HARARE – As this year’s harmonised elections loom in the horizon, debate on the Chiefs’ role in the country’s politics has once again been reignited, after the chiefs were recently rewarded with new cars by government at a function were they pledged their loyalty to Zanu PF.
Social and political analysts agreed that the Chiefs’ welfare should be the responsibility of government, but what they are against is for the Chiefs to support the ruling party, Zanu PF as a way of thanking them for the goodies being delivered to them.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the chiefs are citizens and are entitled to their views and have right to vote for a party of their choice.
“They can openly declare their support for Zanu PF or any party. That’s okay. But political mischief, delinquency and dereliction of duty will be to be partisan in doing their duties and forcing their subjects to vote for their party. This is what we will not accept.
“Once they start doing this they become Zanu PF political campaign agents and not Chiefs. History is awash with cases of partisanship and political mischief by Chiefs. This must be resisted. I don’t see them leaving this mischief this time around and opposition supporters will be affected,” said Saungweme.
He added that Chiefs and their role is a big issue that needed to be addressed to have an even electoral playfield.
“This is one issue some opposition members should have thought about before approving of the current regime hoping they would reform. I see more of the same with opposition supporters bearing the brunt of notorious Zanu PF campaign agents masquerading as Chiefs,” said Saungweme.
Zesn director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava said the role of traditional leaders in Zimbabwe’s politics has been a bone of contention in past elections where they openly declared their support and willingness to mobilise support for Zanu PF.
“The traditional leaders have also been accused of intimidating and threatening supposed opposition supporters. For instance, during the on-going BVR exercise, Zesn has received numerous reports of traditional leaders allegedly recording serial numbers of voter registration slips of registered voters in their villages.
“In order to enhance the credibility of the next elections and ensure that a level playing field and conducive environment are created the government needs to enforce Section 281 (2)(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which states that traditional leaders must not participate in partisan politics nor act in a partisan manner.
“The continued meddling by traditional leaders in partisan politics threatens the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms such as freedom of assembly, speech and association by members and supporters of opposition parties within their jurisdiction,” said Chipfunde-Vava.
She added that Zesn strongly condemns the partisan stance by traditional leaders which is retrogressive and antithetical to the reforms ushered in the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson Tabani Moyo said his organisation calls upon a surgical process of transforming both our institutions and laws as they are critical ingredients for the holding of an election which is not disputed within and without Zimbabwe.
“The show of literally ‘purchasing’ the chiefs through dolling out cars on the eve of an election shows that the ruling party is ready to employ both the carrot and stick approach.
“Carrot through the parcelling of goodies to corrupt public institutions and stick through the militarization of the state and ultimately the running of the election,” said Moyo.
He added that without the monitoring and supervision of the elections by international observers, “it will be a mere formality of laundering the coup and pretending to produce a democratically elected government.”
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said his party has always respected traditional leaders as the custodians of our cultural values and ethos.
“We would like our traditional leaders to respect the national Constitution by remaining apolitical. Chiefs and all other traditional leaders shouldn’t be political activists. We trust that traditional leaders, as respectable and honourable members of society, will assist in maintaining political tranquility as well as peace and stability at all times in their respective communities,” said Gutu.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said such a partisan stance is unconstitutional because the Constitution says traditional leaders must be non-partisan as custodians of culture and our rural communities.
“The president’s call for free, fair and credible elections is being brought into question by such utterances. But we are unlikely to see the government correct it.
“After getting free cars, in an election year, most chiefs think they owe their livelihoods and allegiance to the ruling party Zanu PF. Well, if that is not vote-buying, then if I had wheels I would be a lorry!
“But the opposition parties and civil society need to watch what these traditional leaders do next, otherwise there could be more in the works than just the utterance
“That has always been the traditional Zanu PF politics, which obviously justifies now in Zimbabwe the call for a deeper post-Mugabe reform process. It could also be true that view does not reflect the thinking of all traditional leaders in the country,” said Gwede.
He added that overall, former president Robert Mugabe left a political culture which needs to be undone and this is the evidence.
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhunga it is a blatant violation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe for any traditional leader to purport to support the ruling Zanu PF party, or any other political party for that matter.
“According to section 281 of the Constitution, traditional leaders, including chiefs, must not be members of any political party and must not act in a partisan manner. The Constitution requires traditional leaders to respect fundamental rights and freedoms of all people, but their illegal and unconstitutional support for Zanu PF might result in them forcing opposition supporters in their areas to support Zanu PF.”
Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said constitutionally it is illegal for Chiefs to openly participate in politics and campaign for political parties.
“Their right to personal political preferences is guaranteed but they cannot use their office to campaign for political parties. In this instance there is need for Chiefs to desist from abusing their roles, and note that communities they represent are of varied political persuasions. It appears that Chiefs were too enthusiastic at the site of new cars and went over the line,” said Mukundu.
Social analyst Rejoice Ngwenya believes that not all the chiefs are partisan.
“However, the ‘problem child’ is Chief Fortune Charumbira who is supposed to be the ‘moral guardian’ of chiefs’ ideological paradigm.
“Actually, it is a blatant violation of the Constitution that Mnangagwa should condemn. Our elections are ‘rural-based’, thus any move by traditional leaders towards partisan support endangers the vote of opposition. The cars and perks they receive are taxpayers’ money, not Zanu PF’s. So they do not need to ingratiate themselves with Zanu PF.”
Political analyst MacDonald Lewanika is of the opinion that if the Mnangagwa’s administration is sincere in new the Zimbabwean vision that is just and operates on the rule of law then the impetus is on them to put chiefs in their place if they really are keen on constitutionalism.
“Given the past, these declarations have been what has buttered the chiefs’ bread and I think like some people chiefs know that despite talk of a new dispensation they are still under the old order, and for them to survive and serve their communities they have to declare partisan allegiance.
“Under these circumstances without the government reminding the chiefs of their nonpartisan responsibilities and without having to make chiefs think they have to sing for their supper from the ruling party, the chiefs’ stance is a common sense survival strategy and must be understood as such.
“Of cause there are Chiefs who are rabidly partisan but there are others who are forced into these by survival practicalities,” said Lewanika.
He said although they might be partisan he does not see them fanning any violence against opposition supporters.
“Chiefs have not been the primary culprits in violence in their communities — they may have failed to protect their subjects or behaved in partisan fashions but the culprits responsible for fanning violence in communities are known either party members, security sector deployees or former liberation war veterans.
“All of whom are protected and enjoy impunity through a state and government disinterested in acting on violence — this can’t be blamed on chiefs — so the solution goes back to the state and its agents.
“If the police and the army operate according to the constitution and desist from being partisan, if political parties engage in fair and open competition and the police arrest those responsible for violence then even opposition supporters will be safe in chiefs areas — without that — what can a chief do except to say not in my area but with grave consequences,” said Lewanika.