REVELATIONS that the late Chief Marange, born Gilbert Chikwadombo, was an active Zanu PF district member in Mutare have ignited debate on the provisions of the Traditional Leaders Act and the need for traditional leaders to be non-partisan in the execution of their duties.
While the Act specifically prohibits traditional leaders from contesting the office of Councillor, Member of Parliament and that of President, it does not state whether or not it is permissible for them to hold any other political office.
Social commentator, Tawanda Majoni, said the Act merely prohibited traditional leaders from canvassing for, nominating or acting as election agents for presidential, parliamentary and council candidates but did not preclude them from being active members of political parties who hold office in those institutions.
“While section 46 provides that traditional leaders must not be influenced by racial, political, religious, gender or tribal biases in the discharge of their functions, it does not say they, therefore, cannot be members of political parties. This would entail violation of their constitutional right to freedom of association,” Majoni said.
He said Zanu PF and the late Acting Chief Marange could have abused this loophole, saying the reality on the ground was that any traditional leader who became an active member of any political party was bound to be partisan.
“In fact, this is what we have always seen during election time when the ruling Zanu PF used traditional leaders to manipulate the rural electorate. Equally seriously, partisanship among traditional leaders entails the exclusion of perceived enemies from communal goods such as land, aid and livelihood opportunities,” he said.
Majoni said it was difficult to amend the statute to bar traditional chiefs from playing active roles in political parties because that might become ultra vires some sections of the constitution which provided for the protection of fundamental rights of equality and non-discrimination such as Section 56 which gives citizens equal access to political, cultural, economic and social opportunities.
“Similarly, section 58 gives citizens the freedom of assembly and association while section 60 gives the freedom of conscience which must also include political thought and persuasion.
“It seems redress must come in the form of deterrent punishment when the traditional leaders violate the laws by, for instance, treating their subjects unequally or violating specific provisions of the Traditional Leaders Act,” he said.
Majoni said given the seemingly conflicting constitutional provisions in Sections 56 and 281 (a) there was need for traditional leaders to come up with standing house rules.
“In this case, the associations of traditional leaders would make rules that bar them from holding active political roles. But this can still be challenged constitutionally. While civil servants are prohibited from holding active political office, I don’t think it is sustainable constitutionally,” he said.
Constitutional Law expert, Professor Lovemore Madhuku said the issue of traditional leaders was clearly articulated in Section 15 of the Supreme Law.
“It has already been dealt with by the Constitution; you cannot continue to be a traditional leader if you hold a political position. It is clear in Chapter 15 of the Constitution,” he said.
Another Social Commentator, Rashweat Mukundu said generally traditional leaders had lost the moral high ground a long time ago as they had always participated in partisan politics and looked aside while their communities were brutalized by militia and political thugs.
He said both the ruling Zanu PF party and the traditional leaders had no respect for the supreme law of the land, which they trampled upon with impunity.
“The much-vaunted expectation of traditional chiefs as moral guardians is lost as they have sold their souls to the ruling party in exchange for land, cars and money.
“Chiefs have failed to be neutral moral leaders and like their party Zanu PF, look at the constitution and their own people with contempt,” he said.
Speaking during the burial of the late Chief Marange, the Minister of Media and Broadcasting Services Chris Mushohwe, who is also Zanu PF Central committee member and House of Assembly Member for Mutare West Constituency, described him as being “politically correct”.
“I know him as someone who was both politically and traditionally correct and worked tirelessly to ensure development of the Marange area.
“He was shrewd, and a gift to both Government and Zanu-PF. He was a true leader, a humble and servant leader,” Mushohwe was quoted as saying by the government controlled Herald newspaper.
He said the late chief, who was 49, had served the people politically and traditionally, hence the liberation hero status bestowed on him.