A LEADING peace and reconciliation organisation has called for the alignment of the Traditional Leaders Act to the Constitution to whip chiefs into line after they were flagged for corruption and human rights violations, among other misdemeanours.

In its latest report titled Traditional Leaders in Zimbabwe Balancing Culture, Development and Democracy, Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) said chiefs were deviating from their mandate.

“Some traditional leaders have been accused of accepting bribes, abusing their power, violating the rights of their subjects and discriminating against women and youths in their roles and activities,” the report noted.

“For example, some traditional leaders have been reported to demand payment from villagers for accessing basic services, such as water, health and education. Some have also been implicated in cases of forced evictions, torture and murder of suspected opposition supporters or dissenters.”

HZT said laws governing and monitoring the conduct of traditional leaders should be strengthened.

“Aligning the Traditional Leaders Act to the Constitution as a way of strengthening the constitutional and legal framework for regulating and monitoring the conduct of traditional leaders, and ensuring that they adhere to the principles of impartiality, transparency and respect for human rights,” the policy brief said.

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Last year, police in Masvingo opened an indecent assault charge against Chiefs’ Council vice-president Fortune Charumbira after he allegedly sexually abused his 27-year-old married niece on two occasions.

Gender activist Nancy Mupeki said there had been cases of traditional leaders abusing their position to gain sexual favours from women.

“At one point, my organisation had to intervene after we came across a case of a headman who was abusing his powers asking for sexual favours from women in exchange for farming inputs in Chihota,” she said.

“There are many cases across the country where traditional leaders operate like Sabhuku Vharazipi.”

Sabhuku Vharazipi is a popular local comedy character depicting some of the shenanigans of the country’s traditional leaders.

HZT advocacy officer Tapiwanashe Chiriga said traditional leaders accounted for 40% of the country’s human rights violations thus far.

“In the run-up to the 2023 elections, village heads were illegally appointed Zanu PF cell chairs and became the epicentre of a litany of human rights abuses,” Chiriga told NewsDay in an interview.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum acting director Wilbert Mandinde also expressed concern over the increasing politicisation of traditional leaders.

“Our concern is that during the course of the year, we have continued seeing traditional leaders taking a partisan approach,” Mandinde said.