A decision by the Harare City Council to sell land, in New Marlborough, earmarked for a primary school to a church has riled Ward 41 residents.
Stand 951 in New Marlborough, measuring nearly seven hectares (7ha) was originally set aside for a public primary school under the previous council.
Since the space was considered too big for a primary school, the previous council agreed that about 4.5 hectares of stand 951 in New Marlborough be set aside for a primary school, with the remainder being converted into a recreational site for residents of the area.
At the time the new council took over at Town House, all that remained was processing of the paper work to reflect change of land use.
Somehow, that did not happen.
Residents had hoped for an affordable council or Government school within the suburb and catering for the needs of children from New Marlborough, Adylinn, Good Hope, sections of Westgate and Old Marlborough.
However, residents were stunned to learn that the site was eventually sold to Celebration Church, which according to recalled Councillor, Kudzai Kadzombe, plans on building a church and its own private primary school.
Riled by this development, which means there are no affordable schools for children in the five sections of Ward 41, residents have demanded minutes of the resolution, overturning the original plan for a public primary school.
Former Councillor for Ward 41, Mrs Charity Bango, confirmed the original plan for Stand 951 in New Marlborough was for a public primary school.
Mrs Shungu Chirimuta of the Combined Harare Residents’ Association (CHRA) is also aware of the original plan and confirms Mrs Bango’s claims.
Residents have demanded explanations for failure by the City of Harare to ensure this area of Ward 41 has a council or Government school, which would make education easily accessible to children from low income families.
Recalled councillor Mrs Kadzombe explains that it is not the “practice” of council to build schools in low-density areas, “because of an assumption that parents in these areas prefer private schools”.
This assumption does not appear to recognise council’s current drive at densification of the area because the stands are generally larger.
Residents view the decision over Stand 951 as part of a general pattern of how council has opted to put profits before people. For example, residents point out council has also decided that part of the recreational park next to Marlborough District Offices be offered to private developers at the expense of a recreational site for the suburb.
CHRA has offered to co-ordinate efforts to maintain and run the park on behalf of and for the benefit of Marlborough residents.
In a bid to calm tempers, recalled Mrs Kadzombe explained that “Celebration Church is still supposed to build the school, though it will be private.”
Seeking to deflect further criticism of council, she also explains that Old Mutual “gave back to Ward 41 five school stands and they are still vacant … waiting for private developers to take up.”
It was not immediately possible to confirm this assertion with Old Mutual, at the time of publishing.
The residents are demanding that since the area has no current councillor representing them, they should meet the mayor and senior council officials over this issue as well as matters of erratic or non-existent service delivery in the area.
They also complain that Marlborough suffers from neglect since it has for a long time not had its own resident District Officer (DO). It is administered by a DO who is based in Ward 16, Mabelreign.
Residents point out that it is this arrangement that has contributed to poor service delivery in Ward 41.
For Ward 41 senior citizens like Mrs Joyce Mtshani-Khumalo, a former Old Mutual property manager, the local authority in this particular instance, appears compromised.
“Council land should be allocated in a transparent and accountable manner. New Marlborough residents want their council primary school as a top priority.
“We need public schools in the area and we demand that public schools be available to the community. The majority of the people in the area are of relatively no means and are desperately in need of a council or Government school — both primary and secondary.
“It should be a priority as the population is in dire need of affordable schools. Council and the Government must urgently provide these facilities without delays. There are already too many churches in the area. We need educational facilities that are affordable for our domestic helpers and those that cannot afford private schools.”