City Council and their partners in the property development business continue their attempts to destroy Harare’s last remaining wetlands unchecked and in violation and disregard for the Environment Act and the citizens they claim to serve.
The recent endorsement by council of yet another massive development on gazetted wetlands in Marlborough and Ashbrittle is, in the eyes of residents and environmental experts, a breach of the laws that safeguard against the destruction of critical ecosystems. It would be another nail in the coffin of Harare’s already beleaguered water supply.
According to the Marlborough Local Plan 45, Amendment 1, Final Plan, currently posted at Marlborough District Office, Dawn Properties plans to build blocks of flats, cluster houses, medium density houses and an office park on both Ashbrittle and Marlborough vleis. The Plan has been on display since 1 November until 12 December, and will become effective immediately on 15 December if no objections are raised by residents.
This is the second time the Plan has been put to residents. Residents objected in the first instance, citing a host of reasons including: loss of water, biodiversity and environmental damage as well as the absence of a sewer treatment plant after the decommissioning of one that used to serve Avonlea. The inability by Council to supply residents with Environmental Impact Assessments of the wetlands – a legal prerequisite for any development anywhere – was also raised.
The Marlborough development project is being funded through mortgages from CABS, a subsidiary of Old Mutual. CABS has, however, distanced themselves from the developments. According to Tendai Mutseyekwa, Old Mutual Group Senior Communications Consultant, CABS is an institution that grants mortgages to anyone who approaches it with a financial need.
Council’s shortsightedness is nothing new however. In the last two years, they have approved controversial developments by Augur Investments subsidiaries West Property (under the wing of Ken Sharpe), on the National Stadium wetland, Borrowdale West wetland and Highlands vlei. After stiff protest by Highlands residents, the approval in Highlands was later overturned by the then Environment Minister Francis Nhema. Residents near Swanlake Park, an important bird sanctuary in Ashbrittle, Avonlea, also had to fend off council approval of developments in their area earlier this year.
Speaking to Harare News about the latest plans that sit once again in Marlborough District Office, Prince Jonasi, director of community group Imagine Avonlea said, “The plan has failed to address the concerns of the residents. The reason why residents objected in the first place is because there were grey areas the council was not addressing. The authorities would need to convince us that it’s necessary to put such developments on a wetland and along a stream. We are informed by the proposed plan that a road shall be constructed through the protected Ashbrittle wetland. This will be dangerous in that it will hinder the work of the natural function of the ecosystem and disturb its core purpose.”
Another resident, Simbarashe Hanga, said that council has failed to uphold the law. “While council has a duty to provide essential services like housing and other amenities, it should see to it that they read well the laws that governs their functions,” said Hanga.
Councillor for Ward 41, Charity Bango, admitted that council has failed to live up to residents’ expectations, saying, “Most councillors have little education on these issues of wetlands, while others vote because in their areas there are no wetlands.” Bango also revealed that most councillors sitting in the environmental committee never actually saw the Plan before approving it. “The law clearly shows what we are supposed to be doing, but it seems most of us [councillors] are not conversant with what is required or we only want to satisfy our egos,” Bango added.
Chairman of the City of Harare Health and Environment Committee, Chris Mbanga suggested to Harare News that the issue lies in the disharmony between the Urban Councils Act, which mandates land allocation and development and makes no mention of wetlands, and the Environmental Act, which forbids wetland development.
He said in respect to the Marlborough Plan 45, Amendment 1, Final Plan, the council has done what it was supposed to do. “We deferred the plan when it came to council, but one thing everyone has to know is that we are saddled with officials who are flouting our efforts to conserve the wetlands,” said Mbanga. He added that while he supports the preservations of wetlands, council is hamstrung by a directive from central government to build 105,000 houses by 2018.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA), who seem fairly unfazed by events, has insisted that no development will take place on wetlands before an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is done. EMA spokesperson Steady Kangata said any developer who intends to develop on wetlands should seek approval of the agency. “We have not received an EIA from any developers concerning the Marlborough and Ashbrittle wetlands,” he said.
Council seems to be contradicting its plans earlier in the year to protect wetlands by reviewing the lease holdings on wetlands and a roll out of education programs in 46 wards to prevent future disputes and abuses.
All residents of Harare have until 14 December to lodge an objection at the Marlborough District Office, Mabelreign Shops, Sherwood Drive.
Photo: An Ashbrittle farmer knew little of the planned developments of the land he has been tilling for some years. This is indicative of the lack of stakeholder engagement during the planning process – one of the several areas that council, developers and EMA have fallen short in. (Harry Davies)