It is a cold and sunless Saturday morning in southern Zimbabwe. A slashing wind is raising plumes of dust around a group of seven women sitting in a circle outside a community hall in Rujeko, Masvingo. They have not met to swap news and chat, but to discuss their progress so far in keeping local leaders accountable to service delivery..
“We have a Ward Committee that has seven people who are responsible for monitoring the state of service delivery in our community. Since we started, we have seen a lot of improvement in the responsiveness of council to the issues that affect us,” said Rose Mutsoko, Treasurer of the Ward 7 committee.
The committee works in partnership with the Masvingo Residents and Ratepayers Association (MURRA), which is building the capacity of residents to demand their constitutionally guaranteed socio-economic and political rights. With financial support from the Hivos Southern Africa Hub, MURRA aims to empower residents to engage leaders in the implementation of progressive policies and budgets.
Some of the service delivery failures affecting the teeming Rujeko neighbourhood include burst sewer pipes that local authorities take forever to fix, poor roads and uncollected garbage, which poses potential health hazards, among other problems.
“As residents, we identify issues and then inform the councillor. If there is no assistance, we ask MURRA to take up the issue so that they can lobby higher up authorities,” said Alice Simango, a member of the residents committee.
Simango said that many things are changing in Rujeko, especially the state of roads and the responsiveness of council to service delivery problems that affect residents.
“People now have knowledge. Now we know that if you pay rates, you’ve a right to question authorities,” said Getrude Mapfiya, vice chairperson of the committee.
According to MURRA, a situation analysis conducted in Masvingo revealed that duty bearers sidelined citizens in many ways, including non-involvement in local governance processes, municipal planning and budgeting.
However, since the project started in 2014, it is apparent that women are taking the leadership mantle to make things turn around. According to Getrude Mapfiya, this is not rocket science because women are the ones who bear the brunt of poor service delivery.
“Women are the ones that directly suffer from poor service delivery. Take for example, if there is a burst sewer pipe, a housewife has to make sure that her children don’t play in the filth,” said Mapfiya.
MURRA has been providing advocacy skills to the committee members through community theatre and workshops on the intricacies of how council works. In collaboration with residents, MURRA implements a scorecard three times annually to rate the responsiveness of local councillors on issues of service delivery and budgeting.
“In the past, the council budget was merely a top down affair because we lacked knowledge about its implications. Now, we lobby for things that are a priority to our welfare. We have seen that council is now increasingly coming back to the people for consultations,” said Julieta Chapiwa, a member of the committee.