Zimbabwean chiefs have always meddled in politics

Zimbabwean chiefs have always meddled in politics. This is a statement of fact; a humble yet imposing fact that Zimbabweans need to appreciate in light of current political developments.

I make this statement in the wake of the row between Ntabazinduna traditional leader Chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni and those savaging him for making political statements.

Chief Ndiweni has been rapped for his outspoken stance against the incumbent Zanu PF government.

He was reported to have advocated for sanctions against the government, among a plethora of criticisms against the national administration.

Consequently, criticism has come raining on Chief Ndiweni like a tonne of bricks.

The current goings-on in this matter are puzzling, to say the least.

It would appear the meddling in politics by chiefs is some bizarre phenomenon that has suddenly emerged in 2019, warranting everyone’s attention.

I do not seek to hold brief for Chief Ndiweni, but to highlight that it is dishonest and unacceptable hypocrisy to slam Chief Ndiweni, especially drawing from the Constitution.

The venomous attacks directed at Chief Ndiweni emanate from the “suddenly” recognised fact that chiefs must not dabble in politics.

It is indisputable, and overwhelmingly backed by material evidence that Zimbabwean chiefs have always been key political actors.

The balance of this article will seek to enunciate the incontrovertible truth of the above statement in relation to the trending story of Chief Ndiweni.

The issue of traditional leaders vis-a-vis politics has always been a contentious one in Zimbabwe and dates back to the era of deposed former President Robert Mugabe.

Chief Ndiweni has been grabbing headlines and his case battling for space in the media, both large-scale national and international news outlets.

It has become some sort of battle between the opposition and the ruling party, but it is imperative that we dissect the matter empirically, premised on history as well as the law itself.

It is modern-day Pharisee behaviour that anyone would want to scrutinise the role of chiefs from either a legal or historical perspective when it suits them.

It becomes duplicitous and totally deplorable to adopt one view, depending on circumstances.

Legally, the Zimbabwean Constitution is unequivocal on the need for traditional leaders to stay away from politics.

Chapter 15, section 281(2) stipulates that: 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 Constitution could not be clearer on the matter. To add on, section 7 of the Traditional Leaders Act further states that a chief can actually be suspended by the responsible ministry for misconduct, which involves participating in partisan politics or furthering the interests of any political party.

There is no question at law as to how chiefs should conduct themselves as far as politics is concerned.

Now, to reality on the ground: To begin with, Chief Ndiweni’s utterances shredding the government are clearly in direct conflict with the Constitution as noted above.

A chief should have, under normal circumstances, nothing to do with politics.

While we have seen a number of high-profile comments against Chief Ndiweni and opinion pieces denigrating him, it really stinks of two-facedness that no chief has been vilified for openly declaring support for the ruling party and government.

Chiefs across the nation are notorious for being pawns in the political game during elections, where they threaten and cow villagers into partisan conduct.

To be specific, we all remember how the Chief’s Council president, Fortune Charumbira, openly declared allegiance to Zanu PF when traditional leaders met with President Emmerson Mnangagwa in January 2018.

In his address, Chief Charumbira said: “We work with government and the ruling Zanu PF. I know people say this should not be said, but that is the truth. We are Zanu PF.”

These utterances were absolutely unconstitutional and immensely compromise the role of traditional leaders.

Meddling in politics by traditional leaders has been with us since time immemorial that it befuddles logic why Chief Ndiweni’s case must be hitting headlines.

As far back as 2000, when the MDC shook the foundations of Zanu PF power, the then MDC spokesman ,the late Learnmore Jongwe, raised a concern in Gokwe during voting when he cited that a government minister had urged “… every chief to whip his people into line”.

Again, in February this year, Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Larry Mavima told mourners at the burial of Chief Chirumhanzu that the traditional leader “… was a dedicated Zanu PF member and the party is saddened by his untimely death”.

I could go on and on, but the truth is there for all to see. There is simply no shortage of examples of chiefs dabbling in politics in this country.

It is, therefore, treacherous for anyone to want to attack Chief Ndiweni, seeing as it is that he seems to be anti-establishment.

Do chiefs warrant criticism when they defy the status quo? Does the Constitution provide for the open support of ruling parties? The answer is a thunderous “no”.

Chiefs in this country have always violated constitutional principles.

Utterances such as those ascribed to Chief Charumbira indicate total disrespect for the supreme law of the land.

The criticism of Chief Ndiweni is, therefore, spurious and those accusing him are as guilty as he is.

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