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As part of the amendments, churches that assemble at open spaces will be required to pay rates to council, while their worshiping hours have been restricted to between 1000hrs and 1800hrs.

CHURCHES that congregate at open spaces are now required by law to pay rates as the cash-strapped Harare municipality resorts to every trick in the book to widen its revenue base.

Council, which is struggling to discharge its mandate due to a combination of mismanagement and lack of funding, approved a raft of amendments to its by-laws last week in order to give effect to the new measures.

As part of the amendments, churches that assemble at open spaces will be required to pay rates to council, while their worshiping hours have been restricted to between 1000hrs and 1800hrs.

The amendments are contained in a report by council’s Environmental Management Committee, adopted at a full council meeting last Thursday.

In recent years, the capital has witnessed a phenomenal rise of churches that gather at open spaces from dawn to dusk and vice versa as well.

Their proliferation was seen posing a major health hazard for the city while threatening to clog all open spaces, environmentally considered as the city’s lungs.

The main problems associated with open spaces include absence of running water and ablution facilities, noise pollution, rampant felling of trees and lack of time regulation.

In order to bring sanity to the city, it is now illegal for churches to worship in open spaces without council approval by way of permits.

Council is now empowered to prohibit churches from worshipping in places that have no proper ablution facilities for health reasons.

“A person is now required to submit an application through the environmental health officer before conducting open air worshipping and the council has the discretion to either approve or decline such an application having taken into consideration the Public Health Act and the Environmental Management Act as read with the other public health by-laws,” the report reads in part.

“Public worship places are now required to have ablution facilities, portable water and the facilities in question should first be inspected by an environmental health officer in terms of the Public Health Act and other by-laws,” reads the report.

The amendments might lead to a war of words between the city fathers and the affected churches, mainly apostolic sects that are believed to be part of a complex ZANU-PF patronage system.

But before the by-laws could be effected, council must get the approval of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister, Ignatius Chombo in accordance with the provisions of the Urban Councils Act.

The Act empowers Chombo who is ZANU-PF’s secretary for adminstration to amend or wholly disapprove the by-laws.

Once approved by the minister, the new by-laws would be aertised in at least two issues of local newspapers in terms of section 228 of the Urban Councils Act for a period of 30 days. Those with objections would lodge them at Town House during this period and thereafter no objections would be accepted.

In the event that there are objections during this period, council would be forced to reconsider the by-laws, taking into account the objections, before re-submitting the amended by-laws to the minister.

Source : Financial Gazette

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