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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 Zimbabweans (83%) say elected officials should prioritise voter demands rather than their own ideas.
  • Only 27% of citizens say local government councillors “often” or “always” try their best to listen to what ordinary people have to say. Nearly half (46%) say they do so “only sometimes,” while 22% think they “never” do.
  • However, more than two-thirds (69%) of citizens think it is likely that they could get together with others and make their elected local government councillors listen to their concerns.
  • But majorities doubt that local leaders or local government offices would take action if citizens requested assistance for a development project in their communities (56%) or reported corrupt behaviour (58%).
  • Majorities of Zimbabweans say it is “not very likely” or “not at all likely” that they could obtain information about local development plans and budgets (59%) or about contracts for government-funded projects or purchases (60%).
  • One-third (33%) of respondents say that “most” or “all” local government councillors are involved in corruption, while 52% believe that “some” of them are.
  • A slim majority (51%) of Zimbabweans say they trust their local government councils “somewhat” or “a lot,” while 45% say they trust them “just a little” or “not at all.”
  • Half (50%) of citizens “approve” or “strongly approve” of the way their local government councillors have performed their jobs over the past 12 months, while 42% express disapproval.

Zimbabwe’s local government is composed of urban and rural local authorities with a  mandate to represent and manage the affairs of people in their jurisdictions (Republic of  Zimbabwe, 2021). The country has 92 local authorities partitioned into 1,958 wards. Councillors are elected in these wards every five years, concurrently with parliamentary and  presidential polls (We Pay You Deliver Consortium, 2017). 

With Zimbabwe’s 2023 harmonised elections on their doorstep, how do citizens perceive  local government councils meant to serve people at the ward level? Key aspects of  responsive and accountable local government include the delivery of services that citizens  need and good governance that engages citizens in policy making, implementation, and  monitoring and evaluation (United Nations, 2015). Other important considerations include  conducting the public’s business with integrity, ensuring public access to public information, and being open to citizens’ concerns, inputs, and scrutiny. 

Reports by the media and government agencies suggest that some local authorities fall short  on several counts, including issues related to integrity. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption  Commission’s 2021 annual report brought these matters to the fore: The Harare City Council  was at the top of the list of local authorities whose leadership was tainted by allegations of  corruption, including the illegal sale of land and residential stands (New Ziana, 2022). There  are also concerns about poor service delivery, highlighted by irregular or non-existent collection of garbage (New Ziana, 2022). Gaps in service delivery are made worse by power  politics in which the ruling ZANU-PF has tried to flex its muscle over local authorities at the  expense of residents (Chigwata, Marumahoko, & Madhekeni, 2019). To add insult to injury,  critics have described some local councillors as vastly under-qualified for the job (Razemba,  2015). 

A 2022 Afrobarometer survey sheds light on Zimbabweans’ perceptions and expectations of  their local elected officials. Findings show that a majority of Zimbabweans want local  authorities to prioritise voter demands rather than their own ideas. But only a minority believe  that local government councillors actually listen to them, even though most are confident  that they could get together with others to make their concerns heard. 

As for transparency in local government, citizens are far from confident that they could  obtain information about local development plans, budgets, and contracts. Most see at  least some councillors as corrupt, and only about half trust their local councils. 

Overall, public ratings of local government councillor performance are mixed.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa