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Traditional leaders most corrupt: Rights watchdog

Local News
According to a report by Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT), the country is “suffering from a conflation” between the ruling Zanu PF party and traditional authorities, leading to potential abuses and manipulation.

TRADITIONAL leaders have been named as most corrupt and chief human rights abusers, allegedly acting as conduits of the ruling Zanu PF party, a human rights watchdog has claimed.

According to a report by Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT), the country is “suffering from a conflation” between the ruling Zanu PF party and traditional authorities, leading to potential abuses and manipulation.

The report titled: Traditional Leaders in Zimbabwe: Balancing Culture, Development and Democracy says: “Zimbabwe suffers from a conflation between the ruling Zanu PF/military elite and the traditional leadership which is in charge of rural communities.

“The institution of traditional leadership consisting of chiefs, headmen and village heads is used for Zanu PF’s patronage, predatory and clientelistic capture of the political terrain in Zimbabwe mainly for electoral processes.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is on record promising the traditional leaders improved living conditions which include better access roads to their residences, providing medical aid coverage, clean water and solar energy.

Mnangagwa last week pampered 100 chiefs with Isuzu double-cab vehicles despite anger from some citizens, who accused government of misplacing its priorities.

HZT said some traditional leaders have reportedly demanded “fees” from villagers in exchange for access to fundamental services.

“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. For example, some traditional leaders have been reported to demand payment from villagers for accessing basic services, such as water, health and education,” said HZT.

The report also implicated the traditional leaders in forced evictions, torture and even murder.

“Some have also been implicated in cases of forced evictions, torture and murder of suspected opposition supporters or dissenters. Furthermore, some traditional leaders have been criticised for excluding or marginalising women and youths from participating and representing in traditional leadership structures and processes,” further reads the report.

HZT noted that these leaders are leveraging their positions for political survival and personal gain, in direct contravention of their constitutional mandates.

“Some traditional leaders have been actively involved in political campaigns, particularly for the ruling party, threatening known or suspected opposition supporters with eviction from their territories, or ordering them to pay a fine of an ox in order to be forgiven. Some have also been used as agents of voter registration, mobilisation and intimidation, especially in rural areas where they have considerable control and influence.

“Some traditional leaders have been rewarded or co-opted by the ruling Zanu PF party with various incentives, such as allowances, vehicles, farms and positions, in exchange for their loyalty and support,” HZT added.

The report claims that these incentives have induced the institution of traditional leadership to abuse their authority and influence over their subjects, who depend on them for land allocation, dispute resolution and social welfare against the provisions of the Constitution, electoral act and the traditional leaders act.

The watchdog recommended that the Traditional Leaders Act be aligned to the Constitution to help strengthen the constitutional framework and monitoring the conduct of traditional leaders and ensure that they adhere to the principles of impartiality, transparency and respect for human rights.

Efforts to get a comment from National Chief's Council president Mtshane Khumalo were fruitless as his mobile phone was not reachable.

Zanu PF director of information Farai Marapira said the accusations were baseless and should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

“The accusations made by the HZT alleging that Zanu PF engages in influencing traditional leaders towards corruption and human rights abuses are untrue and should be dismissed with contempt they deserve. Not only are these accusations false, but they bordered on slander in the clear absence of evidence to back them,” Marapira said.

“We also respect the roots of our people, our customs and ways and the custodians of the same. Respect and upholding of our traditions is not corruption, respect of its custodians is not a human rights abuse.”

Last year, the traditional leaders reportedly accounted for 40% of all the country’s human rights violations, according to civil society organisations who have been tracking human rights abuses across Zimbabwe.

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