Whither Chieftainship, our Culture and Tradition?

The protection of intangible cultural heritage and maintaining the continuity of national culture constitute an essential cultural base for enhancing cohesion in the nation’ wrote Li Changchun.

Aaron Rwodzi and Obert Matsveru Correspondents

In Zimbabwean tradition, the Traditional Chief plays a unique role as the interlocutor between the Clan and the ancestors – by virtue of his position being ordained by Masvikiro and homwe dzeNzinza roUshe, on the one hand, and the custodian of the Clan’s socio-cultural values and economic possessions in the form of land and all that is derived from it, on the other. The interface of the modern state and this rich tradition need to be managed transparently and responsibly with full accountability to current and future generations. The Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 283(c) (i) sought to rectify that by clearly articulating how Chiefs and Acting Chiefs are selected to ensure continuity and order whilst guaranteeing the transparent retention of our culture and tradition. The least expected to engage in shenanigans and interference with the dictates of tradition, customs and the Constitution are bureaucrats whose role is to serve the people and their Chiefs. Instances galore where bureaucrats at various levels, District Development Officers and Provincial Administrators under the instruction of their handlers or otherwise, have misrepresented the wishes of the people in the selection process of chiefs. This behaviour is contrary to the espoused and observed position of HE who has consistently praised the roles the Chiefs play in ensuring peace, unity and upholding our traditions and social values. We stand the risk of going the slippery slope of conflating political and administrative leadership with traditional leadership whose guardrails are entrenched in the local communities, not district offices, provincial capitals or Harare for that matter. They complement, facilitate and enrich each other, one should never try to supplant or ride roughshod over the other. Shouldn’t the local government bureaucrats be simplifying, supporting and strengthening the understanding of the Traditional Leaders Act and the Constitution in communities with the support of the Provincial Chief’s Assembly? Do all chieftainship clans have a vernacular copy of the Traditional Leader’s Act and Constitution that ensures they clearly understand what these statutes say? Have the clans been taken through workshops to ensure there are no misunderstandings about the law and practices to avert leadership disputes? Have these clans been encouraged to document their cultural practices, history and family trees as well as taking them into cyberspace for easy access by interested stakeholders? The High Court ruling by Justice Mushore in the case HC630/15(14/02/2018) Zvarikura Shumba et al vs Reuben Mupasi Marinda, Minister of Local Government Public Works & National Housing and District Administrator is instructive in as far as it reasserted Section 282(2)(a) which provides that:-

“Except as is provided for in an Act of Parliament, the Traditional Leaders have authority, jurisdiction and control over the Communal Land or other areas, for which they have been appointed, and over persons within the Communal Lands or areas”

Section 282 (3) reads:

“In the performance of their functions, traditional leaders are not subject to the direction or control of any authority, except as may be prescribed by an Act of Parliament”

Needless to say some stakeholders without the best interests of culture and local communities have steadfastly sought to obfuscate any minor disjoints to push through their agenda.

The history of our migration tells us that the younger and more adventurous members of the clan ventured out to stake their own claims, sometimes by default when they did not return the bounty from a raid and at other times, voluntarily. In other instances, they were forced out by circumstances. The bottom line is that they spread through conquest led by the warrior among them who assumed leadership that later translated into chiefdom and dominion. That chiefdom is passed from generation to generation among the chief’s family members as decided by the Dare in their jurisdiction,hence an integral element of our culture.

When the colonialists invaded, the Chimurenga wars were fought with the blessings of the chiefs who consulted before going to war, and agreed to fight the common enemy by contributing men and materials. The first Chimurenga demonstrated stiff resistance and collaboration among the chiefs beating the invading and well equiped colonial forces by transmitting signals faster that the horse rider using smoke signals and other local means. Fast forward to the upsurge of modern political resistance to colonial rule and the Second Chimurenga. Political leadership conferred with and sought endorsement from the chiefs. The guerrilla fighters were preceded by political commissars who sought permission to fight in the areas from the chiefs and Masvikiro. It was the Chief’s Dare that recommended going to war since allowing the guerillas to move into the area to fight amounted to conscripting everybody in the community to war.

The institutions of the modern state, political, legal and administrative are built on the foundations of the traditional leadership represented by the Chieftaincy structures. These structures kept the peace, social order and oiled the traditional economy which is anchored in rural communities. This was only possible because the chief had a strong bond with his people whom he ruled through his Court, Dare, membership of which was earned and endorsed by the people. Successful administrations advocated decentralization to ensure that government gets as close to the people as possible and cements relationships with the Chief and his people. Always mindful of the physical boundaries of each chieftaincy and crafting government structures such as wards, districts, etc. to conform to and respect those boundaries, a responsive government has the respect and support of the Chief, and by derivation that of his people. A good chief always confers with and has the support of his people. A decent, progressive and professional bureaucrat fosters that cohesion and unity, not the opposite. Chiefs assigned to support succession and dispute resolution processes should never allow themselves to be captured for whatever agenda if our culture and tradition is to survive through the ages.

With the advent of competitive politics, political parties have endeared themselves to Chiefs to garner support from his people, in some cases at the expense of the culture and tradition. Incumbent governments spoiled chiefs to remain in their favour. Therein were sown the seeds of conflation of political leadership at various levels and traditional leadership, Chieftaincy and its structures. At local level, councillors, at ward levels Members of Parliament, at District and Provincial levels Provincial Ministers, etc. competing for positions created ways of endearing themselves to the Chief and his Dare. Often, they used administrative officials to push those political and economic agendas with little regard for the integrity of customs. The redistribution of land following the land reform program which sought to resettle people on land that had been forcibly taken from chiefs whose boundaries had been redrawn by the settlers, the creation of land committees, their composition and roles of different actors thereon, sowed seeds of potential conflict with the Chiefs. Add to that, the exigencies of the modern economy accelerated by the emergence of corporations mining who are expected to pay for social responsibility without clear guidelines, this had the makings of a perfect storm brewing…… To be continued next week

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