Zimbabwe chiefs must stop the hypocrisy
Muzarabani, a scenic district situated in the Mashonaland Central province near the Mozambique border is still reeling from the affects of politically motivated violence and intimidation witnessed in the area post March 2008.
On the 4th of May 2008, Chief Kasekete of Muzarabani called for the murder of villagers subscribing to non- ZANU PF ideologies. By the 6th of May, 8 villagers were dead allegedly as a result of the decree.
According to the Heal Zimbabwe Trust, in June 2008, 22 people were killed in Muzarabani while 125 were displaced. Chief Kasekete and some of his acquaintances who spearheaded brutal campaigns in their communities remain scot free yet they still demand reverence from Zimbabweans. What hypocrisy!
Since the colonial period, chiefs have been used as conduits of violence and intimidation in exchange for financial resources and favours from unpopular regimes.
From 1980 to date, ZANU PF’s political fights in most rural areas are aided by chiefs as evidenced by their role in the 2008 elections and the constitutional reform process where they were accused of distributing the ZANU PF position paper, coaching villagers and subjecting perceived opponents to verbal and physical abuse.
Traditional institutions have thus turned into political institutions with chiefs turned into ZANU PF political commissars. Odious crimes including rape, torture, murder and displacements are carried out in villages under the watchful eyes of traditional leaders such as Chief Kasekete.
President of the Council of Chiefs, Fortune Charumbira is on record saying that chiefs should be commissars and political organisers of ZANU PF at the Chiefs’ conference held in Kariba in October 2010.
Moreso, the decision taken by some chiefs at the October conference to endorse President Robert Mugabe as the life President compromises their traditional role and proves accurate allegations that chiefs are simply political activists in chieftain regalia. This concern is equally shared by ordinary citizens.
During civic education meetings conducted by The Coalition, participants in Mashonaland and Midlands provinces exhibited frustration at the retrogressive role played by chiefs in the country whom they accused of promoting and protecting the interests of ZANU PF as opposed to the interests of members of their communities.
What was more interesting was the call for chiefs to decide whether they want to be elected into power (and continue advancing the interests of ZANU PF) or remain as beneficiaries of a dynasty system (thereby removing their political party jackets).
But what exactly is the role of traditional leaders? Ideally, the role of chiefs and other traditional leaders in the African context is to safeguard the customs, heritage and values of societies. Traditional leaders are custodians of traditions, ‘community advocates’ and have ‘authority over traditional laws and customs’.
Yet, since the colonial era, some chiefs have disregarded traditions, which uphold the need for peaceful co-existence, respect and ‘ubuntu’. They have destroyed the fabrics of community and brought the values of society to their knees.
As exemplified by Zimbabwe, the danger of turning chiefs into political party activists is that they concentrate on political issues rather than safeguarding the interests of their communities.
The African Development Forum (2004) highlighted that if chiefs became vote-banks, elected chiefs would in essence become ordinary politicians pre-occupied with electoral politics rather than offering leadership that embodies the traditions and social values of the community.
Traditional leaders need to remember that respect is not demanded, it is not fought for, it is not solicited but respect is earned through reciprocation of respect. Demanding respect on the grounds that they are traditional leaders and nothing more defeats common logic.
As long as traditional leaders continue disrespecting and trampling upon the rights of Zimbabweans, they should not expect to be treated with reverence. Chiefs should simply stop being hypocritical and be the advocates of the values and traditions which they purport to stand for and preach. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.