Harare is infested with billboards. Stretches of roads like Simon Mazorodze Avenue and intersections like Prince Edward and Herbert Chitepo Avenue in the city dazzle the senses of motorists and pedestrians with all manner of adverts. In some instances they can be found towering menacingly in fragile wetlands. This has sparked concern among Harare residents who worry about the negative impact on the natural environment and on how they affect individuals.
Resident Tinashe Mapenda bemoans the number of billboards and believes them to be damaging to the natural environment, taking up space that could be used to plant trees for the preservation of nature. Billboards also block nice views of the city. He says that they demean the visual landscape as some of them are tasteless.
Commenting on the huge billboards on the High Glen and Machipsa Road intersection, Glen Norah resident Evans Mcheka argues that billboards make the environment ugly as they are concentrated at one place and are not properly maintained. There are high risks of metal frames collapsing and falling on passing cars and passers-by as most of them are in a dilapidated state. Falling frames and boards litter the environment. “In some instances they are found in a state of decay and make the environment dirtier than it is,” he said.
According to motorist Farai Muzadzi, billboard adverts are informative but also cause motorists and pedestrians fatigue by distracting their attention. They also have a negative impact on the natural environment when cement and metal that is used to mount them is left uncollected.
Using a billboard to advertise your products will set you back between $1,000 to $2,000 per month depending on the size of the billboard and its location. According to City of Harare corporate communications manager Mr Leslie Gwindi the prices are usually higher in prime locations like the Airport Road and Borrowdale Road as compared to locations like Highfield, Mbare and Mufakose. He also stressed that pricing is determined by the size and type of the billboard.
On the positive side, billboards do serve as an income generator for the City Council as they lease the designated spaces where they are located to private contractors and advertisers. The income generated for the City is channelled towards road and streetlight maintenance, according to the 2014 Harare City budget. A huge chunk of money is however retained by the contractors as they are only obligated to pay rentals to the City.
In a bid to preserve the natural environment, the city has an environmental friendly policy that ensures the open spaces are de-congested and that all billboards are mounted with the consent of the local authority. Under the HCC’s 1981 by-law on the control of advertising signs part 1 section 3(1) it is stipulated that, “no person shall erect an advertising sign without prior permission of the Director of Engineering Services unless otherwise provided in terms of these by-laws.”
Mr Gwindi however hastened to say that the City is in the process of crafting another comprehensive policy to help in the maintenance of billboard spaces but also has another working policy which makes it mandatory for owners of billboards to maintain areas surrounding them. “The maintenance includes grass cutting and litter collection. Council has a specific height for each billboard in keeping with the surrounding heights,” he said.