I Urban and rural lives

2 Accountability of Bulawayo’s urban council

Accountability of Bulawayo’s urban council: service delivery and civic activism challenges

Delta Sivalo


This chapter focuses on the downward social accountability of the urban metropolitan council in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. It docs so by detailing the service delivery and civic activism challenges which Bulawayo residents face in their everyday lives, and how these relate to the prospects of downward social accountability of the Bulawayo council vis-à-vis residents. Since the year 2000, the urban council in Bulawayo has been controlled by the opposition MDC party. At the same time, urban councils fall under the central Ministry of local government which, over the years, has intruded in the affairs of urban councils, particularly those controlled by the MDC. Though this might set the conditions for upward accountability of the Bulawayo council to the central state, it is also necessary to examine the manner in which the council itself does (or docs not) operationalise downward accountability and engage with local residents. In this context, the possible existence of corruption at local council level becomes significant. As well, forms and levels of service delivery deficiencies vary across the inter-spatial boundaries of Bulawayo, with high-density, low-income communities in particular experiencing the brunt of these deficiencies, with possible implications for modes of civic activism. Further, even within high-density, low-income communities (which arc the main focus of the chapter), differentiations exist along for instance class and gender lines, and these also tend to configure civic activism. Overall, the local conditions of existence of Bulawayo residents necessitate that they negotiate the space in a multiplicity of ways to lessen the burden of service delivery challenges.


Joshi and Iloutzagcr (2008) provide a reasonably standard definition of social accountability in conceiving it as a means of bringing together different spheres of power and influence to maximise citizen participation and improve service delivery. They, thus, describe social accountability as a process which concentrates on building the cooperative efforts of citizens and civil society organisations in holding public officials, service providers and governments to account with regard to their obligations to serve citizens and residents. Social accountability is a collective process that grants citizens social responsibility and opportunities to participate in, own and direct governance processes at local and national levels. In this fashion, it constitutes and grants platforms for civic actors (as rights holders) for purposes of citizen participation, citizen oversight and citizen engagement vis-à-vis public duty bearers. The benefits of social accountability rooted citizen participation arc said to manifest themselves in good governance, improved service delivery, poverty reduction and broad-based socio-economic development (Grandvoinnct 2016).

There are an increasing number of studies on urban government in contemporary Zimbabwe, which sometimes raise the question of social accountability though without necessarily using the term. These studies speak of an increasingly authoritarian central state from the year 2000, with the state and ruling party at times becoming indistinguishable (Chitiyo 2009; Ncube 2010). The hegemony of the ruling ZANU-PF party has been vigorously challenged in urban spaces by the emergence of the MDC, so that the central state has sought to domesticate and even undermine MDC-controllcd urban councils. At the same time, citizen participation in urban council affairs has been thwarted in a number of ways. Insofar as urban council accountability exists, it merely involves consultation with residents and not deeper forms of participatory citizenship (Matyszak 2010), and hence without any binding social contract between urban citizens and councils (Marongwc et al. 2011). Such consultation simply involves legitimising unilateral, politically motivated decisions (Alexander and Chitofiri 2011) without any recourse to democratic mechanisms.

Since 2000, the Zimbabwean state has intervened overtly and dramatically in urban local government across the country, with Bulawayo being no exception. These top-down intrusions have entailed, for example, the dismissal of elected executive mayors, the sacking of whole municipal councils and the appointment of commissions by the state to manage and administer urban centres (Ranger 2007). This overbearingness of national government has been pursued vigorously by the Ministry of local government, which has even sought to create parallel local government structures in Bulawayo and other MDC-controlled urban councils. These parallel structures have involved the use of cither local state administrators appointed by the state and loyal to the ruling party or local ZANU-PF structures that act as de facto organs of local administration.

The city of Bulawayo, like Harare, is a metropolitan council area and, similarly, has been an urban power base for the MDC since the early 2000s. Hence, Bulawayo epitomises the waning power and hegemony of ZANU-PF with reference to systems of urban government in Zimbabwe. The dwindling of the ruling party’s strong grip on urban power has not gone unchallenged, with measures taken by the central state to protect and preserve ZANU-PF’s hegemony. In this context, Bulawayo became a key local battleground for control and dominance between ZANU-PF and MDC, with local government in the city becoming deeply politicised in the party political sense (Muchadcnyika 2015). At times, this has led to episodes of crisis of urban governance in the city (Masunungurc 2013).

