Charumbira in fix over sex assault storm

CHIEF’s council president Fortune Charumbira

CHIEF’s council president Fortune Charumbira has been urged to step down after his niece reported him to the police for allegedly sexually abusing her.

Charumbira, who is also the Pan-African Parliament president, was reported to the police in Masvingo a week ago for allegedly sexually abusing his married niece.

Commentators and observers said Charumbira should step down on moral and ethical grounds.

Speaking from his United Kingdom base, former Ntabazinduna Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni, who was dethroned by the government, said Charumbira’s case was a result of a broken governance system.

“The government of the day, the ruling Zanu PF, has been playing around with the legislation for quite some time and they have been very slow, on purpose, to re-align laws with the 2013 constitution,” Ndiweni said.

“As a result of this, it has opened a huge gap within our laws whereby people do not get to know where they stand and some people took the view that if you are a card-carrying member of Zanu PF, you are above the law.”

He said Charumbira should immediately step down.

“If he doesn’t step away, it tarnishes the whole institution of traditional leaders,” he said.

“Here we are not looking at whether he was guilty or innocent or what were the details, we are just looking at the allegations per se.”

He said even if the family drops the charges, Charumbira had tarnished the institution of traditional leaders.

“He has tarnished all chiefs of Zimbabwe because of these particular allegations and there is no way any Member of Parliament can see him in a different light,” he said.

“As long as the allegations came out, a docket has been compiled, it has been forwarded (to Harare), that alone shows that people are taking the case seriously.”

He said it would be unfortunate if government turned a blind eye to the allegations, and Chief Charumbira remains in his position.

“It is the darkest day the institution of traditional leaders has faced in a long, long time,” Ndiweni said.

“It means one single individual has now tarnished the whole institution.”

Chief Charumbira was once arraigned before the High Court where he was ordered to issue a public apology after he claimed that all traditional leaders belonged to Zanu PF.

Charumbira defied the court order.

The constitution says chiefs must be apolitical.

“We are looking at a chief who has been in contempt of the High Court already and really on this occasion, he has to step down otherwise the traditional leaders would be a laughing stock and this has implications down the line,” Ndiweni said.

He said in the traditional context, the Charumbira clan should start taking steps to replace the chief whom they have also disowned.

The clan once petitioned government seeking Charumbira’s removal saying he was illegitimate according to their customs and practices.

Researcher and legal practitioner Sharon Hofisi said Charumbira was not above the law.

“According to the constitution of Zimbabwe, a chief who is accused of indecent assault is subject to the same laws and penalties as any other citizen,” Hofisi said.

“The constitution provides for the protection of every person's right to bodily integrity and prohibits any form of violence, including sexual violence.”

Hofisi said the procedure to remove Charumbira is provided for in the Traditional Leaders Act, which is about the conduct of chiefs.

“Misconduct is defined broadly and includes any act or omission that is inconsistent with the chief's responsibilities or that is prejudicial to the interests of the community,” he said.

“If a chief is found guilty of indecent assault, this would likely be considered misconduct and could result in the chief's removal from office.

 “In the case of Chief Charumbira, who is accused of indecent assault, the minister may initiate an investigation into the alleged misconduct and make recommendations as to whether an inquiry should be held against him.

“If he is found guilty of the offence, the minister may recommend to the president that the chief be removed from office or impose other penalties, such as a reduction in salary and allowances or a caution and reprimand.

“Regarding the president's power to dismiss a chief, Section 3 of the Traditional Leaders Act states that the president may remove a chief from office if he is of the opinion that the chief has committed misconduct, subject to Section 7.”

Hofisi added: “Therefore, if Chief Charumbira is found guilty of indecent assault, the minister's recommendation to the President to remove him from office would need to follow the procedure set out in Section 7.”

Political and social commentator Ricky Mukonza said Chief Charumbira had failed the morality and ethical test.

“How will he speak authoritatively about these issues when he has been involved in this? What transpired compromises him in a big way,” Mukonza said.

“Others may argue that politics is not a cathedral of morality, but Charumbira is more than an ordinary politician, he is a leader.

“A traditional leader must carry moral authority in the community. His moral authority evaporated with the leaking of the audio.”

Charumbira, who is yet to be arrested over the matter, has denied the allegations.

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