Researching the politics of development



Geographies of urban dominance: The politics of Harare’s periphery

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Working paper 162

JoAnn McGregor and Kudzai Chatiza

This paper examines how Zimbabwe’s ruling party ZANU(PF) sought to dominate Harare from 2000 onwards, when the city’s voters turned to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The ruling party’s quest for control was embedded in broader changes to the state, marked by countrywide repression of the political opposition and civic organisations, securitised state institutions, and a shift into patronage and systemic corruption, in a context of repeated economic crises and infrastructural decay. ZANU(PF) deployed a mix of ‘repressive’ and ‘generative’ strategies but these have been notably unsuccessful in winning back urban votes overall. The ruling party’s ‘generative’ patronage in this solidly opposition-supporting capital hinged on controlling land and new settlements on the periphery, together with dominance of central markets and opportunities for vending. Simultaneously, the powers of the Ministry Responsible for Local Government were used to undermine the city’s council, destabilise its finances and restrict its spatial governance. Land reform and land occupations, justified nationwide as a continuation of the liberation struggle, shaped the city’s expansion in distinctive ways. The paper makes two contributions to broader conceptual debates over political dominance in urban contexts. First, it advocates a geographical approach that differentiates specific urban spaces, rather than treating capital cities as monolithic. Second, it calls for attention to the qualities of political dominance and change over time. This means looking beyond top-down strategies of co-optation or coercion and open forms of protest politics to explore authority and political manoeuvres within dominated locales.