On 14 August 2020, the Mayor of City of Harare, Herbert Gomba together with five other councillors from the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) now Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), were suspended from office by the Minister of Local government and public works on allegations of corruption. Several other elected councilors were also suspended on similar allegations thereafter and by December of that same year, the City of Harare had grounded to a halt having lost two Mayors and 25 of its 46 councilors within a short time of two years. The suspensions were not limited to elected leaders. Heads of departments were also suspended by the city council indefinitely for several reasons including abuse of office, and other corrupt activities. Many considered the above as part of a larger ruling party, ZANU-PF schemes to exert authority and control over the affairs of the City of Harare. Zimbabwe has been subject to “vertically-divided authority” with Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, under opposition control since 2002, while the national government was controlled by ZANU-PF. The relationship between central and local government in Zimbabwe has thus resulted in a crisis of governance, poor social service delivery and spatial planning in Harare.
The service delivery and governance context in Harare is complex on account of the failure of the ruling Party and the opposition to coexist and cooperate for purposes of urban development. While the city has seen massive urbanisation driven by rural to urban migration since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, this population explosion has placed huge demands on the city regarding delivering quality social services and critical infrastructure. A recent study by the African Cities Research Consortium (ACRC) reviewed that the City of Harare has not had an overarching vision / spatial transformation program since the 1993 Harare master plan. This has huge implications for planning and the delivery of quality social services in the absence of “big ideas” driving urban development. Harare’s lack of a vision increases the risk of the city collapsing under the weight of the challenges it faces, and its lack of a radar and place in the broader regional and international development agenda. While the problems in Harare look technical, they are deeply embedded in the political settlement driving development in Zimbabwe, setting the stage for contested urban development.
Chapter 14 of the constitution of Zimbabwe envisages devolution of government, but the ZANU-PF government has systematically undermined this in ways that reflect ‘strategies of subversion’ which ensure that their opponents ‘do not gain any credit for good performance but are eager to assign blame when services are poorly delivered’. Subversion often involves tacit moves to undermine established rules, practices and/or power structures to undermine the autonomy of local government in fiscal, administrative and political domains. The central government rescinds decisions made by city authorities, oversteps areas of responsibility and appoints individuals in violation of the law as has been seen with the appointment of provincial development co-ordinators. The city of Harare provides perhaps the best example of the, ‘manifestations of subversive strategies by national governments to undermine urban authorities’.
The delinquency of central government in urban development dates back to the early 2000s when the opposition (then MDC) took over control of virtually all cities in Zimbabwe. In the last general elections in 2018, MDC Alliance as it was known then won 28 out of 32 urban local authorities indicating the dominance of opposition parties in urban development while ZANU-PF won the presidency and a commanding majority in parliament. These results deepened vertically divided authority. The first opposition Mayor of Harare, Engineer Elias Mudzuri elected in 2002 was summarily dismissed from office barely two years into his term allegedly for failure to execute his duties. The pattern of dismissal of opposition mayors has continued to this day. Former Mayor of Harare Ben Manyenyeni (2013-2018) was suspended and later arrested on flimsy charges of abuse of office, but behind closed doors the real issue was the appointment of the town clerk of Harare. The position of town clerk fell vacant in 2016 and the MDC-led council set in motion all legal procedures that led to the appointment of James Mushore a well-known and successful banker in Zimbabwe. The Minister of Local Government through the local government board, an unconstitutional structure rejected the appointment. Mr Mushore later reported that the minister told him, “You are not one of us, you will do this job over my dead body”. That sealed James Mushore’s fate, and he only served for a day but more fundamentally, the urban local authority was denied an opportunity to appoint its own CEO.
