City of Harare’s aggressive tree pruning exercise targeting 10,000 trees got underway in January. Several roads were closed, and teams of tree fellers could be seen making quick work of the offending branches of what are predominantly jacaranda trees.
The sudden flurry of activity comes after a recent tree fall that claimed the life of the police’s commanding officer for Harare, Senior Assistant Commissioner Shadreck Mubaiwa on boxing day. Whilst most branches and trees fall without harm, there have been several cases in recent years where the trees have damaged vehicles and walls, or caused bodily harm to passersby. In 2013 for example, a Chinese national had a jacaranda fall on his moving vehicle. Whilst he escaped serious injury, he made an unsuccessful attempt to sue council for the damage to his car.
Harare’s now elderly jacaranda’s are much loved, and give the city a distinctive look – most enjoyed when the trees flower in October, painting the streets a brilliant purple. It is little wonder that news of council’s plans was met with concern by residents.
“These trees are a part of this city, it would not be the same without them” said Sheryl Makombe, an office worker from the Avenues. There was also upset on the Tree Society of Zimbabwe Facebook page where members of the group expressed dismay at the thought of the iconic jacarandas being damaged or removed altogether.
“I note with much concern / dread that the Harare City Council is undertaking to trim , CUT 10 000 tree’s within the Harare environs!!!!!…my fear is this being done in a professional manner??, overseen by people who know what they are doing ??” reads one comment. “My nightmare would be if they cut down all the jacks,” reads another.
During a phone call, Council’s Spokesperson, Michael Chideme was emphatic that the trees are not being destroyed. It was apparent that the use of chainsaws on Harare’s jacarandas had touched a nerve.
“Please be clear about this, we are not cutting down these trees. We have identified 10,000 trees that need attention. They are very old and are coming to the end of their lives which is a safety issue,” said Chideme.
On a walk along Josiah Tongogara Street outside Prince Edward School, Dr Tom Müller assessed the work of the council tree fellers. Müller planned and planted the National Botanic Gardens where he was chief botanist for nearly twenty years. He agrees with the move by council.
“These trees definitely needed to be cut,” said Müller. “They are nearing the end of their lifespan and have already started to collapse.” Looking more closely at the quality of the pruning, Müller was unimpressed. “Branches should be cut as close to the trunk as possible, and parallel to the trunk. These trees have been cut in an inelegant way, with lots of stumps, and dead wood left behind. If these were in the botanic garden, I would not accept it, but here, it’s not serious. They’ve done an alright job,” said Müller. He added that the pruning would be unlikely to affect the health of the trees.
Asked what he would do about replacing the trees, Müller said that he would replant the verges with more exotics such as flamboyant or jacarandas. “Indigenous trees are mostly too slow growing, and the fast growing ones need lots of water. Exotics have their place in this city,” he said.
With the experts saying that Harare’s beloved jacarandas will start to fall, residents should be reassured that council is looking to fill gaps as they appear. And as Müller highlighted, by reducing the weight of branches, council is ensuring that most of the existing trees will be with us for several more years to come.
Image: Council cutting down Jacarandas on Josiah Tongogara outside Prince Edward School
Image credit: Harry Davies