Accountability of Bulawayo s urban council 25

These machinations have only served to exacerbate fissures between Bulawayo’s urban council and the central state and have affected detrimentally the capacity of the urban council to democratise city politics in a way which ensures some semblance of accountability to residents of Bulawayo, as well as to bring about effective service delivery. For Bulawayo, an attitude of defiance to the central state has often been the fundamental premise for its relations with the state. For instance, outright resistance by the city to the state’s attempt, in 2007, to seize the role of water supply provider from the council and hand it over to Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA - a parastatal created in the wake of the 1998 Water Act) indicated the depth of opposition to any state interventions in Bulawayo. As Musemwa (2008) notes, this stance against ZINWA’s overtures in Bulawayo had historical antecedents in the rejection of state initiatives in the formative years of the city, thus concretising the claim that Bulawayo, historically, has sought to defend its autonomy and pursue a localised agenda (Ranger 2007).

Research methods

Bulawayo city has 12 constituencies for national elections and 29 wards for local council elections. In using a qualitative case study design, purposive sampling was used to select specific wards for this study, which was undertaken between 2015 and 2017. These wards are 3, 6, 7, 9, 13, 18 and 26. Five of the wards selected (Wards 7, 9, 13, 18 and 26) are low-income, high-density areas, while the remaining two wards (3 and 6) arc high-income, low-density areas. The selection of these wards, which differ in terms of the class standing of households as well as levels of service delivery infrastructure, facilitated the identification of possible differences in local civic activism along class lines. One focus group discussion, consisting of 12 members each (again, selected purposively), was carried out in each of the seven wards, with 60 per cent of the participants being male. Subsequent to the focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews were conducted primarily with female members of the groups, to ensure that the voices of women were heard. This was important, as the public sphere (where civic activism takes place) is often labelled as a sphere exclusively for men. In addition, 12 key informant interviews were carried out, namely, with three opinion leaders, four councillors, three council technocrats and two civil society organisation directors involved in urban council accountability. Finally, a range of relevant council and civil society documents were accessed and, as well, the researcher attended council meetings and civil society organised meetings on accountability. Given that the sampling process was non-random, the study is not statistically representative of Bulawayo.

Culture of fear and despondency

The political, spatial and historical experiences of a city arc strongly tied to foundational socio-cultural arrangements and the trajectories of everyday lives, which in turn have a bearing on how communities view and relate to power and institutions. The accountability and integrity of urban councils arc shaped, in part, bylocal political cultures as the latter influences attitudes towards civic responsibility as well as modes of civic participation.

Bulawayo’s political, historical and cultural experiences arc strongly informed by power dynamics as manifested most dramatically by the Gukurahundi disturbances of the 1980s. The violent targeting of people from the Matabeleland region, in general, created stigma and fear which became broadly ingrained in the collective consciousness of Bulawayo communities (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2009) particularly those in the high-densities areas. In addition, this culture of fear has acted as an ongoing and perpetual barrier in respect of pronounced civic activism in Bulawayo, thus contributing to a culture of passivencss which inhibits Bulawayo city council’s downward accountability. While this is not to claim an absolute passivencss, as discussed later, the violent silencing of citizens during Gukurahundi has led to a culture of “suffering in silence” and “not speaking out”. As one low-income resident put it:

Part of the reason why we as people from this [Matabeleland] region do not speak out on issues of accountability is largely because of the fear that still remains at the back of our minds. We experienced hardships of unprecedented levels. Given the fear that is rife, how do we overcome such and speak out particularly on issues of accountability without the fear of disappearing or being physically harmed by the powers that be, knowing what happened in the not so distant past.