The City’s road infrastructure is dilapidated, with some of the roads now unusable for cars. In its 2021-2025 strategic plan, the City estimated that 40% of its 4500km of tarred roads are in a bad state and need urgent attention. Prior to 2009 cities in Zimbabwe used to collect road user fees/taxes. This mandate was taken away (financial subversion) and centralised within the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), an institution riddled with corruption. This resulted in the City loosing over USD 100 million in revenue that could be used to rehabilitate roads as ZINARA hardly disburses meaningful funds. Additionally, the national government uses the funds meant for city roads rehabilitation to attend to the City network arguing that the city has failed to run the local authority. These actions by the central government amount to what Poteete and Ribot (2011: 440) defined as ‘repertoires of domination’, which are are sets of ‘routine claim-making actions available to actors as they seek to gain, expand, or defend positions of dominance vis-à-vis particular types of other actors’. These ‘repertoires’ undermine decentralisation and democratisation. In 2013 the central government “forgave” and cancelled consumer debts in excess of ZW one billion ahead of the general elections. These debts have left the local authority in a deep financial hole.
Lately, the strategies of subversion have deepened into outright corrupt activities. In mid-2022, the government forced  the City of Harare to enter into a 30-year deal with a Dutch Company Geogenix BV  in a waste-to-energy deal estimated to cost the City over USD one million a month to dump waste in its own dumpsite. Given the City’s inefficient rates collection, which fell from 65% pre-covid pandemic to 35%, the city cannot afford this deal. The deal was resisted by the City, but if history is anything to go by, some councillors may be expelled as government pushes this deal. These kinds of incidents point to strategies of subversion and also patently corrupt decisions by the government of Zimbabwe. In the ensuing milieu, the victims are city of Harare residents who are subjected to declining and poor social services. As of mid 2022, the City of Harare has no substantive directors for all the departments save for health – making strategic thinking and planning impossible. It is likely that these positions will remain vacant until after general elections slated for 2023.
The above is not to suggest that the opposition MDC/CCC is an innocent victim. Constant infighting, factionalism, a poorly articulated urban development vision, and questionable leadership of those deployed as councillors leaves the CCC exposed to central government interference. Residents associations have long complained about unending land scandals and other corrupt activities which have led to some councillors being suspended from council. The CCC is aware of these challenges and in 2019 appointed an Integrity Tribunal which was meant to probe these allegations. Nothing was done. A special committee that was set up by the City in 2020 detailed how land was being illegally purchased and sold in black markets. Recently, I sat down with former Mayors of Harare Muchadeyi Masunda and Ben Manyenyeni. They decried the quality of leadership and technical capacities of the councillors they worked with, arguing that the councillors were set to fail from day one given that the council administration is led by technical and highly qualified professionals able to “dribble and trap” the unsuspecting councillors. For example, Council operates through standing and specialist committees like Finance and Environment and yet many councillors presiding over them do not have the competency to lead in these areas. This is the bane of violent politics which pushes away competent candidates from participating in elections. Electoral politics become the terrain of the “brave” rather than of the “bright”. While the CCC has articulated a “Smart Local Government Agenda”, in reality it is unclear how this will transform urban local authorities and set an example of a government in waiting. This agenda has hardly been implemented in any of the local authorities that the opposition controls, including in Harare.
 See Resnick, D. (2014). Strategies of Subversion in Vertically-Divided Contexts: Decentralisation and Urban Service Delivery in Senegal. Development Policy Review, 23(1), 61-80.
 Tim Kelsall (2021) discusses what political settlements are and their relevant in understanding the politics of the city in the attached article https://www.african-cities.org/african-cities-and-political-settlements/
 See attached Parliament of Zimbabwe report that details massive corruption within ZINARA https://www.veritaszim.net/sites/veritas_d/files/ZINARA%20Report%20-%20Final.pdf
 Poteete, A. and Ribot, J. (2011) ‘Repertoires of Domination: Decentralization as process in Botswana and Senegal’, World Development 39(3): 439–49.
 See terms of the deal https://www.zimlive.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Pomona-Waste-to-Energy-Agreement.pdf