There was controversy at a full council meeting on the evening of 25 February, when it emerged that senior management officials at city of Harare (CoH) granted permission for structural developments at Monavale wetland, a Ramsar site strictly protected by the Environmental Act.
Council heard that senior managers from the Department of Works signed letters at various times in February giving property developer Meadows (PVT) LTD permission to build 121 cluster houses, a school and a church on Stand 201 to the South of Monavale wetland.
The officials ignored a council directive that put the matter of the developments at Monavale up for further debate and consideration.
Council minutes showed that on 3 December 2015, the environmental committee had issued a permit authorizing the project, but on 11 December it had been sent back for review. This was either ignored, or not conveyed to the Department of Works, since soon after this, Meadows was sending out signed documents claiming that they had permission to carry out an EIA – a prerequisite for any development.
Residents of Monavale have already received letters from the developer’s consultant Plan Afric – the same firm that carried out the hotly disputed Environmental Impact Assessment for the Borrowdale wetland. Concerned community members have said that the Meadows plans are essentially the same as a plan submitted by one Mrs Patel to build on the vlei last year. The Patel application received more than 2,400 objections, which saw the matter quietly dropped from the agenda of a December council meeting, just ahead of the Meadows application.
Councillors at the February meeting quizzed the Environment Committee and the Town Clerk as to who gave the managers the go ahead to issue approval. In response the Town Clerk said that the officials had acted in the belief that the matter had been resolved.
Councillors Allan Markham and Wilton Janjazi said the whole story is very worrying because management is undermining council processes and making unilateral decisions that run against the position of councillors.
Residents, conservationists and environmental organisations rejected the planned developments as illegal and part of a plot to undermine the laws protecting wetlands.
Wetlands Forum Chairman Alain Chimanikire said the action by the city indicates denial of the laws protecting Harare’s water sources. “The laws are clear, the city and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) should just state to whosoever wants to develop, that developments are prohibited under the law,” said Chimanikire.
Long-time wetland advocate and director of Birdlife Zimbabwe, Julia Pierini, expressed frustration at the discussion. “We are going back and forth over this issue. Council should protect these areas as prescribed by laws” she said.
Harare and its satellite towns are facing acute water shortages as water tables drop and rivers dry up – a situation that environmentalists attribute in part to the destruction of Harare’s few remaining wetlands.
Image: Monovale wetland is a protected Ramsar Site.
Image Credit: Harry Davies