A sharp stench forces schoolchildren to cover their noses as they negotiate their way home through an open space in Warren Park 1, a suburb in the capital, Harare, after a rainy day.

The five of them inaudibly mumble something as they pass through the huge pile of garbage that includes used diapers and rotten food that has not found takers among stray dogs.

The garbage includes black council plastic litter bins that ideally should be collected by the garbage collectors, who of late have been conspicuous by their absence.

That has become a common sight in most surburbs of the capital, high density or low density.

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“We have no choice but to throw waste here. Otherwise we can’t bear the air pollution. We can’t stand the stench of rotten stuff from the litter bins in our backyard. Collection of refuse by council has been erratic,” one woman says in Warren Park, one of the many suburbs affected by the erratic collection of garbage.

Piles of uncollected garbage have become the order of the day even in the central business district, with council struggling to collect.

With no clear plan from the city fathers, residents have resorted to the easy way: Taking their loads of rubbish to any nearby open space and dump it there, although this attracts a fine from council.

“This option is deadly as it exposes our children to diseases but the options we have are limited,” one resident said.

This, observers say, is a clear indicator that the council’s Vision 2025 remained a pipe dream and Harare will never become a world-class city by then unless there is a serious turnaround programme that should leave no stone unturned.

Only four years remain and it seems the plan is in flames and the move towards Vision 2025 has been derailed.

And the blame game continues amid a multi-faceted crisis that also includes the water challenges and massive corruption among other challenges the city is faced with.

But what really are the challenges? Environmental management committee chairperson, Councillor Kudzai Kanzombe fumed at the lackadaisical approach to duty by the workers saying heads should roll if nothing is done to change the work ethic in council on refuse collection.

Kanzombe told NewsDay that it was no longer business as usual in the local authority and councillors were now lighting fire under the workers’ chairs to ensure work is done.

It emerged there was huge theft of council truck parts and exchanging old ones for new ones in some cases, a situation that further riled the elected officials.

The Kanzombe-led committee toured Highfield, Kopje, Mugombe automobile workshops and Nenyere workshop, where they encountered compactors that were down for simple things such as ATF oil, batteries and springs.

“We did a tour after noticing discrepancies in the reports we received. We made a resolution to have our waste management fleet repaired and increased from the 22 that we had to 46. We later noticed that with all the financial resources we were investing in the fleet it was actually decreasing,” Kanzombe said.

Ideally, council should have 46 running trucks at any given time to service all the 46 wards in Harare.

She said a resolution was made to closely monitor workshops to avoid theft, but it was not implemented, a clear indication that council workers were determined to continue engaging in criminal activities.

“We heard allegations of new parts being stolen and swapped for refurbished ones. There was a tender that was awarded for CCTV 2 years ago to minimise the thefts but until now there has been no delivery,” Kanzombe said.

“There has to be a complete change of work culture in the city of Harare if we ever are to attain the smart city status by 2025. As policy makers it is our mandate to ensure that residents get more than the value for their money as we are the people’s councillors.”

“A payment was then made to procure and fix the vehicles with a highly monitored programme, and an equipment requesting procedure that makes it possible for an increase in our fleet to ensure better service delivery for our residents.”

Stakeholders have also accused the local authority of misplaced priorities and focusing on sponsoring football instead of service provision.

During a meeting late last year, Ward 16 councillor Denford Ngadziore fumed over the matter, saying it was foolhardy to have council sponsoring football, Harare City FC in the premier league and another Division One team plus an academy while service delivery has plummeted.

“We have never heard that the soccer team has failed to attend any match outside Harare because there is no fuel but we always here that refuse is not being collected because there is no fuel. What are our priorities as a city and what should be our priorities under the circumstances,” Ngadziore snapped.

A decision is yet to be made on whether council will continue sponsoring football with information committee chairperson councillor Barnabas Ndira insisting the local authority was looking for outside sponsors to finance sporting activities within the local authority.

While councillors blame the workers, observers said the local authority was coming short on paying their workers on time and opening up avenues for looting and corruption for them to survive, something Harare Mayor Herbert Gomba questioned last year when he asked how workers were surviving in the tough economic environment in the country.