it is the council’s policy to provide this service to residents and motorists in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible. The local authority has not been without challenges he said, “Streetlights have always been serviced but at times financial constraints hold back routine maintenance.”
He also pointed out that there have been major backlogs and this has grossly affected the integrity of street lighting infrastructure. In total, the city council needs $50m dollars to revamp the now ruined street lights. It costs $2,000 to install a single street light on the main roads and $800 in residential areas.
There have been attempts in the past to use solar street lamps but according to Gwindi these projects were stifled by lack of funding. Pilot projects lacked viability.
Gwindi assures citizens that, “We have a specific five year development plan that will see functional street lighting in every part of the city by the end of 2018.” He stated that the city is in the process of reviewing its policies. “The City is also looking for partners who can invest in public lighting. There are various incentives and benefits that can be enjoyed by so doing,” he said.