The unholy matrimony between the Chiefs and Zanu PF

This week’s edition comes from an individual I have grown to respect for his unwavering national loyalty, but also insightful commentary on the law and Zimbabwe in general which constantly appears on social media and has won him both fans and enemies. Here’s to many more collaborations with him and other analysts and writers! — Paul

By Thabani Mnyama

“We are unapologetic about the cars we received from President (Emmerson) Mnangagwa recently. Those vehicles are necessary for the status, dignity and respect of the traditional leaders. If anything, we deserve those cars more than anyone else in this country. It’s you who designed the new Constitution, the same document which states that chiefs should be dignified and exemplary. Now we are given cars, you question why it is done,” — Chief Charumbira, as quoted in the Chronicle, January 2018. It is quite ironic that the chief relied on the Constitution while violating it simultaneously by declaring the Chiefs’ undisputable and open loyalty to Zanu PF.

Since 1980, Zimbabwean governance has been plagued by so many irregularities, especially ones not normally expected in a “democratic” republic. One of these issues is the separation of powers and independence of different institutions from each other.

While there may have been some doubt in the previous Constitution, our 2013 Constitution is explicit not just in the existence of a separation of powers doctrine, but the non-partisan nature of chiefs. It is, therefore, worrying and problematic to continue observing the unholy matrimony between the National Council of Chiefs and the ruling party, Zanu PF.

The continued silence of Zanu PF while seemingly “buying the chiefs’ loyalty” through purchasing of brand new vehicles has not helped their case in proving that they have reformed from the Mugabe era. They still have a long way to go in proving that they can act in terms of the Constitution, but also that they can create an environment conducive for free and fair elections with an equal playing field.

One can easily deduce that the only reason Zanu PF has not taken tangible action in righting these wrongs they inherited under Robert Mugabe is to help in securing numbers come election season.

However, the Constitution which is the ultimate law of the land, states in s285 (1), “There is a National Council of Chiefs constituted in accordance with an Act of Parliament, to represent all chiefs in Zimbabwe.” Furthermore s286 goes on to state the functions of the NCC, and it states that amongst its numerous functions, it also serves to ensure that the council and all assemblies of chiefs carry out their functions independently, efficiently, conscientiously and impartially.

This part of the law illustrates how the NCC together with all the traditional leaders in Zimbabwe ought to behave themselves in relation to the politics of the country.

But how then can the chiefs be impartial in the execution of their duties when they are in bed with Zanu PF?

Take for example, people within their jurisdiction come to them with a problem that needs solving, one is a well-known MDC supporter and the other a Zanu PF supporter, how can we trust the chief to deliver a verdict that’s not biased by his loyalty for a party? In a country where impunity is not rewarded we would expect the chiefs that have disobeyed the law to be brought to book in accordance with the law.

So what is the real problem you may ask?

Section 281(2):

“2. Traditional leaders must not–

a. be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics;

b. act in a partisan manner;

c. further the interests of any political party or cause; or

d. violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person.”

The issue is that some of our chiefs have directly contravened the Constitution by openly declaring their loyalties to Zanu PF, which has confirmed the rumours that had always existed of how Zanu PF under the regime of former President Mugabe, used the chiefs as tools to infiltrate rural areas, intimidate and manipulate voters in their favour during election season. The chiefs’ loyalty was also cemented by new cars and other goodies Zanu PF would spoil them with, and this practice does not seem to have been left behind in the “previous” regime because as recent as this past week we have seen brand new cars for chiefs once again. Now, is this just a sign of appreciation or it’s a continuity of buying these chiefs over to Zanu PF as in the past?

If so, what does that say about the new dispensation’s efforts and seriousness to be different from the previous one? What does that say about the promise by Mnangagwa to actually have free, fair and credible elections when the chiefs are being lured into Zanu’s corner yet again?

It would be interesting for someone to take them to court and have the Constitutional Court flex its muscles, as far as issuing constitutional remedies is concerned.
What effect does this have on the new administration?

For a regime whose rise to power has been on the promises to tackle corruption and amongst other things lawlessness, one would expect the Zanu PF-led government to take action and renounce this behaviour from the chiefs, to encourage them to observe the law and not meddle in politics, but their silence so far has been deafening making it hard to take their promises seriously, as a political party they should walk the talk and practice what they preach.

Chiefs in Mashonaland East through Chief Musarurwa recently pledged to the Zanu PF women’s league that they would do everything in their power to make sure Nelson Chamisa doesn’t win and endorsed Zanu PF’s Presidential hopeful Mnangagwa.

They went on to say they would not let anyone, who never fought in the liberation struggle to rule the country. Chiefs have also been known to victimise those who support the opposition parties by denying them agricultural inputs and food aid.

Whilst the Election Resource Centre dragged the National Council of Chief’s President Fortune Charumbira to court over his remarks in October 2017 for supporting former President Robert Mugabe as their preferred candidate for the 2018 elections, Chief Charumbira on 14 January 2018 repeated the same remarks pledging his and other chiefs’ support for President Mnangagwa.

With all this in mind, how honourable are our traditional leaders given they don’t respect the constitution? Are they fit to execute their duties impartially and independently? Are they above the law? What has Zanu PF’s new dispensation done to fix all this so far? Do they plan on fixing it soon, if ever? And finally, what does this say about the new dispensation? These are questions that need answers from the President himself and if that fails then someone needs to take this matter up legally, as a violation of the Constitution…just saying !

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