Perspective: Uphold rights and expectations of residents in Zimbabwe

Politicians would love to see residents as activists who make a lot of noise and discomfort for them particularly during the time of elections.

Over recent years, rights and responsibilities of residents have become topical in Zimbabwe.

From an economics perspective, a resident is a consumer of local public goods.

Politicians would love to see residents as activists who make a lot of noise and discomfort for them particularly during the time of elections.

Looking around at the massive deterioration of local public service infrastructure (roads, water, public toilets) in Zimbabwe’s capital city, maybe there is good enough reason to try to find out what could have gone wrong in terms of rights, responsibilities, and expectations of the resident.

It is quite discomforting to suddenly discover whilst in town, that the toilets are not working, or there is no water.

It is also quite a dreadful experience having your car plunge into a pothole you hadn’t seen on the road.

Then what with the mounds of stinking uncollected garbage, and sometimes one has to walk deftly past streams of raw sewage flowing away to wherever.

And all this with the cholera menace. What is going on? Or maybe, to be more precise, what is it that is going wrong?


A resident is in simple terms, a person who is also as a citizen, allowed in terms of the law, to live, or be domiciled in a particular place for the indefinite future.

The national constitution quite often defines rights, obligations and responsibilities associated with ‘residence’.

 In more specific terms, a resident is a citizen, or non-citizen (individual or corporate) allowed, in terms of a national constitution;

  •  to reside, either temporarily or permanently within the specific boundaries of the country,
  •  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.

This means that a resident is entitled to certain responsibilities and privileges. I will highlight two key responsibilities.

 Firstly, and as a matter of principle, quality local service delivery only comes when there is quality local leadership at the local council/local authority.

This means residents have an important responsibility to participate in local civic activities that include casting their ballot in local municipal elections.

 However commensurate with the basic rights and expectations of the resident, there are basic accompanying citizen responsibilities that include payment of rates and taxes.

The issue of rates is the second key responsibility.

Since it is the expectation of residents that the local authority provides them with quality local public goods such as water, good roads and refuse collection, then they have an obligation to pay rates to that local authority.

Rates constitute resources needed to facilitate delivery of local public services.

What it really means is that local public services don’t come for free; alternatively they are not intended to be a gift from central government, or the president.

The resident is, therefore, expected to deduct from their earnings as a worker (wage, salary, or income) a certain amount of money which they take to their council to pay for local service delivery.

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

If there are resource shortfalls or discrepancies at councils\municipalities what could be the reasons for such a predicament?

 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.

Residents associations

The residents associations can also be defined as an organization 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 as residents, 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 service delivery.

In essence it means a residents association is a platform for mobilising local public interest, and also for engaging local service providers.

It is evident from the above definitions that residents are not necessarily 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 local councils.

But this does not mean that the residents association is a political agency, as ‘politics’ tends to be associated with national, rather than local citizen obligations and responsibilities.

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 or charter around local service delivery. Basic elements of this include;

Entitlement; Being a citizen one is automatically a resident. An entitlement is privileged access of a resident to goods, services, resources or opportunities, free of unwarranted intrusion. This is secured as a constitutional right, or through Acts of Parliament. Residents are entitled to local public goods or services

Adequacy; Residents expect local services that are adequate of their basic needs (adequacy defined in terms of right amounts of services delivered in the right amounts and at the right time, prioritizing welfare needs, as individuals or communities ( women, youth, people with disabilities) in the different rural and urban regions of the country;

Safety and Security; Residents expect local services that are safe and secure in human, social and environmental terms. This means local services that protect or promote life, i.e. that do not pose a danger, risk, or threat to human, natural, biological, or marine life;

Convergence; Local services that are managed, delivered, secured  or accessed through positive, engagement (dialogue, consensus, conflict resolution and peace building) processes;

Welfare and dignity; Local services that add to the sense of satisfaction, welfare, fulfilment, pride and dignity and value in communities

Going forward

Residents may have high level expectations about local service delivery, but this may fail to materialize for two important reasons; economic issues, and local governance issues.

The broader macro-economy is supposed to be a key source of wages and incomes from which residents are able to pay rates. In a much similar way, the level of development of broader local civic frameworks facilitating leadership selection and local administration will impact on local service delivery in the long term.

When the economy cannot provide jobs, and when residents are unable to choose local leaders they believe are effective, or when there are gaps and deficiencies in the administration of local services, entire jurisdictions will be exposed to adverse local service impacts.

 The collapse of local services in Zimbabwe tends to be amplified at demographic and geographical levels (affecting the more vulnerable socio-economic groups; women (52%), youths (67%), and rural-based (67.7%) rural based, in comparison with urban (33%).

Residents are obliged to pay rates to local authorities, but they also need their lobbying and advocacy spaces for desired levels of service delivery respected. 

 The resident will go 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.

But this will come to naught if the economy fails to generate jobs.

The key to transformation towards more effective local service delivery in Zimbabwe therefore rests on holistic policy approaches that uphold the rights and expectations of residents, while at the same time ensuring that the economy provides jobs.

  • Masimba Manyanya  is a policy analyst.
  • These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. Email- [email protected] or Mobile No. +263 772 382 852


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