HomeOpinionNew perspective: Resident advocacy can shape direction of local governance

New perspective: Resident advocacy can shape direction of local governance

By Masimba Manyanya

OVER recent years the resident in Zimbabwe is striving to define advocacy approaches that guarantee the best in terms of expectations of local services.

In 2021 there is little guarantee, if any, that water supplied through local authorities is suitable for consumption. The absence of waste management systems, clearly evident with the mountains of uncollected refuse in the urban locations, or the raw sewage flowing openly in the streets of Kadoma, or the potholed Harare roads all point to serious discrepancies in the supply or delivery of local public goods in urban areas.

In the rural areas many locations are practically inaccessible through road networks — the 50 km stretch between Chireya Mission to Nembudziya via Chirape shopping centre in Gokwe being is one good example.

In 2017 aspiring Goromonzi North constituency Member of Parliament Ozias Bvute hired bulldozers to construct roads in rural Chinyika. This would bring the Chinyika clinic within reasonable access for residents of Muchatuta, Chiketero, Yafele villages. He got elected in 2018.

But in late 2018, heavy rains pounded Goromonzi. That road became a gully. Following the 2019/2020 rainy season the road became a small river. It is anyone’s guess what will happen if heavy rains and floods revisit Goromonzi in 2021.

The big question becomes, are our councils and municipalities equipped technically, financially or in terms of comparative (resource) advantages, to cope with the massive expansion in population demand for basic local services?

When councils and municipalities fail to meet basic local expectations what do residents do? Across Zimbabwe, entire communities lack access to basic water, health, education, water and energy.  Against the background of such discrepancies and conflicts, residents associations are flourishing.

For many years, the activities of residents have been cast in the stone of technical advocacy, with electoral, or political activities being deemed irrelevant.

Conceptualising the responsibilities and obligations of residents inclusive of electoral dimensions becomes paramount in the search for sustainable solutions.

Residents and residents associations

A resident can be defined as a citizen, or non-citizen (individual or corporate), allowed by the state, in terms of a national constitution:

  • To reside, either temporarily or permanently within the political boundaries of the country; and
  • To have the right to be an employer or employee, and to lead an ordinary life as a civilian, but with restrictions in the case of non-citizens

A resident who is a citizen enjoys the privileges of participating in local civic and political activities such as casting his or her ballot in local municipal and also in national elections.

Non-citizens (diplomats, as citizens of other countries), are not permitted these privileges. Commensurate with the basic rights and expectations of the resident therefore, there are basic accompanying citizen responsibilities that include payment of rates and taxes, and participating in electoral activities.

A residents association can also be defined as an organisation formed by individuals from a specific geographical locality or community (such as a village, ward, district council, township, suburb, or province), who share a common interest in improving their quality of life by attending, through social advocacy, to opportunities, deficiencies or anomalies in local public service delivery or in matters of local governance.

The residents association is, in terms of the law, expected to be formally constituted and registered, with verifiable membership and internal governance structures that are operational.

The residents association is effectively a local voice, or leader in matters of local development. In essence, it means a residents association is a platform for mobilising public interest, and also for engaging local service providers.

It is evident from the above definitions that residents are not essentially politicians, and that they are, principally, consumers of local public goods. However residents do have political values and inclinations that can help shape the leadership of councils, it does not mean that the residents association is a political agency.

Expectations of residents

The activities of residents and residents associations exist in a context of expectations, rights, responsibilities and obligations relating to service delivery, and as expounded in the national constitution.

These can all be summarily defined as a (written or unwritten) agreement, or compact that we can, for convenience, referred to here as our ‘Charter of Residents’ Rights, Responsibilities/Obligations’.

As implied in our charter, responsibilities of residents include payment of rates and taxes to local authorities, and lobbying and advocacy processes for desired levels of service delivery.

It is precisely for these reasons that the resident will go to work to earn an income, so that they are able to pay the right amount of rates, and so that they can enjoy water that is clean, and safe at such a time they need it.

Residents are entitled to local services because they pay for them, often in advance. Therefore the resident must strive to establish a form of local political leadership that responds well to local challenges and expectations.

Adverse local service delivery impacts tend to be amplified at demographic and geographical levels (52% of Zimbabwe’s population are women, 67% are youths (under age of 35), and 67,7% rural based, in comparison with 33% urban. This means the collapse of local services will tend to disproportionately affect some population groups in some regions more than others.

Expectedly, women and youth in rural areas will tend to be familiar with, or be expressive or articulate about challenges in local delivery of water, health and education.

What it further means is that a creative marketing campaign by an enterprising local authority in Zimbabwe would have to seriously consider specific needs of women, youths, and rural residents as a priority.

 Electoral solutions

The primary entitlement of the resident is the freedom to pursue solutions that facilitate their access to local public goods and services. Residents are entitled to pursue solutions that can resolve discrepancies between regional economic potentials and wealth that surrounds them, and the pervasive poverty in which they are immersed.

The resident is also empowered to facilitate transformation of leadership at local council or municipal levels. The persistence of failure of local service delivery by councils and municipalities is a clear indicator of non-sustainability of existing approaches.

As indicated above, the resident is a citizen in need of local public services. It is presumed therefore that there is awareness and appreciation of citizen obligations to pay local rates and taxes. Just like the central government, councils need these resources to finance service delivery.

When the council persistently fails to effectively deliver local services in spite of available resources, it becomes the duty and responsibility of residents to adjust council leadership so that there are councillors who can address deficiencies in local service delivery, setting new paths towards sustainable, robust growth.

Participation in local electoral activities includes driving voter engagement (facilitating access of voters to electoral information they need) and voter education and awareness around constitutional rights, key voting milestones, (including voter registration requirements and deadlines). Through electoral processes founded on principles of universal, free, equal, direct and secret suffrage, residents/citizens are able directly influence or shape the composition and direction of government towards desirable ends.

  • Manyanya is an economist and policy analyst. These weekly column, New Horizon, is published in the Zimbabwe Independent and co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators in Zimbabwe. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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