Historical experiences and memories run deep and perpetuate a fear of actively engaging in local politics in Bulawayo, particularly considering the ongoing national rule ofZANU-PF. Despite the MDC’s control of Bulawayo council, and though having voted for the MDC in local council elections, residents are all too aware of the manner in which ZANU-PF impacts insidiously on their daily lives.

Simultaneously, in displaying minimal attempts at pursuing accountability vis-a-vis residents, the Bulawayo city council has utilised largely top-down decision-making processes and practices. In this sense, both ZANU-PF’s central state and the MDC’s city council tend to marginalise Bulawayo residents and inhibit their willingness and capacity for active citizenry. Consequently, this has cultivated a culture of corruption amongst local councillors.

A case in point was the publicised issue of corrupt practices by elected councillors in the acquisition of residential stands amid a housing backlog of 657,298' house seekers. In 2015, councillors from the Bulawayo council were linked to underhand dealings in the purchase of residential stands, at concessionary rates, for resale at inflated rates. Councillors Gift Banda (Ward 5) and Reuben Matcngu (Ward 21) were then suspended after a commission of inquiry was instituted by the Ministry of local government, with its findings and recommendations pointing towards the abuse of power and office. In this instance, accountability was driven in large part by the central state’s line Ministry, but for political reasons, as the suspended councillors belonged to the opposition party, MDC. One civil society

Accountability of Bulawayo s urban council 'll opinion leader reflected upon this by arguing that the council acts as if it were part of a colonial state:

The legislative and policy framework in Zimbabwe’s local authorities is still very colonial and repressive in nature. The current by-laws still entrench powers for those in authority and close space for dissenting voices from ordinary citizens. These laws were designed to keep [black] people in check and the post-colonial local authority continued that legacy and quite effectively so.

Remnants of top-down colonial style local government structures, along with post-colonial restructuring of a repressive kind, have combined to undercut downward accountability of the council to residents in Bulawayo. In this respect, the central state’s top-down approach to governance is mirrored by local authorities, like the Bulawayo council. This leads to reluctance on the part of local communities to speak out and play an effective oversight role in public and governance processes.

The culture of corruption at Bulawayo city council level is compounded at times by a culture of impunity, with council disregarding stimulated requirements without consequences. This is apparent during the participatory budget processes where residents’ views arc supposed to inform the budget-making process through public consultations held in each of the 29 wards in Bulawayo. Though legally obliged to carry out these consultations, they arc reduced to superficial forms of engagement, and this is done deliberately by Bulawayo city council to push its own agenda (as articulated consistently by both key informants and residents). For instance, during the 2016 fiscal year, the meetings were publicised late and insufficient budget details were provided to residents to enable them to participate meaningfully.

The impact of these (past and present) community experiences has translated into a relative lack of engagement and participation by residents in (seemingly) risk-free and harmless activities such as participation in public meetings, even those organised (if and when) by the council. This disengaged character of Bulawayo residents may provide an enabling context for council’s insensitivity to downward accountability, but it is just as likely that the council is, on its own volition, inclined to minimise the prospects and possibilities for downward accountability.

Nevertheless, residents in high-density areas have sought to sclf-mobilise and self-organise in informal and loose residents’ associations. Members of these associations usually make up the community action teams for formal residents’ associations like the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (see later). These associations arc development-directed and not advocacy-directed, as they have established ways and routines of improving service delivery in their local communities by transitioning into solution holders in their own right. In this sense, they arc in large part ineffectual in reconfiguring council policies and practices. Through these associational platforms, residents meet on a bi-monthly basis to discuss issues of service delivery failure and to mobilise material, financial andmanpower resources to respond to identified service delivery issues. An example is borehole rehabilitation and maintenance in ward 26 where a borehole committee was established and trained in borehole maintenance. This committee is then responsible, using locally sourced inputs, for managing the borehole given intermittent water supply by the city of Bulawayo. In the context of concerns, if not fears, about open engagement in council politics, these associations act as safe and apolitical spaces in which residents can act upon their lived conditions of existence without the risk of being labelled as protagonists.

