By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU — It is every town planner’s dream to apply their skills and ensure the development of well-organised and functional urban or rural settlements.
A good town planner visualises a country’s economic and population growth and incorporates, in his works, vital aspects that ensures the authorities would still be able to respond to new demands in many years to come.
A competent town planning department should therefore, be manned by highly skilled personnel capable of making sound short and long-term decisions about the management and development of cities, towns, villages and the countryside at large.
Habofanoe Lehana is one such town planner. He is a well-seasoned town planner and one of the most experienced in the country.
Although he is currently working as a Director of Operations at the Lesotho Housing and Land Development Corporation, where he deals mostly with land and property development, Lehana says he remains passionate about town and regional planning.
Lesotho is one of the countries faced with a mammoth task to upgrade many of its unplanned urban settlements.
Not only are some houses and commercial buildings also not properly planned, it has also been difficult for the government to provide services such as roads in some areas. On the other hand, the disorganisation in some parts of the central business districts of all 10 districts, has also posed many management challenges to the local councils.
Speaking on the current state of affairs, Lehana said several strategies were needed to revert to the implementation of set plans, upgrade and transform all the unplanned settlements which currently dominate the country’s urban landscape.
However, he said, to achieve this there was need for strong political-will to make the transformation a reality.
“Of utmost importance is to have a leadership that fully understands the social, economic and environmental benefits of having good land management systems. We need strong political-will to make management of the land right. In Lesotho, land is an extremely scarce resource and with proper planning, we can properly utilise what we have and also be able to preserve the fragile areas. This should not be a problem because we have adequate expertise in this area and already have several plans that have been gathering dust in some offices over the years. Most of them were never implemented,” Lehana said.
He gave an example of the Human Settlements Plans which existed at all levels of intended settlements. “If these were implemented, Lesotho’s landscape would be different — more beautiful and not the haphazard pattern we see in many areas.”
He further explained the provisions in the National Settlement Policy, which sets-out a strategic direction the country has to follow in terms of its settlement pattern.
“Almost – if not all the country’s towns have structure plans whilst the capital Maseru also has local plans which are very detailed. All these plans are not strictly being followed and instead, more often, the previous governments had a tendency of going against the existing structures and local plans.”
He however stressed the need to review some of these plans to be in line with current trends and demands.
“Plans are not rigid or cast in stone. Logic says where you want to change one must review the plans and assess the implications of going against them. The challenge is that, once land is used for a certain purpose, it becomes extremely difficult, expensive and at times, impossible to reverse the land-use,” Lehana said.
He gave an example of the development on Mpilo Hill which if the provisions of the Maseru Development Plan were re-visited, a different decision might have been reached.
“There is sensitive information about the geology of this Hill.”
Lehana further explained how the lack of a strong sense of planning could threaten the environment and also affect other future social and economic developments.
This, he explained, can also make cities and towns fragile and vulnerable to climatic disasters and other forms of accidents, particularly if settlements are too close to main roads.
“There are serious challenges brought by the rampant urban sprawl, informal haphazard and illegal land development. It’s not just an ugly phenomenon — but also costly business to government which would eventually be called upon by the citizens to provide services such as roads, portable water, electricity, and waste water infrastructure.”
He said it was also a nightmare for any government to invest in upgrading unplanned settlements.
“Opting for demolition of structures such as houses and relocation, causes social disruptions and in worse possible scenarios, can even cause social and political unrest.”
He said the capital Maseru has a lot of planning issues to deal with, particularly in the event that there might be need to exploit diamonds in areas like Koalabata.
“There are also many areas which exhibit very low densities and some of these areas warrant re-development.”
He said the Lesotho Housing and Land Development Corporation (his employer), has expressed interest to be involved in settlements’ re-development.
“We feel that an array of strategies could be used to achieve this and a few areas to mention that needs re-development are Hoohlo, Thibella and Seapoint. They need a serious facelift.”
Lehana said with cooperation of stakeholders who include the government, Maseru City Council and property owners, the suggested re-development would be a success.
Lehana said poor land management also threatened unspoilt or virgin land.
“Encroachment and the unplanned nature of developments on virgin land is also a major challenge which the current coalition government needs to tackle.”
He said it was commendable that the current government had shown commitment towards ensuring proper land management as core and central to achieving well planned human settlements.
“The challenge is that they inherited weakened institutional systems and as a result, they have a big task ahead of them and need all the support they can get.” He explained the importance of building institutional capacity to improve planning, adherence to set plans and land management in general.
“I am hopeful that with a more focused approach, the coalition government would eventually overcome the challenges of land management in this country.”