There comes a time when decaying splendour begins to lose its romance. When inadequate sewerage systems pose a threat to public health. When garbage heaps spread out from the shells of fallen buildings and streets are blocked with piles of rubble from crumbling facades above. For the town’s residents, this place has not fallen from the pages of a history book, it is their home, along with all shortcomings, inconveniences and inadequate services.
The town’s problems really started after the 1964 revolution when many of the larger buildings which had been vacated by Arab and Indian peoples were used by the Government to house local people. Many of the new tenants had never lived in stone buildings before and were understandably ignorant of the need for even the most basic of maintenance. Even today there are reports of people ripping down the building fabric for use as firewood. Similarly, after the withdrawal of the diplomatic community to Dar es Salaam following independence, foreign consulates were left empty. Many were occupied by Government departments, who simply could not afford to maintain such a huge and ageing building stock.
STCDA logo on the drain covers – sewerage is one of the main priorities for the organisation
By 1985 there was increasing recognition that time was running out for Stone Town. If an extensive programme of remedial works did not begin at once, there would soon be little left to save. Furthermore, it was becoming clear that tourism would need to be expanded to boost the flagging economy and Stone Town was correctly identified as one of Zanzibar’s most valuable assets.
In 1986 the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority was started, with its primary function being to provide a focal point for all the independent projects in the area. To achieve this it was necessary to determine the key areas of work, to prioritise the deployment of resources and to co-ordinate the search for overseas funding.
In 1989 the Zanzibar Government designated the whole of Stone Town a ‘Protected Area’, with strict limitations on new buildings and alteration work. Then in 1994, UNESCO designated Stone Town amongst its list of the top 100 heritage sites in the world. It is anticipated that further recognition will soon be granted to upgrade it to a ‘World Heritage Site’. This kind of international recognition is very helpful in attracting external funding for restoration projects and could ensure a bright future for Zanzibar.
The main problem now is that so much of the town requires and deserves attention (85% of buildings are denoted as in need of urgent attention). The STCDA started by defining four main areas of priority :
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Buildings along the front at Shangani : A number of the magnificent seafront buildings, including the Old German Embassy, the Tembo House and the Telegraph Company Building, have all been successfully renovated. The Mambo Msiige and Africa House Hotel remain in need of attention.
The port area & Malindi business district: Plans to separate the commercial and passenger traffic in the port are proposed, but have yet to get underway. The North end of town has been designated as a commercial zone although some recent (and controversial) hotel conversions in the area are contrary to this plan.
The market area at Darajani : Plans to ‘sanitise’ the market area are to concentrate on the refurbishment of the main market building and the Darajani Chawls, as well as development of the bus terminus along Creek Road.
The sewerage system for the whole town: Most of the work to date has been concentrated in the centre of town, in separating the flood and sewage water systems. The real difficulty will come in constructing the main interceptor sewer, which is planned to run around the seafront, carrying the waste to a new treatment plant out by the airport. The need for a pumping facility, incorporating a standby power generator, makes this an expensive project and one for which there are not present enough funds available. For the time being effluent continues to run directly into the sea.
Most of the building restoration work is being carried out by partnerships between Government, overseas aid and commercial organisations. Probably the most impressive project carried out to date is the refurbishment of the Ithnaasheri Dispensary, carried out by the Aga Khan Foundation (which was also involved in its original construction in 1899). The same organisation is responsible for the Serena Inn development at Shangani. The Tembo House is an extremely sympathetic refurbishment of a classic merchant’s house, although the new wing (added in 1996) is less impressive. Also of note are the German Government refurbishments of the Old German Consulate and Victoria Hall (although work on the former is not as true to the original it may have been).
The STCDA tries to ensure that restoration work is carried out to defined standards and using traditional methods wherever possible. A training school provides workers skilled in the ancient arts of woodcarving, plastering, masonry and stained glass working, although this facility too is under severe financial strain.