City of Harare seems to be in the thrall of Harare’s religiosity, as it continues to surrender open spaces across the city that were previously earmarked for recreational facilities to churches.
Recreational or urban open space may include active recreation (such as organized sports and individual exercise) or passive recreation, which may simply entail being outdoors and in the open, which many believe offers a reprieve from hectic urban living.
Urban planning expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Nyasha Mutsindikwa told Harare News that open spaces are vital to communities.
He says some of their benefits include acting as carbon sinks to control pollution, and controlling runoff during the rainy season, since they are often wetlands, or are covered with vegetation. Mutsindikwa believes that development on recreational spaces should be subject to a general consensus from all stakeholders, residents, environmentalists, and any other entities depending land use in that zone.
“Because of space for infrastructural development constraints these areas are being at times unscrupulously sacrificed. In such instances it is vital that they are advertised and if all stakeholders agree that developing them will accrue more benefits than leaving them as they are, then they can be developed,” he said.
Mutsindikwa explained that there are guidelines including Environmental Impact Assessments to be considered before development can take place on any site.
For many years now, council has been battling with the burgeoning number of small churches, especially apostolic sects which have been using open spaces without approval from the local authority. City Council has always maintained that churches should operate on designated areas and provide worshippers with water and ablution facilities.
The re-allocation of open spaces to church groups has put council at odds with residents who believe that sacrificing parks, gardens, playgrounds and sporting areas to churches denies the wider community from enjoying access to the space and pastimes of their choice.
Director of Works Engineer Phillip Pfukwa recently circulated an agenda to change several open spaces to church usage. Some of the areas identified in his submission include open space under operative Glen Norah/ Glen View development plan number 17, Kuwadzana land use plan area, and the Budiriro land use plan local development plan number 17.
Pfukwa pitched a full council meeting in March seeking a change of use for these areas from recreational to religious zones. Council approved his plan.
“Subject to its approval of recommendation, council resolved that the application be referred to the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Hon Saviour Kasukuwere for his consent, as in terms of Section 49 (3) and 4 of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act (chapter 29:12),” reads part of council’s response in its minutes.
This came in the wake of several other recreational areas and open spaces being eaten up by residential stands as the need for housing skyrockets. Open spaces where development of infrastructure was previously illegal, will now be built on.
One example is stand 1674, Warren Park, which was earmarked by town planners to be a community, green, open space, has now been changed to commercial, and residents should expect shops to be built there.
City Council has frequently been accused by residents of ruining the liveability of the capital by flouting its own bylaws to favour developers, even in the face of objections by residents. The contest over land use has frequently spilled into the courts.
In 2015 the courts blocked City Council from rubber stamping plans for an office block in an open space in Borrowdale after intervention from joint plaintiffs CABS and Delta Beverages.