Future of Borrowdale mall unclear as Govt plans wetlands protection

The future is unclear for a controversial multi million dollar mall that has been approved for construction in Borrowdale, after the government listed the building site under its plans to protect wetlands areas.\r\n

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The government has gazetted a new statutory instrument to protect 26 wetland areas in and around the Capital, including the Borrowdale wetlands. Environment and Natural Resources Management Minister Francis Nhema has said that the government was prompted into taking strict measures, because similar regulations have been ignored in the past.

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He said the statutory instrument requires the Harare Council to stop allocating stands on land reserved as wetlands, while companies are required to ensure they obtain the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports before they start any project.

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This move could potentially put Minister Nhema on the war path with the country’s Vice President, Joice Mujuru, who has commissioned the Borrowdale mall. She is also believed to be behind a government push to approve the construction plans. Chairman of the Harare Council’s business committee, Thomas Muzuva, was quoted as saying that local councillors have had no power to stall the development of the mall.

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“It’s a national project. Cabinet has approved the project. Council is a substructure of central government. We cannot be seen going against national policies. Council has no power over Cabinet decisions. We cannot fight Cabinet,” he said.

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The developers behind the Mall, Augur Investments, meanwhile have insisted that the site is not a wetlands area. Chief executive Mike Van Blerk was quoted by the Herald newspaper as saying that “the characteristics of a wetland which include vegetation, soils and animal life are not evident on this site.”

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“We therefore vehemently refute, based on the opinion of our leading regional authority on environmental matters, Plan Afric, that (the site) is a wetland. It is a vlei area that has suffered significant environmental degradation and we wish to set the record straight,” Van Blerk was quoted as saying.
But Dorothy Wakeling from the Conservation Society of Monavale (COSMO) told SW Radio Africa on Friday that a vlei and a wetland are the same thing.

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“It is a just a colloquial term for the same thing. We are involved in the EIA process and this still has not been completed. But the Borrowdale wetlands are definitely wetlands and they are some of the most important wetlands in Harare,” Wakeling said.

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She added that the mall itself should move to a different location, saying this would be a “win-win situation for everyone involved.” She also applauded the government decision to protect the wetlands areas, explaining that it is critical for Harare’s water supply that these vleis are left undeveloped.

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“Right now the areas are just being used willy nilly so we have really needed government to step in. We need wetlands so badly in Harare because water is short, and I think the government has recognised this,” Wakeling said. – SW Radio

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