Kudakwashe Mugari Deputy News Editor
The coronavirus battle has brought the nation together at a time when the world is reeling from the effects of the pandemic, with over 120 000 succumbing and nearly two million others testing positive.
President Mnangagwa announced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to curb the spread of coronavirus, which is blind to race, colour, creed or political affiliation. It is real.
Though the lockdown was viewed by some as hard considering our economy’s inclination to the informal sector, Harare City Council must have welcomed the President’s announcement fully.
The 21-day lockdown should help council to work on its perennial shortcomings in service delivery.
Commuter omnibus ranks in the capital are in a sorry state owing to years of neglect, despite the fact that council collects parking fees from transport operators on a daily basis.
The city has five terminuses — Market Square, Copacabana, Simon Muzenda Street (formerly Fourth Street), Charge Office and Rezende Street.
Most of these terminuses neither have roofs on the waiting sheds nor functioning toilets.
At Copacabana, there is virtually no sign of the shelters that used to protect commuters from the vagaries of weather like the sun or rain, while at Simon Muzenda there are a few shelters with roofs.
Other shelters at Simon Muzenda do have roofs resting on rusty frames.
At Market Square, some of these shelters have been invaded by traders who are now using them to display their wares.
Mbare Musika Bus Terminus, probably the biggest in Zimbabwe, has not been spared.
The few shelters still standing have been stripped of their roofs, while metal bars that used to hold them together are falling apart.
During peak hours, the terminuses are congested with kombis and passengers.
The situation gets so bad at times that loaded kombis struggle to navigate their way out of the ranks.
Commuter omnibus operators have been demanding that Harare City Council provides services that are commensurate with rates paid.
Council hiked entry fees to the ranks to $25 this year, from $10 last year, in the approved 2020 budget.
Route permits and rank discs have both remained unchanged this year at $1 000 per annum. Commuter omnibus operators believe the fees they are levied are enough to give a fresh look to ranks.
Mbare Musika, the largest pick-up and drop-off point has lost its lustre.
The terminus had benches and sheds where travellers would wait for buses. Toilets were always clean, with a cleaner on hand, but today the terminus is a disaster.
City fathers have turned a blind eye.
Maybe if we ask the city fathers today they will tell us that due to traffic of buses and people they couldn’t rectify the problem.
Now that there is a lockdown and Mbare Musika is free from high traffic levels from the buses, travellers, vendors, thieves and shoppers, is it not the right time for the city fathers to refurbish?
The shelters constructed for travellers have broken down. In some instances, the huge yellow metal poles that were fastened to the concrete to frame the shelters have collapsed, blocking the road.
A few remaining benches and asbestos roofed-shelters remind travellers of the dark beauty that used to be Mbare Musika. Save for a few buses that have religiously stuck with Mbare Musika, long distance buses are shunning the main terminus preferring undesignated pick-up points along the city’s link roads.
Food vendors had invaded the terminus, cooking and selling.
Street families make use of the few remaining benches and do their laundry at one broken water tap and dry their clothes on a section of the fallen shade.
There is no doubt that Mbare has lost its lustre, and the blame lies squarely on the Harare City Council because it is within the powers of the city officials to restore the area.
The terminus is now in a state of disrepair, the toilets are leaking, blocked and a section has become like a squatter camp.
We do not know what the City of Harare is thinking about this place.
Harare corporate communications manager, Mr Michael Chideme on October 16, 2017 during an operation code named “Operation Sunshine City” told us that Mbare Musika was to be temporarily closed for renovations.
“Mbare Musika Bus Terminus will be undergoing renovations beginning tomorrow,” he said then.
“The renovations include resurfacing, putting new sheds and fencing of the terminus to make sure that council is able to collect its revenue and to get rid of touts.
“In the meantime, buses will be using only sections of the areas where we would have completed renovations to pick-up and drop-off passengers.
“It will be a parallel process. However, we are still looking for more convenient bus terminuses to ease congestion. Rhodesville bus terminus will be ferrying people to places such as Mutare and Marondera, while Coca Cola Corner will ferry people to places such as Murehwa and Mutoko.”
Three years down the line, it seems nothing has been done and Mbare Musika is like a graveyard.
If the city fathers fail to take advantage of this lockdown period to work on the terminuses, going forward Government should consider setting up an inter-ministerial team supported by a high-level multi-disciplinary team of professionals to ensure the project is expeditiously implemented for the benefit of all Zimbabweans.
Recently, Harare City business development manager Mr Alois Masepe said the city has a vision for Mbare that will see the local authority develop a modern bus terminus with a regional bus interchange, a shopping mall and a budget hotel.
The project will also see the construction of a four-storey flea market superstructure and a fresh produce market with refrigeration facilities.
These remain just plans as the council says it has no money.
Council says it approved a US$45 million partnership deal for the improvement of Mbare Musika.
According to council minutes of November 5, 2014, the city approved the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and Olshevek Investments, a property development firm to work on Mbare.
Plans for the redevelopment of Mbare Musika have been on the cards since the 1990s.
This has seen tenders being awarded, among them the one given to Allied Property Developers in 1990, Golden Wheels (Pvt) Ltd (1993) and that of Machipisa Brothers (1995).
In 2017, city fathers paid for their negligence on Mbare Musika.
The council paid $2 500 as compensation to a resident who was injured owing to the local authority’s negligence after some dilapidated metal sheets fell on him at Mbare Musika Bus Terminus.
The City of Harare paid Katambarare, a 24-year-old man, who was injured on August 15, 2017 as he was waiting for a bus at Mbare Musika when some derelict metal shelters that had been erected to provide shade for commuters, collapsed on him.
After the mishap, Katambarare engaged Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyer Fiona Iliff sued City of Harare for negligence after faulting the local authority for failing to maintain the bus shelters erected at Mbare Musika.
The city fathers should take advantage of the clearance of traffic at the Mbare terminus due to the coronavirus lockdown to attend to the bus rank.