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Key findings
  • Nearly half (47%) of Zimbabweans say pollution is a “somewhat serious” (19%) or “very serious” (28%) problem in their community.
  • Almost half (46%) agree that plastic bags are a major source of pollution in Zimbabwe, while 40% disagree.
  • Almost three-fourths (74%) of Zimbabweans say the government should be doing more to limit pollution and protect the environment, including 51% who want the government to do “much more.”
  • Only one-third (33%) of Zimbabweans say the benefits of natural resource extraction outweigh its negative impacts, such as pollution, while 43% see the costs as being higher than the gains.
  • A slim majority (53%) say that communities do not receive a fair share of resource extraction revenue, while a plurality (43%) say that ordinary citizens do not have a voice in decisions about natural resource extraction

Zimbabwe is famous for its picturesque landscapes and varied wildlife, boasting a variety of national parks and one of the “wonders of the world,” the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River.

Despite the country’s environmental wealth, it faces an enormous challenge in the form of plastic waste. The Environmental Management Agency reports that the country generates about 300,000 tons of plastic waste per year (Moyo, 2021), much of it dumped onto the streets and in open spaces. The government tried to ban the use of plastic carrier bags in 2010 but was met with resistance by consumers (Moyo, 2021). Nevertheless, the government says it intends to phase out carrier bags by December 2022 (Bwanya, 2021).

Zimbabwe’s extractive sector is an important part of the economy, fueled by diverse mineral deposits including coal, gold, diamonds, and iron ore. The centrality of the extractive sector in Zimbabwe was particularly evident during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020, when President Emmerson Mnangagwa prioritised the resumption of mining operations (Netsianda, 2020).

In Zimbabwe, as in most countries, environmental governance raises fundamental questions for human health and economic well-being. Understanding popular perspectives and priorities can help strengthen efforts to prevent or mitigate negative outcomes, whether through policy advocacy or direct action.

This dispatch reports on special survey modules included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Zimbabweans’ experiences and perceptions of pollution, environmental governance, and natural resource extraction.

A majority of Zimbabweans want more action from the government and their co-citizens to limit pollution and protect the environment. They rate trash disposal as the most important environmental issue in their community and describe plastic bags as a major source of pollution. And even if environmental-protection policies threaten jobs and incomes, citizens want the environment to be prioritised.

Zimbabweans cast a critical eye at natural resource extraction, with a plurality seeing its costs as outweighing its benefits. Only minorities think local communities have a voice in decisions about natural resource extraction and receive a fair share of the revenues, and most want the government to regulate the industry more tightly to protect the environment.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa