THERE is a line made famous by the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men starring Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) and Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise). In the closing military courtroom exchange, the dramatic Kaffee demands answers from the Colonel: I want the truth, he yells. The colonel thunders back: You can’t handle the truth!
The truth is apparently a very dangerous thing, especially if said against the regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Last week Zimbabwe had a rare occasion of a traditional chief speaking out against rising graft, cronyism and the general incompetence of the current regime.
“We are fed up. We are tired of criminals. They grab everything including minerals, impoverishing the poor,” Chief Murinye, born Ephias Munodawafa of Masvingo, told mourners in his rural area.
The gap between the elite and the poor had become a huge gulf, making Zimbabwe one of the most unequal societies, the chief noted.
Murinye warned that Mnangagwa risked losing the 2023 presidential elections if he failed to deal with graft and wondered loudly if another coup was a more viable option. Very rarely has a traditional leader spoken against the regime, with the deposed Ntabazinduna chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni often the lone ranger.
While the law prohibits chiefs from declaring allegiance to any political party, traditional leaders in the country are well known for their avowed allegiance to the ruling Zanu PF party and for being used as conduits for its campaigns in rural areas.
They exert great control over their subjects and often rule with an iron fist where local politics is concerned, usually in the service of Zanu PF. As the most senior in the traditional leadership ranks, their utterances cannot be taken for granted, according to local analysts.
Chief Murinye’s utterances, they said were a “manifestation of growing discontent and despair among the rural folks”. It may also be said that the sentiments are a manifestation of rising anger against a regime that has become despotic by the day, eroding freedoms and democratic space while aggressively targeting critics.
So it must have been disconcerting for Mnangagwa to hear such vociferous criticism of his leadership from a member of the trusted clan, for whom he has spared no expense to pamper.
Predictably, all the chiefs in the country, 272 of them, were summoned to Harare for a meeting where Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and the president of the National Chiefs Council Fortune Charumbira read the riot act.
“What we have seen in the past few days is never done. This thing of just standing up to say whatever you feel to the paramount chief (Mnangagwa) is never done. It’s done by people high on mutoriro (crystal methamphetamine). In this country it’s never done,” Chiwenga fumed.
“We have one Munhumutapa (Mnangagwa), we have one leader and it is that leader we give respect. It is that leader we show the entire nation what respect is all about. So, what has been done by Chief Murinye is going to be investigated by the minister of local government and the Chiefs’ Council and if found guilty, disciplinary action would be taken. This is Zimbabwe. I thought I should say this, I respect Munhumutapa and no one touches him as long as I live.”
Some people cannot handle the truth, but it must be said. We agree with Chief Murinye, whatever his intentions, that the current regime is sacrificing the greater good of Zimbabweans on the altar of graft, cronyism and greed.