IF Bishop Lazarus’ great-grandfather were to rise from the dead today — God forbid! The man was just an unbearably torturous disciplinarian— he would pretty much be able to figure his way around Harare.
Save for new names on old roads and the relatively new baby skyscraper — Joina City — nothing much has changed.
No, I lie!
He would probably froth at the mouth — as he was always wont to do at the slightest provocation and irritation — trying to find an explanation why the eternal fountain that used to spew sparklingly clean water at the heart of Africa Unity Square during his time is now eternally dry.
He would be mortified at how the formerly neat, lush and well-manicured lawn in the once-enviable park has now deteriorated into an unkempt and kinky outgrowth.
And he would probably collapse along First Street Mall — precisely where George Silundika Avenue handshakes First Street — where a lady, who is named Madhuve (Shona bastardisation of the word MaDube), has found a convenient abode.
There, at the heart of the city, next to an Econet shop, she is not ashamed to launder her knickers at a spot that has become her permanent “upmarket” tenement.
She even has a fireplace from where all her meals are prepared.
At night, she happily builds a reclaimable palace of lofty cupboard boxes that offers her all the nocturnal comforts she requires.
An often ignored but most important detail of her stay in the capital is where exactly this lady gets to relieve herself.
Well, you do not have to be Sherlock Holmes, or the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)’s most intelligent or keen investigative officer, to know that you just need to pace up and down that route to be overwhelmed by the almost paralysing faecal odour from the nearby storm drains for tell-tale signs. Kikikiki.
Madhuve is a living, walking and breathing anecdote of how the city has decayed over the years. The First Street Mall is now essentially a decrepit and trashy alley compared to the classy and glittering walkway it was historically envisaged to be.
Multi-coloured light bulbs that used to dazzle the capital during this time of the year have since been stripped off, the formerly pristine concrete pavement blocks have disintegrated into rotten rubble, while the trees are now a sure accident that is waiting to happen on one fateful day.
Perhaps the Bishop’s great-grandfather would marvel a bit at the new rustic stone cladding on the stilts that would support the embankment of the Mbuya Nehanda statue.
But he would definitely be confused by the legions of vendors that have taken over the cityscape and be outraged by how the bus termini — Market Square, Charge Office, Copacabana and Fourth Street — have been allowed to deteriorate into the egregious metallic wasteland they now are.
One needs not to mention the rarely functional traffic lights in the central business district (CBD), clogged storm drains and mounds of uncollected garbage that have become an almost tolerable part of the landscape.
By-laws are now non-existent.
Bishop Lazi never thought that he might one day remotely fear being swept away by a roaring river or snapped away by a daring crocodile in the middle of the city as he did last week when an unrelenting downpour turned most of the roads into raging rivulets.
This is what has become of our cities over the past two decades.
The capital city is to all intents and purposes caught up in a time warp.
It gets worse in the suburbs where refuse collection trucks are now a rarity as Halley’s Comet, which is only visible from Earth every 75 years.
It is only recently that the Bishop warned that the fast-approaching rains would carve sinkholes and gorges out of our ubiquitous potholes.
Sadly, this has come to pass.
The tragedy is we now have a generation that does not know how a well-run municipality looks like or is supposed to be.
But our city fathers, who have been globetrotting to attend seminars in every part of the world, should know better.
One just needs to visit China, among some of the world’s well-organised societies, to appreciate what real service delivery is all about.
The roads are always cleaned during the night such that you wouldn’t find even a speck of rubbish at daybreak.
During the day, there are trucks that unfailingly blast roadways with high-pressure hose water to clean both the dirt and dust.
The lawns are also always well-manicured and tended, while the concrete block pavements are routinely replaced.
In fact, everything works like clockwork.
At night, the cities come alive with the pageantry and razzmatazz of neon lights.
These might be lofty goals for authorities such as our city councils, especially in Harare, but at least they should show that they are trying — the same way central Government has reorganised its finances to give it the wherewithal to push through the various major development works on roads, dams, clinics, et cetera.
As cities continue to rot away, it begs a flurry of questions: What exactly is the eight-hour job of directors who superintend over departments of water; works; health services; and housing and water?
When they affectionately bid farewell every morning to the families, what is it that they seek to accomplish at their workstations?
How is their work and performance even appraised?
Do they actually re-imagine cities that Zimbabweans can take pride in and the world would envy?
Proverbs 29:18 reminds us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
Isaiah 58:12 adds: “And the ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
A couple of years ago, the Harare City Council (HCC) formed an exciting tie-up with Econet for a major facelift of First Street Mall.
It involved repaving pavement and establishing clean family-friendly sitting areas with water features, children’s play areas, translucent seats, benches, open-air theatre sitting and solar phone charging ports.
A redo of the First Street Police Post by equipping it with air-conditioning, surveillance monitoring screens with split view, patrol self-balancing electric scooters, coffee and water dispensers was also part of the scope of works.
Unfortunately, the major undertaking, which would have cosmetically transformed the face of the capital city, floundered and stalled.
Development is clearly now the zeitgeist of the new dispensation, and the haemorrhage in our local authorities simply has to stop.
Our roads have to be made trafficable again and litter has to be routinely collected.
The consistent supply of potable water is non-negotiable.
This, however, cannot be possible if City of Harare keeps on collecting less than $35 million per month.
The billing system remains in shambles and continues to present billing officers with daily headaches through its regular glitches.
For a local authority that was so incompetent that it ran its own municipal bars aground, it is hardly surprising that it finds billing customers and simply collecting rates to be increasingly onerous.
Thankfully, there is a new broom in town in the person of the Provincial Development Co-ordinator.
If local authorities, which have become hopeless laggards, cannot do their job, they must be forced to do their job.