Sudden efforts by a Harare City Council group to convert Sherwood and Warren Hills community gold yards into housing is the latest example of the destruction of recreational spaces without considering the costs to future generations and without consulting the people who will be affected.
All councilors want is solid housing for a mile by a mile and zero open space and that is coupled with planning and development that increases housing densities as is needed with more and more blocks of flats taking over as more people ask for houses.
But densification, and Mabelreign and the surrounding area already has flat complexes and will have more, places an ever greater emphasis on open space and land for recreation, even if leisure development has to wait a decade or two.
There may be less demand for golf at this time. Both Warren Hills and Sherwood have declined in the two decades since hyperinflation hit most households.
The problem is that these courses, without the support of members, have degenerated almost into rough bush with stolen fences and other acts of vandalism.
Even if rising prosperity gave birth to a new generation of golfers, it would take a lot of money and effort to restore these two middle-income courses.
But the fact remains that these two courses are the only courses outside of the northeast and northern suburbs and the only two courses that, in their heyday, were affordable for middle-income golfers.
When golf becomes a sport of the wealthy with exclusive golf clubs eager enough to exclude those who can actually send their kids to public schools and don’t bring their clubs to the course in a late-model big car, then we are doomed.
It should be noted that the best golfer to ever come out of Zimbabwe, Nick Price, was not from a wealthy family.
He learned golf at Warren Hills and played for that club until he hit the regional and international tours as one of the best golfers in the world.
How many more come from his kind of childhood home that the council now wants to exclude?
Part of the cause of the decline was the council itself. It did not even attempt to preserve core assets by providing a modicum of security or seeking different recreational uses of the land.
Golf courses were not specially zoned for golfers during the development of Harare. Under some of the smartest planning rules that existed at the time, a percentage of land was to be set aside as public open space, not necessarily developed as parks, golf courses or sports clubs, but kept out of the hands of the builders.
Most developers, and this includes the government which developed Mabelreign for a huge influx of skilled immigrants, quite wisely set aside blocks of land which were not suitable for building, the vleis as they were then called .
These are now the wetlands that everyone is talking about and that everyone, except the councilors of Harare, want to conserve.
Wetlands were ideal for public open spaces since no one was going to build there. A small amount of earthwork and planting lots of trees would create a very useful open space.
By allocating plots of land to golf clubs or sports clubs, at peppercorn rents set just to retain proof of ownership from local authorities, the city council and city management boards have managed to make work without touching rate funds.
Other wetlands of this type reserved for public space were then assigned to schools as sports grounds.
While Sherwood occupies the South Mabelreign Wetland, the North East Suburb Wetland has been added to the two secondary schools.
They had good building land along Sherwood Drive for hostels and schoolhouses, but much of the land to the east, while excellent for sports fields, was never going to provide a firm footing. to the foundations. You can see many examples in Harare of this sensible policy.
We have other examples of the town hall destroying a zoned public space, or trying to destroy it and allow it to be converted into housing, with a determined effort on a third golf course in Highlands.
We have seen wetlands built as future parks chipped away, only the Environmental Management Act being strong enough to stop or moderate the process, although there are continual attempts to circumvent this law when no one is watching.
The fact that some of the buyers of the new stands seem to be elected officials or friends and relatives of elected officials is another factor which explains the enthusiasm for conversion without consultation.
Mabelreign residents have already spoken loudly of other attempts to grab public space in the suburbs, when even a basketball club was sold as a housing stand, a sale that eventually had to be called off.
No doubt they will mobilize against this, although probably without the support of their elected officials.
Residents of the northwestern suburbs must now clarify their position. Both golf clubs are community assets. They can be restored or they can be used for other public benefits.
But the residents of these suburbs are unlikely to be desperate to have them covered in concrete, probably by a private developer with the right contacts. There isn’t much public space left and we need to keep it.
Harare City Council continually ignores its own stated dream of developing Harare as a world-class city, and certainly totally rejects the government’s Vision 2030 of the city as the capital of an upper-middle-income country.
World-class cities aren’t solid concrete, however prosperous apartment and small-unit dwellers are, they don’t really gain the lifestyle that comes with that prosperity if they’re confined to solid urban development on kilometers in each direction.
Over time, public space, and the percentage is not so high, will be needed. We can modify actual public uses over decades and develop parks, golf courses, sports fields, etc.
But what we can’t do is take it away. And that’s something the current council seems so determined to do, to create concrete deserts.