Amongst residents, overall, there was a deep sense of despondency leading to a lack of interest in - and disengagement from - social accountability processes in Bulawayo. This despondency, which in part emerged from the culture of fear, affected citizens’ confidence and uptake with regard to accountability. Despite this lack of general appetite and stamina for council-centric citizen participation in Bulawayo, it seems that residents of Bulawayo arise from their slumber during council elections, as if they then become captivated with local governance processes. Part of the reason for this is attributed to the vibrant partisan and political character of most high-density areas in Bulawayo as indicated at least by the sheer diversity of political representation, including parties with a distinctively Mata-beleland flavour. One civil society opinion leader thus said, in jest, that “Bulawayo is the place in Zimbabwe where there is the highest number of political parties per square metre”. This political pluralism in Bulawayo generates much hype during elections, but the momentum developed during election periods is hardly translated into active citizen participation beyond plebiscites.

The overall low resident buy-in to council processes explains, to some extent, why most interventions in Bulawayo which seek to deepen the council’s social accountability arc driven by donors and formal civil society organisations. But another part of the explanation is the high rate of unemployment and poverty in Bulawayo alongside the fact that social accountability initiatives are invariably resource dependent, thereby stymieing low-income residents’ engagements with council. Donor funded organisations, therefore, take centre stage in initiating local accountability programmes, including Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), National Youth Development Trust, Women in Leadership for Development and Habakkuk Trust. Local activism in Bulawayo is dominated by the presence of employed justice activists-cum-development practitioners who run formalised institutions, through donor support, in the pursuit of specific agendas and using technical and rigid tools and approaches in a one-size-fits-all model. What this has done, consequently, is to alienate low-literacy (and low-income) audiences who cannot confidently engage with the technical language used in such tools and approaches, especially in old suburbs like wards 7 (Makokoba), 8 (Mzilikazi), 12 (Njubc) and 13 (Iminyela), where comparatively larger numbers of elderly residents and women reside.

However, low-income residents of Bulawayo arc relatively easily mobilised to attend activities, such as town hall and community meetings, organised by these mainstream civil society organisations, with the hope and expectation of receiving per diems, transport and food allowances as incentives for participation. This

Accountability of Bulawayo s urban council 29 has tended to fuel artificial citizen agency, as well as raising questions around the sustainability of civil society interventions. There is in fact a “rent a crowd” practice by civil society groups, including bussing in residents to meetings. Further, at these meetings, civil society practitioners arc the most active participants. This marginalises the voices of Bulawayo residents, with civil society groups recruiting residents as if only to meet the latter’s programmatic requirements. Nevertheless, the resource dependency of civic engagement with the council demonstrates that fear and despondency alone then arc insufficient for understanding residents’ low buy-in.

Class, gender and ethnicity

Levels of social inequality and exclusion shape the constraints around social accountability in numerous ways. In Bulawayo’s case, efforts at citizen voice and participation have been found to replicate existing inequalities. Broadly, the class divide in Bulawayo, for instance between high-density and low-density areas, has seen fragmentation of citizen efforts and voices around council’s accountability. Despite their own challenges in being active citizens, there is considerable (sometimes unspoken) resentment amongst low-income Bulawayo residents living in high-density areas with regard to residents living in the low-density, affluent and leafy suburbs in the eastern part of Bulawayo who, from the former’s perspective, show no interest at all in council affairs despite their financial capacity to do so. In fact, this docs seem to be the case in practice.

This low level of activism amongst high-income residents arises in part because of the colonial heritage decades after independence, with these well-off residents experiencing minimal everyday service delivery deficiencies. In this way, service delivery challenges and experiences are spatially compartmentalised. In 2013, for example, without citizen consultation, the Bulawayo council resolved to introduce prepaid water meters as a water management measure. Council mooted the project, allegedly, to solve challenges with revenue flows to the local authority coffers caused by low payment rates by debtors. This arbitrary decision by council, based on the assertion that the project would enhance the viability of council and ensure improved water services, angered low-income residents. In their local associations, residents spoke about how the proposed intervention was in violation of the fundamental right of access to clean and safe water. On this premise, many low-income residents took to the streets in protest against council (BPRA 2016). Meanwhile, most households in the eastern suburbs have boreholes and wells, so they are not adversely affected by local water issues, including when the city rations water supplies. In the case of the meters, they in fact claimed that these would boost revenue collection while improving service delivery. Given these fragmentations and disparities, any collective collaboration across low-density and high-density areas becomes extremely difficult.

