Most recreational parks in Harare, designed to provide relaxation in an atmosphere of beauty, have become an eyesore, with the sweet scent of flowers having been replaced by a putrid stench of decaying food that attracts flies.
At Africa Unity Square, a place with a significant value to the history of the nation and located in the city centre, empty bottles of popular alcoholic beverages such as ciders and the illicit, lethal Zed, plastic bags, kaylite containers, empty juice containers and dry leaves can be seen scattered on the ground.
Bins, which have gone for days without being emptied, have forced people to throw litter at undesignated places.
“Your country has a good climatic conditions, the jacarandas are beautiful and where we come we experience severely cold conditions. We wish we had the same climate back home, but honestly the authorities are failing to take good care of this park,” said one foreign national who was taking pictures in the park.
Glen Norah Park, which used to be beautiful, with a dam and scores of animals, is now a shadow of its former self. Because of erratic waste collection, residents in the area have resorted to dumping litter in some parts of the park.
“The council is not collecting refuse so people are opting to throw it in the park,” said one Glen Norah resident who only identified herself as Mai Tapera.
Raw sewage can be seen flowing in the dam and the cage where animals used to be kept is severely damaged. Footpaths can be seen everywhere in the unkempt grass openly “crying” to be watered.
At Machipisa Shopping Centre, the park where people used to relax has become a white elephant.
Photographers who used to earn a living through taking photographs in the park said the negligence by the city fathers has cost them their livelihoods.
“We used to take photos here, but the business has since come to a halt. Who wants to have his picture taken in front of litter? The park used to be our work station, but the city council has failed us,” said Lameck Alimenda, a photographer.
City council workers said they were frustrated with their low salaries hence they work according to what they earn.
“Have you not heard we were on strike recently? How can I spruce up the trees and prune grass on an empty stomach? We do not have protective clothing and our working conditions are very bad, so we just work according to what we get. Sometimes we go for days without water and our resources are limited,” said one council employee.
Henry Madhiri, an environmental activist, said people should not just blame the council for not collecting refuse in the park, but they should desist from throwing litter everywhere.
“There is need for behavioural change among the urbanites. These people who are complaining that recreational parks are now an eyesore are the same people who pollute the environment, throwing litter everywhere. It has become normal just to throw a fruit peels and plastic around,” said Madhiri.
However, he urged the council to provide bins in accessible areas and introduce punitive measures to those who throw litter everywhere.
“Instead of spending much of the time playing cat-and-a-mouse with vendors, municipal police should be patrolling looking for those who throw garbage everywhere. The city council should introduce deterrent measures and fine those who are caught on the wrong side of the law,” added Madhiri.
Environment and Natural Resources minister, Francis Nhema, has said the situation in the parks was not good for the country’s image and urged the relevant authorities to correct.
“It’s not only Africa Unity Square which is facing the problem of garbage, but most parks in Harare. The situation is so bad and I urge the council to prioritise the upkeep of these parks,” said the minister.
A study conducted by environmental watchdog Environment Africa showed that Harare was once ranked one of the cleanest cities in Africa, hence the brand name “Sunshine City” but had plummeted over the years due to lack of clear city by-laws on the environment and the absence of stiffer punishment for culprits.