Guerilla Roadworks 

Guerilla Roadworks

Driving Harare’s roads these days is enough to test the nerves of even the most accomplished Dakar rally drivers. Half the time the traffic lights have been taken out in a power cut. There is no general regard for the “non-functioning robots = 4-way stop” credo of traffic safety, and these intersections quickly become free-for-alls where only the strong-stomached survive. The country’s economic decline and general discontentment comes out in easily-sparked road rage, and the growing number of people who have bought their drivers licenses rather than suffer the bureaucracy of the Vehicle Inspection Division all make road safety questionable.

And this is even without considering the condition of the pavement. The potholes are shocking. Harare’s roads are deteriorating even quicker than before given the very wet rainy season we’ve had. For months, the potholes have been expanding into yawning cavernous pits easily able to swallow a medium sized dog. A friend of mine tried to swerve to miss a pothole the other day, and still ended up with three flat tyres.

So the roads have been eroding, and the non-elected, illegal, Minister-appointed, term-extended Commission ostensibly responsible for maintaining the functionality of the city has been standing idly by.

But the other day I noticed the potholes in the car park of a nearby shopping centre had been filled in with sand. Maybe the commission was finally getting active? Nope. Turns out some community-minded individuals have been going around fixing up shopping centre car parks. Apparently, they then go shop-to-shop asking the shopkeepers to contribute something to pay for the potholes having been filled.

Which then puts some of the shopkeepers in a bit of a quandary. There’s been a push for people to refuse to pay their city council rates because the commission is a) non-elected and b) non-performing. So do shops refuse to pay their rates and give this money instead to the private pavement fixers? If you fix your own street, have you been positively proactive, or have you given in and done the city’s job for it, thus absolving it of its responsibility? Should the private company go around fixing first and asking for donations later, or should they inform the shopkeepers in advance of their plans and let them decide if they want to participate or not?

This could all be the start of a new campaign. I remember a US-city mayor once announcing an “adopt a pothole” initiative in his city. Residents could donate to the city and specify which pothole they wanted their funds put towards. It seemed to do quite well there. But then Americans are forever adopting strange things like meteor showers, or goats in rural Mongolia, or highway rubbish collection.

But maybe some innovative Zimbabwean civic group could pick this up as a tactic: by day, fill in the potholes and fix the roads. Who’s gonna stop you! By night, sneak back and plant your signs and paint your logo claiming responsibility for doing something creative and inspiring to improve city life.

Though perhaps all of this won’t be necessary. Yesterday I came across a City of Harare vehicle and crew of at least six out doing some road work. On a Sunday! They were fixing up the potholes on a tiny alley off a side street in the back of a small shopping centre. Not exactly repairing a major thoroughfare. But maybe they were just doing some practise strokes?

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Comment when you say it like that it makes a lot of sense

Wed Apr 5, 2006 2:18 pm MST by bob stevens

Comment when you say it like that it makes a lot of sense

Wed Apr 5, 2006 1:53 pm MST by bob stevens

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