Additionally, within low-income communities, there arc class differentials that also shape levels of engagement in civic activism. Public meetings on issues of accountability organised by the BPRA arc meant to focus, in particular, on theurban poor whose need for basic service delivery is imperative to their day-to-day living. But one opinion leader from civil society noted that:

At times we struggle to get community members to actively participate in these organised accountability platforms. In most cases you have the ones that arc better-oil economically, especially those with children in the diaspora, dominating such platforms with those that arc known to lack [the urban poor] being pushed to the peripheries and their voices not entirely heard.

Those who dominate proceedings at meetings arc long-term, house owning residents. Due to unemployment and dissipating opportunities for employment, most of Bulawayo’s inhabitants arc informal traders who in turn rent houses from better-off proprietors, or they arc lodgers. Lodgers and those who rent find no real incentive to participate as they arc neither homeowners nor ratepayers; as such, they remit rent and rates to landlords and not to the local authority.

Gender-based relations arc also very significant. The power relations within households in Bulawayo’s low-income communities arc marked by male domination, that is ruled by household-based patriarchs. Additionally, as culturally defined, women tend to be confined to the domestic sphere, with the public sphere (the economy and polity) said to be the space for male participation. This undercuts women’s ability to become civic subjects. Perhaps because of this, most council policies and programmes have been largely gender-blind and unresponsive to the needs of women. Overall, the challenges faced by low-income residents in Bulawayo, in terms of both their daily lives and engaging with the council, arc compounded for women in low-income areas. Poor service delivery negatively affects women, in particular, due to their gendered roles within households.

There is clear underrepresentation of women in residents’ activism around council accountability in Bulawayo. Women participants in focus group discussions not only lamented the fact that budget consultation meetings arc organised on short notice but also that the time scheduled for these meetings usually clashed with their daily duties. One female resident espoused that:

Most of these meetings where we arc invited as participants to contribute to policies and development processes are not sensitive to our daily routines as women. They happen cither in the morning or in the afternoon when we will be doing our daily chores. As such, we find it difficult to neglect our household duties just to go and sit quietly under a tree while things remain unattended to at home.

The gradual decline in Zimbabwe’s economy has led to a corresponding deterioration in service delivery standards. For instance, in 2016, the city council in Bulawayo introduced a 72-hour weekly water rationing schedule due to the dwindling volume of water in the supply dams, poor infrastructure connecting the city’s reservoirs and supply dams, and the lack of resources to purchase purification chemicals (Moyo 2016). This situation adversely affected women specifically, as

Accountability of Bulawayo s urban council 31 women spent time in long queues to fetch water from communal boreholes at the expense of engaging in other activities.

Civil society organisations, in pursuing civic activism, seem at times to instrumentalise women, as the presence of women at their meetings allows them, in window-dressing fashion, to tick another box in their programmatic reports. They recognise that women’s voices arc seemingly side-lined, but this is not (according to these organisations) because the issues addressed were packaged to appeal to males only. Rather, women hardly participated actively in such processes. One civil society representative noted that: “In the beginning we would call meetings for all the community members as a collective. The women would attend. We would have the numbers present, but the challenge was that they would not contribute as they would be quiet”. Of course, the failure of women to participate is a manifestation of the patriarchal practice of women remaining silent in the presence of men. At these meetings, women claimed that they were expected to perform their femininity. For example, one female participant noted, “Even in spaces where we arc invited, women are relegated to the less important tasks such as saying the opening prayer or giving the vote of thanks”. A female civil society leader in fact acknowledged this: “Women’s participation is treated as cosmetic. It is not rooted in most of the duty bearers’ ideology or philosophy. We have ornamental compliance from these. As far as women and their participation goes, there is no real representation”.

