schools and roads among others.
The structure of local government in Zimbabwe has changed a lot since 1980 and now comprises 25 Urban Councils and some 58 Rural District Councils. These bodies are controlled and managed by elected Councils and in this respect there were some 1400 Rural District Council seats up for election this year. Some Urban Councils were also up for election and there were a few bi-elections in Urban Councils.
In the past six years Zanu (PF) has lost control at one time or another of 12 Urban Councils and several Rural District Councils – but remained firmly in charge in the majority of Rural District Councils. In the recent elections the MDC made some inroads – but these were minimal and Zanu (PF) retains its dominant position in these rural local authorities.
This was to be expected. The combined efforts of the two factions of the MDC fielded about 1000 candidates (70 per cent). Despite a critical shortage of funding and vehicles they campaigned quite vigorously throughout the country. Despite this, the main feature of these elections was extreme disinterest by the average voter. The number of voters who actually made the effort to vote was tiny – perhaps two per cent of the number of voters on the voters rolls.
If we assume the voters rolls still contain a large number of absentee voters and voters who are actually dead, then the turnout was possibly four or five per cent. For an election of such importance, this is a dismal performance and requires careful analysis.
It is clear from this turnout that the great majority of the people affected simply no longer think that they can change matters in their local authorities by voting for different parties. In Urban Council areas, the majority of the Councils elected under the MDC banner have been turned out of office on one pretext or another. They have then been replaced by appointed Zanu (PF) structures that have simply resumed business as usual. Corrupt practices are widespread and the collapse of service delivery is becoming a serious aspect of urban life.
In the rural areas the combined influence of the traditional leaders, who are increasingly servants of the State, with Chief Charumbira leading the way – demand that their people vote for Zanu (PF) candidates or face a wide variety of penalties – from the withholding of food aid to eviction from rural homes. Government service providers such as the Grain Marketing Board – which has a monopoly over grain supplies and markets as well as a near monopoly over the supply of inputs, also demand acquiescence to the dominance of Zanu (PF). Possession of membership cards and the support of Headmen and Chiefs is a frequent demand in return for service delivery.
Then there is the experience of the people in national elections – three times they have gone to the polls since 2000 and voted overwhelmingly for the opposition. Only to find that in the end their votes made no difference at all – the State simply subverted the poll in a dozen different ways. Having been cheated three times, they now feel there is little point in making the effort to vote. Counselors were elected this past weekend on a handful of votes. Where required voters were bussed in and the armed forces used to bolster Zanu (PF) candidates.
If this state of affairs continues there is the very real danger that elections will cease to have any meaning in countries like Zimbabwe. The days are long gone when (as we saw in 2002) long lines of people will turn out and wait patiently for hours – even days to vote. Before the next national election – now likely to be the March 2008 presidential elections, we must do what is required to ensure that faith is restored in our democracy and people persuaded to exercise their right to vote.
BY NELSON CHAMISA
Local government is probably more important to the people living in Zimbabwe than central government. This is because local authorities control the delivery of basic services to the people who live in their regions and they also control many social services - health clinics,