This is what we tell each other when we get behind the wheel. Driving in Harare is hazardous. Drivers are reckless, traffic lights often aren’t working and many roads are in disrepair. Why are our roads in such a poor condition? Who is responsible for fixing the numerous potholes?
I drive quite a lot throughout Harare and I have seldom seen any roads being fixed in an official capacity. Fixing and maintenance of roads doesn’t seem to me to follow any logical plan. If I happen to come upon a road that has been recently tarred, I am pleasantly surprised. But is it acceptable that our roads are only occasionally fixed? Should we have to be wary about driving because of the danger of hitting potholes and doing damage to our vehicles? As citizens paying tolls and paying for our cars to be on the road, we should have well maintained roads. What is going wrong and what is the source of the problem?
This week I drove through a few neighbourhoods to record the general state of Harare roads. I wanted to witness it for myself. My first impression was that potholed roads are more prevalent than well-maintained roads. What was interesting was that I came across in several neighbourhoods, men fixing potholes. Not municipal workers but men, dusty and in tattered clothes attending to suburban potholes. Men who have no other form of income and who have seen the holes in our roads, as an opportunity to make a few dollars.
They fix the holes with broken bricks which they have found in dump sites, and from any available sources. I spoke to one guy who hadn’t made any money that day. He told me that if he was lucky he could make $5 in a day. I know that many motorists tend to drive past these labourers, without much thought. They do block the road with their handmade signs asking for donations, but do drivers realise that these men are fixing the majority of our potholes in our neighbourhoods?
A lot of the roads that I photographed had potholes filled with bricks. Bricks supplied by these entrepreneurial Zimbabweans, and not by the municipality. I have heard people complain that the holes are poorly fixed and that the bricks are often loosened, and strewn across the street. But as much as we complain about these methods of road maintenance, who else can we really rely on?
Who is in charge?
I spoke to Phillip Pfukwa, who is the Director of Works for the City of Harare. He told me that the majority of funds for road fixing and maintenance comes from ZINARA, the Zimbabwe National Road Administration Authority. ZINARA sources its money from vehicle license fees that every motorist has to legally pay for. Toll gates also provide money for maintaining national roads. Pfukwa said that they had received $600 000 this year to cover Harare’s roads and public lighting. He said that this was not an adequate amount and that in order to solely maintain roads, at least $5-8 million was needed in a year. It is unfortunately unclear why ZINARA is failing to provide enough money to fix our roads. The fact that an employee of City of Harare is blaming another governmental organisation, is a sign that there is a serious issue.
At this time of year before the rainy season, roads should be being fixed. Pfukwa says when the rains start in four months’ time, it will be too late to do any maintenance. He believes ZINARA has put them in a difficult position and that it is going to be a bad year for potholes.
While driving around town I came across one road in the wealthy area of Orange Grove Drive in Highlands that had been recently tarred. According to a security guard, the road had been tarred by Econet. Econet is a Zimbabwean company and so it appears companies and private citizens are fixing roads, and not the municipality. I know of neighborhoods that raise money collectively amongst themselves to fix their roads. So, are any Harare roads being fixed by the City of Harare in any official capacity?
The contrast of the airport road that is being dualised and the state of the rest of the roads in Harare is remarkable. The million dollar project that is currently underway, may be improving an important road, but is it really necessary? Why are the rest of Harare’s roads being neglected?
The City of Harare blames the increase of heavy freight trucks and the lack of capital funds for the poor state of our roads. But will blame solve this problem? While it is true that water delivery vehicles are a common sight, are they part of the issue? Should the citizens of Harare be forced to fix their own roads? The future of road maintenance seems very uncertain, one of the many uncertainties that Zimbabweans have to face.
All images by Lucy Tingay