Meanwhile, women have become increasingly involved in informal trading and other income-generating projects, in the face of an absence of formal employment opportunities. This consists of women traders selling various wares that include clothes, fruits, vegetables, airtime, cell phones and toiletries. An independent source of income on their part may shift gendered power relations at household level and enhance their decision-making responsibilities. Further, importantly, these women have formed a range of loosely coordinated committees and associations, through which they seek to articulate their interests in the public realm. These have fed into the Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (with male and female membership), which creates platforms for vendors’ interests to be heard by facilitating dialogues between vendors and local government decision makers.

Beyond gender and class, a recurring feature of the lack of civic participation by Bulawayo’s residents is the contentious issue of ethnicity. Bulawayo’s historical experiences (including the atrocities of the 1980s) shaped and perpetuated a sense of exclusion and marginalisation when it comes to the central state’s development programmes, which in part explains the popularity of the MDC at council level. However, the technocrats responsible for implementing the development agenda within the local authority of Bulawayo have remained ZANU-PF appointed loyalists. The presence of such loyalists, from the viewpoint of many low-income residents, leads to council unaccountability and their alienation from council processes. As one respondent in a focus group put it:

Knowing one’s self is everything to an Ndcbclc speaking person from Bulawayo, but in Zimbabwe, we have been stripped of our dignity. We arc treatedlike second-class citizens by the government and our own city council. Only those that arc recognised politically or have relationships with power holders arc people treated with dignity.

Regional and ethnic politics within low-income communities thus becomes evident, with local residents’ associations organised along ethnic lines. As well, in some public meetings held by BPRA, contributions by non-Ndcbclc speaking people, especially Shona speaking ones, were not given an audience based on the language used to communicate points.

What is evident in Bulawayo’s case, in considering gender, class and ethnicity combined, is that civic participation is fractured along these identity lines such that, when it takes place, it entails forms of exclusion and differentiation. In other words, levels and forms of participation tend to reproduce and mirror existing inequalities. Various examples in Bulawayo, therefore, suggest that attempts to promote collective citizen participation and representation (including by civil society groups) have limited and uneven reach and buy-in. The influence of social differentiation is arguably double-edged. On the one hand, in cases like Bulawayo, the existence of inequalities stimulate aggrieved residents to call on the local authority and the state to account for, explain and justify its actions with respect to the lack of infrastructural development and investment. On the other hand, the degree of fractionalisation along ethnic, gender and class lines, amongst others, negatively affects the capacity of citizens to collectively bargain for action.

Entitlement, patronage and corruption

Finally, I examine more fully the culture of corruption, founded often on a distorted notion of political entitlement, which exists within Bulawayo. Corruption is common throughout Zimbabwe at a multiplicity of levels (Mukonza 2013; Sitholc 2013). When it takes place in particular at urban council level, it is bound to have direct detrimental consequences for service delivery as it goes contrary to accountable public finance and resource management systems and drains city’s coffers.

Such a culture is certainly well known and pervasive within ZANU-PF, based on the patriotic history of the ruling party which depicts its leadership as representing the national liberation struggle and as the exclusive stalwarts (and indeed heroes) of this struggle. In effect, this is a system of rule by liberation war credentials which, in turn, has created avenues for the contestation of - and right to - power not based on merit and efficiency but on representations of the past. Indirectly at least, it has also led to ruling party elites engaging in a corrupt way in the brazen accumulation of public assets as a seeming reward for their past sacrifices, which feeds into deeply entrenched patronage politics. As this is done in most cases with impunity, these arrangements undercut accountability at national level, and at any local levels where ZANU-PF attains power. Regrettably, this is also significant because there is evidence, in Bulawayo, of the ZANU-PF-fication of the MDC-controllcd urban council.

In other words, post-2000, when the MDC took over the running of the Bulawayo city council, a similar attitude of entitlement emerged, in this case on the basis of credentials around the democratic struggle by the MDC against an authoritarian ruling party. MDC councillors in Bulawayo consider themselves as rightly entitled to govern, without being questioned, based on the hardships endured in supposedly democratising the city by wrestling it from the grasp of the ruling party. As before the year 2000, the Bulawayo council as an institution (now under the control of the MDC) has been reduced to a resources portal whereby MDC elites feel entitled to abuse their power; and this goes without punitive measures as long as it is done in the name of the MDC. In this sense, the MDC has articulated its own localised patriotic history in Bulawayo.

