Illegal car washes continue to operate and indeed increase in number in Harare in spite of regulations against them due to their negative health and environmental impacts. Car washing at undesignated points is illegal as runoff will reach underground water, a key water source for many residents.
It is common to see informal car washes on roadsides or in parking lots, doing business in broad daylight, as the authorities seem unable or unwilling to enforce the regulations.
Legitimate car washes only operate near a grease trap and a cut-off trench that separates the waste water from the oils and soap that are so harmful to the environment. Whilst council and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) have carried out blitzes on these illegal operations in the past, just as soon as they ran out of steam, so the offenders reappeared.
The City’s Corporate Communications Manager Michael Chideme said that council has always battled with illegal car washes which he said also damage the roads.
“Our policy is that for any business to operate in Harare it must be registered with council. There are some car washes that are registered legally while others are not and we are always confiscating their equipment,” said Chideme.
EMA spokesperson Steady Kangata expressed worry over this matter.
“We have noted with concern the mushrooming of illegal car washers at undesignated points as they are not managing their effluent properly. Discharged effluent pollutes our water sources causing danger to the general populace. There are fines that are attracted by such practices (car washing at undesignated points) as it is an offense and we have been engaging local authorities over the issue,” said Kangata.
However, because so many people rely on informal car washes for their livelihood, it is a battle that council is set to lose. Harare News spoke to one operator identified as Divah.
“I know that it is illegal to wash cars on the streets, but I have no other option as it is my only source of income. I have no choice but to continue operating illegally as I cannot meet all the regulations required to register a car wash,” said Divah, who also recognised the environmental damage that car washing can cause.
The problem is also one that affects council’s budget, as it contributes to the inflated water treatment bill that is borne by residents.