The Central Business District (CBD) of Harare is becoming increasingly unattractive for commercial or retail businesses. Rentals are high, many buildings are dilapidated and run down or have been divided up into tiny cubicles which serve as makeshift offices or shops — and there are a number of other disincentives.
Traffic is generally chaotic and parking space is inadequate. Pedestrians struggle with broken pavements and open trenches and vendors block the streets. There are not enough public toilets and the few ablution facilities are poorly maintained. It’s often very noisy as some shops play loud music at their entrances on big speakers, ambitious salesmen yell out their pitches, and even street preachers accost passers-by. The end result is that a number of businesses, offices and retail outlets are moving out of the city centre into the surrounding suburbs.
Areas like Eastlea, Milton Park, Kensington and Belgravia are highly sought after by businesses seeking a more conducive working environment.
Mr Precious Shumba from Harare Residents’ Trust says, “Residential areas are cheaper and more convenient in terms of being where the people are. Landlords in the residential areas are more flexible in terms of their rentals, and people can negotiate for reasonable rates, while in the CBD the businesses are rigid and charge more per square metre, which is inconsistent with the state of the economy.”
Even in the low-density Northern suburbs there has been a marked proliferation in the number of home based businesses, including nursery schools and colleges, service providers and even retail outlets. Churches, lodges, restaurants, and home industries seem to be establishing themselves with little or no control.
Apart from renting premises for business ventures more and more people are now working from home, in line with a growing global trend. As computers and email continue to dominate all aspects of our lives flexible working hours are becoming more attractive and many people can conduct their business from virtually anywhere. If you already own your own home or even if you’re renting it makes financial sense to run your business from home as it becomes virtually rent free.
However, you can run a business in a residential area even if you don’t live in the house and it is exclusively used as an office. An estate agent operating from a residential property in the Northern suburbs confirmed that council charges them higher ‘penalty’ rates and taxes as a commercial venture. It seems to be a ‘win-win’ situation as they are able to continue running their business without any problems from City of Harare while the City collects more in monthly payments.
Councillor Rusty Markham (Ward 18, Borrowdale) commented that there is quite strict existing legislation concerning the commercial use of residential properties but it is seldom enforced. There seems to be a kind of unwritten agreement that if the business does not inconvenience or disturb their neighbours it is generally tolerated and other residents tend to turn a blind eye towards the so called offenders.
To change the official designated land usage, for example from residential to commercial, is a fairly long process which involves a myriad of forms to be filled out and the payment of substantial fees. The application should be published in a newspaper giving neighbours a time period within which to object — usually around three weeks.
Objections can be made at your local council office, however, residents’ objections are often ignored, particularly when influential people are involved, and the cost of court proceedings can be prohibitive. Many residents don’t read the classified adverts in all the newspapers on a daily basis so it can be easy to miss the published application.
Michael Chideme, spokesperson for City of Harare, commented, “There are no residential areas zoned for businesses. However, the Avondale and Greendale local plans allow for the commercialisation of certain areas or zones. This is where you see certain streets with commercial properties.”
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