A good case in point is the scandal that involved Bulawayo’s Deputy Mayor, who in 2015 was involved in the procurement of pre-paid water meters. The contracted company had a conflict of interest, as the deputy mayor was a board member/owner of the company. Despite an uproar from civic organisations about this, no punitive measures were taken against him by the MDC as he was a known loyalist and financer of party activities. More generally, numerous cases of corruption involving the Bulawayo council have been revealed in research studies, media reports, government investigations and audits. However, in terms of dedicated anti-corruption agencies (namely, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission), attention has remained concentrated at the national level, with a focus on parastatals, state enterprises and state ministries. Though the Ministry of local government has the prerogative to intervene in such matters, which it does at times, at other times it takes a hands-off approach as it realises the negative repercussions of this for the MDC’s democratic credentials in Bulawayo. It is also likely that, in certain instances, council administrators loyal to ZANU-PF may be involved in facilitating such corruption, by acts of either commission or omission.

Importantly, the corruption in the upper echelons of the Bulawayo council also filters down to operational levels, and this has a direct and negative bearing on the everyday lives and livelihoods of Bulawayo residents. In fact, corruption has gradually become accepted and almost normalised as a way of addressing service delivery deficiencies. Thus, one resident highlighted:

It is normal for someone who works for the Bulawayo city council’s public works department to disconnect water for a household with an outstanding water bill. However, what is now a common occurrence is, when the council worker comes to disconnect a household, we give him $5 as an incentive not to close the water. Because he has not received his salary for two months, he will be tempted to take the money and not close the water because he does not benefit anyone by closing the water.

In the context of council’s failure to deliver even the minimum standard of services, and given its apparent laissez-faire approach to downward accountability, it is not surprising that residents “grease the palm” of council workers.

In some cases, there is a familial clement to low-lcvcl corruption. Another resident noted that:

If my son was employed as an ambulance driver by the local council and I needed transportation to attend a funeral, I would definitely call him to pick me up with the ambulance, on company time, for him to take me to the funeral. I sec no problem with that, he is my son and I am his father, so he must attend to my needs as well. The community would find it concerning if he was to refuse to do that, because I invested a lot in him, for him to get that job it is through my sacrifices and therefore he should reciprocate that.

In a way, standards of public integrity in council affairs somehow become lost in cultural translation, leading to norms of accountability clashing with cultural norms and expectations. Local forms of political patronage become normalised on this basis. Thus, practices that come under the rubric of the standard definition of corruption (i.e. the use of public resources for private gain) are nonetheless considered by some perpetrators as being legitimate (Oliver de Sardan 1999). Even an employee of the Bulawayo council, when provided with the hypothetical example of the use of the ambulance, was not inclined to condemn such a practice. In his words, there is a need to “understand that we arc Africans and at times it is difficult to draw the line between family and duty, especially on matters involving public resources and pressing family emergencies”. Such sentiments highlight the depth of the ineffective use of public resources in Bulawayo though, in this case, it is not conceptualised as an abuse of public resources.


In considering service delivery, civic activism and social accountability in Bulawayo, this chapter has focused on the complex dynamics existing between the central state, local council and residents (particularly in the high-density wards). Both the past and present, leading to fear and despondency, weigh heavily on the everyday lives of low-income residents of Bulawayo, which inhibits both their capacity and willingness to become civic agents vis-à-vis city council affairs. As well, the forms and levels of civic action tend to be configured, at least in part, by the manner in which gender and class, in particular, shape the everyday lives of low-income residents. Nevertheless, low-income residents arc not without agency in Bulawayo, particularly when it comes to addressing service delivery deficiencies. Not only have they formed their own development-focused associations in addressing these deficiencies, but also they have sought to embed themselves in the local system of corruption to their own benefit. In this way, they are developing alternative ways of negotiating the challenges they face in a deeply deprived residential space.


1 Council Minutes from a full council meeting held on 24 March 2016.


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3 Mistrust and despondency

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