IT is mid-morning and the weather is sunny. To be precise, this is an off-peak period, when traffic should generally be low, flowing smoothly in Harare’s central business district (CBD).
Strangely, there is a traffic jam.
Drivers are having a torrid time navigating from one street to the other.
In fact, driving in the city has become a nightmare as most routes are often congested any time of the day and the traffic snarl-ups get worse during peak hours.
The situation is worse for motorists who want to manoeuvre into South Avenue from Seke Road as they find themselves trapped in a traffic jungle at the Charge Office bus terminus.
Investigations conducted by Sunday Mail revealed traffic flow around the area was being disturbed by the operations of a giant wholesale company (name withheld).
The trader has partially blocked certain streets around the business premises by turning them into private loading and offloading zones or parking bays.
Motorists now have to find alternative routes. It is the same case with public transport operators, who have been left with a single route in and out of the Charge Office rank, thereby causing a logjam.
This is not an isolated case.
Several businesses, particularly in the downtown area, have turned public parking bays in front of their premises into private zones.
This, in the process, is creating an artificial shortage of parking space in the city centre.
Naturally, drivers have responded by dangerously parking their vehicles in the middle of the road each time they want to conduct business in such areas.
Congestion created in these zones is affecting traffic flow in other parts of the city, especially along major roads and streets like Julius Nyerere Way, Robert Mugabe, Robson Manyika, Charter and Rezende.
Motorists have to spend hours on end trying to negotiate their way out of the traffic jungle.
“Driving in the city centre is so taxing, never mind the time or day, as you are always locked up in a congestion of some sort. Securing parking is also a nightmare,” lamented Leonard Muzopa.
Chiemeka, a businessman of Nigerian origin who operates on Rezende Street, does not see anything wrong with closing four parking bays in front of his premises.
“The shop is mine and what I do with the parking space is up to me. I decided to make it an offloading zone for my supply trucks. I have an operating licence, which automatically means these are my premises,” argued Chiemeka.
“Why should I be forced to apply to have access to the space (parking bays)? Besides, private vehicles often create great inconvenience each time they park in front of my shop.”
However, the local authority’s by-laws outlaw heavy delivery vehicles from the CBD between 8am and 5pm during weekdays while heavy vehicle transit is banned completely.
The council also encourages the use of alleyways for goods loading or unloading.
Harare City Council acting head of corporate communications Hope Chizuzu said they are disturbed by the prevailing chaos.
The council spokesperson set the record straight.
He highlighted that some businesses are authorised to have reserved parking lots at their premises while others have illegally allocated themselves such spaces.
“Some businesses applied and were authorised to have reserved parking space, usually in front of their businesses. However, they are not allowed to block the entire street like some are doing. The few areas zoned for that are known and it is an offence if one defies regulations,” said Chizuzu.
The Harare City Council official said applications for such privileges were open to any business, but not all qualified
“The privilege is granted based on circumstances and conditions explained on application, such as the size of business clientele and location. We have limited spaces available for such applications and those who have not applied clearly do not need them, hence are not allowed to have reserved parking spaces,” said Chizuzu.
“Those who take advantage (by allocating themselves zones) are committing an offence and are liable to punishment in terms of the law. In terms of liquor stores, we are also concerned, but we have no control over their operations, hence we raised concerns with higher authorities.”
Traffic congestion is a growing problem in many parts of the world, Harare included.
Apart from the haphazard transport system, a number of issues contribute to the crazy traffic jams, among them dysfunctional traffic lights, as well as impatient and errant drivers.
Illegal pick-up points by pirate taxi operators (mishikashika) have also created a fair share of challenges. At the same time, illegal vendors selling their wares seem to have besieged the little space vehicles can navigate through.
Harare Residents Trust executive director Precious Shumba reckons City Parking is responsible for maintaining order regarding vehicle parking.
“The city council should take corrective measures to ensure motorists feel safe parking their vehicles anywhere. It is not wise for someone to park his or her vehicle far from where they intend to conduct business as this naturally attracts thieves,” he said.
Shumba added: “City Parking has a legal obligation to check the authenticity of these so-called reserved parking bays. Similarly, they should collect ‘special’ revenue from businesses that apply for such privileges as they greatly inconvenience a significant number of motorists. Reserved zones should also be properly marked by the authorities, not the business owners.
However, several new liquor stores sprouting throughout the capital have come with a fair share of challenges.
In fact, they are causing a mess.
Apart from parking their vehicles dangerously, and often playing loud music, the guzzlers are also in the habit of relieving themselves in the open.
They equally throw beer containers all over.
The former Ximex Mall environs, the Copacabana Bus Terminus (near Boomerang Bottle Store), Kwame Nkrumah Avenue (adjacent to the Parkade); Jason Moyo Avenue (next to a funeral parlour) are some of the worst affected areas.
The areas have been turned into convenient illegal public drinking places — mostly by touts, illegal money changers, vendors and other rogue residents.
So popular have the liquor stores become that it is difficult to secure parking nearby, even during weekends or holidays. Some of the vehicles make the roads virtually impassable.
Reports also indicate that some of the liquor store operations are not licensed, while others run beyond stipulated hours of business.
Pedestrians, particularly women, are left at the mercy of these rowdy imbibers, especially after sunset as they face all forms of harassment.
Zimbabwe Republic Police Harare Province spokesperson Inspector Luckmore Chakanza warned against public drinking.
He said some of the culprits have been apprehended, with a number of them set to appear before the courts as the force moves to restore sanity in the city.
“Anyone caught breaking the law will be charged accordingly; liquor stores operating beyond the stipulated hours should be warned that it is an offence and the law will catch up with them,” he warned.
Inspector Chakanza urged the public to report the culprits.
The issue of parking spaces, he said, will also be dealt with as it affects the flow of traffic in the CBD.
While in some cases it leads to traffic congestion, he said, in the worst instances, it causes road accidents.
“It should be noted that some of these shop operators are authorised to have reserved parking. However, there should be a certificate to prove that.
“If one does not have it, then they should be arrested because they are violating the regulations,” said Inspector Chakanza.
Local Government and Public Works Deputy Minister Dr Marian Chombo weighed in.
“The authorities are concerned with the level of ignorance shown by business operators and consumers. Liquor store operators and business persons in general must acquire the required paperwork for their businesses to avoid forced closure.
“Business operators need to stick to the dictates of the law to pave the way for restoration of sanity in the CBD. It is everyone’s responsibility as a citizen to be part of the sanity restoration drive in the country and this means knowing what to do and what not to do at any given time,” said the deputy minister.