This is a study of the 'terrain of urban governance', using areas of Zimbabwe's biggest city Harare as case studies. It presents and discusses sets of perceptions of poverty and the poor which influence policy development and decision making among urban 'governors'. Kamete shows the effects of positive as well as negative perceptions of the poor. He also problematises more conventional understandings of poverty and includes into his own conceptual understanding dimensions of deficient access to participation and citizenship. He shows that the relationship between power and powerlessness among the poor is much more complex than is sometimes assumed. The urban poor in Harare - since the emergence of significant political opposition in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s - have become both an important and volatile instrument to be wooed and paid by populist politicians. At the same time - in their patterns of voting - they have been a mainstay of support for opposition to the ZANU-PF government at both local and central level. Amin Y. Kamete is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Rural and Urban Planning, University of Zimbabwe, Harare. He has been a guest researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala.