Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara should be applauded for coming out in the open and admonishing partisan chiefs.
On Wednesday, Mutambara was clear: “The chiefs, headmen and all our traditional leaders must operate above party politics . . .”
But we have a new crop of traditional leaders who think they are de facto Zanu PF politicians. These chiefs and headmen have brought traditional leadership into disrepute. Instead of concentrating on their roles such as settling primary disputes, championing local development and mobilising local communities to initiate and implement community projects, they have become divisive elements because of partisanship.
Some of them have gone as far as initiating and perpetuating suffering among their subjects by denying them food relief and blocking development aid coming from their perceived political enemies.
Politicians have taken advantage of the chaos in traditional leadership to elevate undeserving people to the posts of chiefs and headmen in order to manipulate them.
We have witnessed an escalation of chieftainship disputes that were not helped by politicians who, contrary to laid-down procedures, pick friends to act more as their proxies than traditional leaders.
We need a complete change of mindset among these people entrusted with the role of leading local communities so that they work within their constitutional mandate. Political partisanship has not helped anyone, but these traditional leaders and a few of their political friends. In fact, in most areas chiefs have been at the forefront of derailing development. They have also shamelessly been used to coerce people in their areas of jurisdiction to support Zanu PF.
It is no longer a secret that there are areas in this country where traditional leaders have lost credibility among their subjects. Some of them are, for want of a better word, hated by their own people. These traditional leaders need to understand that political parties come and go, but traditional leadership remains. How are they going to work with their subjects — whom they treat badly because of partisanship — if there is a change of government?
Chiefs and headmen should not have the illusion that the current political scenario will last forever. They will be staying in the same community with the same people they treat with contempt for not toeing their party line. The new Constitution is clear about the role of traditional leaders and we hope they will be conscientious enough to work for the development of their areas, not for some misguided politicians.