Illegal billboards: Accident waiting to happen
DRIVING on Harare’s major roads during peak hours has its fair share of challenges.
Commuter omnibus crews, who are notorious for their wayward behaviour, are in the habit of driving against oncoming traffic or using road pavements as shortcuts, thereby endangering passengers and other road users.
As if that is not enough, a new menace is slowly emerging.
The proliferation of randomly erected illegal billboards in different parts of towns and cities has become a major inconvenience for motorists, property owners and local authorities.
Some of the billboards are being put up on private property or road verges. In some instances, they obstruct motorists’ view of the road. There are cases where billboards even block traffic signage, as they are dangerously positioned on road intersections.
Unregistered companies and individuals are mostly behind this hazardous practice.
Incensed residents want local authorities to act.
“A huge billboard advertising LP (liquefied petroleum) gas services near our shopping centre recently fell as it was not properly mounted. People could have been injured but, luckily, there was no one close by when the incident happened,” said Mai Chantelle, a Mabvuku-based mother of two.
Harare Residents Trust executive director Mr Precious Shumba said the erection of illegal billboards is not new, but the cases seem to be rising exponentially.
“This is creating a lot of challenges and posing a threat to motorists and pedestrians alike. Billboards have been erected along major roads. They end up preventing motorists from having a clear view of the roads,” Mr Shumba said.
Efforts by residents to have some of the billboards removed, he added, have so far been unsuccessful.
“The issue has been raised with council officials but it seems they have lost control of the city to other forces, who seem to get away with anything they wish to do,” Mr Shumba added.
“Corrupt officials may be behind the emergence of billboards all over the place without the involvement of council systems and structures. In some instances, we have heard that some of the billboards have not been paid for, which raises the question of who is authorising their erection and why the anomaly is being left unchecked.”
He urged local authorities to swiftly take action to avert possible disaster.
“This irregularity is beyond the control of residents. Policymakers and bureaucrats must enforce town planning and advertising laws and regulations without fear or favour. They must fully investigate how illegal billboards have been erected on our roads without following due process,” he added.
Several motorists have been involved in freak accidents after missing obstructed traffic signs.
“It is now a common challenge in Harare. Most of the time you have to make use of common sense or experience when driving since most of the road sings have either been removed or are covered,” lamented Derick Mushava from Dzivaresekwa.
One of the billboards, at the corner of Harare Drive and Piers Road in Borrowdale, has drawn the ire of residents, who consider it a hazard.
The Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ), which represents the travelling public, is also sounding the alarm.
“The investigations that we carried out revealed that some of the accidents that occur along Liberation Legacy Way (formerly Borrowdale Road) are directly linked to the erection of illegal billboards. We cannot continue to lose life and limb whilst other people are benefiting,” said PAZ president Tafadzwa Goliati.
Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Innocent Ruwende said the local authority is aware of the illegal structures on road verges.
The council has since warned individuals and companies that are continuing with the practice.
“The City of Harare has noted with concern the mushrooming of illegal billboards and illegal directional signage on council road verges,” reads part of the notice.
Offenders have been ordered to remove the illegal signage, including mural advertising; and billboards or risk being arrested and penalised. According to the Harare (Control of Advertising Signs) by-laws, it is illegal to erect billboards or any structure within the City of Harare’s jurisdiction without a permit and approved plans.
Regulated billboards are ordinarily paid for, but under the current situation, the council is losing potential revenue.
Amon Makwira, a Borrowdale resident, accused some corrupt council officials and individuals of milking the city.
“Obviously, some unscrupulous individuals and corrupt council workers are benefitting from this mess. We have been raising this issue with the council but our cries have been falling on deaf ears,” Makwira said.
Apart from being a threat to motorists and the general public, the billboards are also reversing the city’s drive towards a world-class city by 2025.
Environmentalists argue that they pose a threat to the environment and also distort the natural beauty of the city.
Mrs Emma Chinodya, of the Zimbabwe Environmental Action Group, said there is urgent need for the council to deal with the scourge.
“The majority of the billboards are old and neglected, and are posing a risk to the environment. They are also disturbing the beauty of the Sunshine City as they contribute to visual pollution,” Mrs Chinodya said.
Recently, the Hwange Local Board expressed concern over a similar issue.
“The practice violates our 2023 advertising by-laws, which explicitly state that no one shall erect or place an advertisement on a building, land or public place without paying the advertisement fees prescribed by the council,” the local authority’s acting town secretary, Mr Paulos Mabhurani, told our Bulawayo Bureau.
This is not the first time the City of Harare has been compelled to act and remove illegal billboards.
In 2019, companies that erected billboards without approval were forced to regularise their structures.
Some of the billboards were pulled down.
Elsewhere, in 2006, the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo banned all forms of outdoor advertising following the mushrooming of illegal billboards.
After enacting the clean city law, more than 15 000 billboards were subsequently removed.
Also, 300 000 store signs that were considered too large were taken down.
Although the billboards are a menace to residents, some feel they add generous splashes of colour to the city’s environs.- Sunday Mail