Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s threats that the Zanu PF government will strip chiefs, of their positions if they critisize it, is a brazen attack on the institution of traditional leaders that must not go unchallenged.
Chiwenga’s rant followed a forthright assessment of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s leadership by Chief Murinye from Masvingo.
The chief warned Mnangagwa that he would be defeated in the 2023 elections if he did not deal with corruption among his allies.
Chief Murinye’s message resonated with many people in Zimbabwe because of the debilitating effects of corruption on the economy.
A huge percentage of Zimbabwe’s population is living in abject poverty because of the economic crisis that is caused by poor leadership and corruption.
Traditional leaders, such as Chief Murinye, are society’s moral compass and when they speak, they must be listened to and not harassed.
Pre-colonial chiefs in Zimbabwe were apolitical and in the struggle for independence they played a critical role in mobilising their people to resist subjugation.
The colonial regime reacted by stripping chiefs of most of their powers while some chieftainships were scrapped off because the incumbents refused to be turned into sell-outs.
After independence, the government used trinkets and vehicles to compromise the office of the chieftaincy.
The institution of chiefs has gradually been losing respect because traditional leaders are being forced to be political commissars of the ruling party and when they deviate, they are punished.
Chief Ndiweni of Ntabazinduna was stripped of his chieftainship by the government this year because of his criticism of policies that impoverished his subjects.
The punishment was politically motivated and unjust. It echoed Ian Smith’s mentality.
Chief Murinye has now been warned by Chiwenga that he could be treated the same way as Chief Ndiweni.
Mnangagwa’s administration appears to have taken the disrespect for traditional leaders to a higher level as it seeks to tighten its grip on chiefs for selfish political pursuits.
For chiefs to play their traditional roles of enhancing democracy at the grassroots level, they must be allowed to remain apolitical and be accorded the elevated status they deserve.
It is in that context that Chiwenga’s utterances deserve to be condemned in the strongest terms.
Politicians like the VP need to stop treating chiefs like Zanu PF commissars, who have to take orders from the ruling party’s hierarchy.
His behaviour amounts to gross abuse of a revered institution, which is a pillar of democracy.