Saturday, September 19, 2020

We need to re-think our town planning laws

The manner and pace at which recreational parks have been swallowed up by shopping centres that are sprawling all over Gaborone should be a cause for concern.
There used to be a time when Gaborone had many lively recreational parks.

Those were places where families could go for a walk, to wind down or take children to play and mingle with others. The parks were properly maintained, with many playing facilities for the children.

But over the years, those open spaces have been taken up by our ever increasing number of gas stations and shopping malls.

While the rest of the world is moving towards preserving their green, environmentally friendly zones, it would seem like in Botswana we are going the exact opposite.

What is even more disheartening is that this heartless attack on the environment seems to be going on with the active consent, if not with the complicit of the Department of Town and Regional Planning and its sister entity at the City Council.
That is regrettable to say the least.

Now the city has been turned into a concrete jungle, with the nearest respectable recreational park as far away as Mokolodi, which is a good distance outside the city.
What’s more, it costs an arm and a leg to access the Mokolodi Park.

Other than that, experts have, in the past, raised questions about the safety standards of many of the fuel stations that have sprung up in areas that used to be recreational parks. There are also issues about our value system as a nation if we see nothing wrong gobbling playing parks reserved for children by commercial entities, such as gas stations and shopping malls.
The issue of open spaces and community parks has to be revisited.

There is no question that Gaborone faces greater constraints as it grows.
On all sides, the city is surrounded by either tribal land or freehold land accessing which has proved a real headache for Government and the planning authorities.

But still a land of expansion space cannot be a valid reason for literally eating up the city’s green zones and play parks.

We urge the Department of Town & Regional Planning to revisit its policy when it comes to open spaces.

Some years ago, there was a Presidential directive effectively protecting these spaces, but over the years that directive has died out as Ministers came in to use their discretions to allocate land, often to their friends and business associates against official advice from their technocrats.
If government, especially the Office of the President, does not come in to reinforce restrictions on protecting whatever little is left with regard to community parks in the city, it will not be long before children have no where to play but along the same deadly roads where traffic accidents have wrought so much carnage and misery.

In general terms it would seem like Botswana still does not take issues surrounding environment seriously. Otherwise how would it be possible that the Gaborone City Council would be so lax in its mandate of keeping the city streets clean!

The last two months have probably been the dirtiest in the City’s history.
Council officials have been on national television to offer reasons behind the growing filth and stench. What the nation needs is delivery and not crafty reasons and justifications for the smelly streets.

While some people have been calling for more powers for municipalities, such calls will lose credibility if councils are seen to be failing in their execution of their mandate where the central government has given them some autonomy, albeit limited.

Incidentally, the collapse of the City structures to clean the streets happens at a time when the control of the City is under the political leadership of the ruling party.
Thus, it therefore cannot be argued that there is any sabotage from the central government, as they belong to the same ruling party.

Still on the issue of dirty streets we call on the Ministry of Local Government to move in promptly. The Gaborone City Council is clearly overwhelmed.
If no action is taken it will not be long before the public goes on public protests demanding for services from the Government.

That has happened, including across the border in South Africa where government has been paralysed by protests from the public who are not only demanding services but are also questioning delays and projects’ postponement.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.