Urban and rural local authorities constitute the lowest tier of Zimbabwe's multilevel system of government. These local governments have a constitutional "right to govern" that must be exercised within the constitutional, legislative and policy framework. Under the old constitutional order, the national government could supervise urban local authorities, for example by issuing policy directives to ensure that these authorities governed in a manner that enabled them to deliver on national and local goals. This article examines this supervisory instrument, the powers it gives the national government, its use in practice and its relevance under the new constitutional order. The main argument is that supervisory instruments, such as the power to issue policy directives to local governments, are necessary in any multilevel system of government. However, such supervisory powers must be balanced with the need for local autonomy, to allow local governments to deliver on their service delivery obligations and development mandate.