Chiefs fail the Constitution test again

National Chiefs Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira

ZIMBABWE’S traditional leaders are supposed to be custodians of our heritage and keepers of our traditions. They are supposed to uphold the country’s laws and the dignity of their subjects. In other words, they are the protectors of all that we hold dear, at least in word.

Unfortunately, the lot we have been cursed with has shown blatant disregard for the laws of the country for personal aggrandisement. They have eschewed their neutrality and aligned themselves with a political party and seem hell-bent on foisting their personal choices on their subjects.

At a meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Bulawayo on Wednesday, chiefs endorsed the President and his Zanu PF party, with the National Chiefs Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira saying that as chiefs, they were not afraid of rooting for Zanu PF to win the general elections set for August this year.

The declaration by Chief Charumbira is a brazen violation of the country’s Constitution. Chapter 15 of the Constitution, in section 281, clearly spells out the guidelines and principles governing the office of traditional leaders. It unambiguously states that traditional leaders must not be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics, act in a partisan manner or further the interests of any political party or cause.

This is not the first time that Chief Charumbira has ignored his constitutional mandate. The chief was once taken to court by the Election Resource Centre for openly supporting the late former President Robert Mugabe and his successor, Mnangagwa.

High Court judge, Justice Clement Phiri upheld that constitutional requirement, and ordered Charumbira to publicly withdraw his statement that traditional leaders should support the ruling party because it was in violation of the country’s laws.

“The remarks made by the first respondent (Charumbira) on October 28, 2017 (when Mugabe was still President) on the occasion of the annual conference of the Council of Chiefs and on January 13, 2018 (when Mnangagwa had succeeded Mugabe) to the effect that traditional leaders have been supporting and must continue to support Zanu PF and its presidential candidate in the forthcoming 2018 elections be and is, hereby, declared to be in contravention of the Constitution of Zimbabwe,” the judge ruled on May 9, 2018.

That Charumbira has done it again five years later shows that the man has no respect for the Constitution, or he is listening to his master’s voice?

It is damning that the chief keeps wilfully violating the Constitution, but what is worse is that Mnangagwa, who swore to uphold the Constitution when he came into office, is complicity in the wanton disregard of the country’s supreme law.

Perhaps the chief’s intransigence should not surprise us given that Mnangagwa, since coming into power in 2017 has ravaged the Constitution, that was endorsed by Zimbabweans in 2013, to suit his interests. Of particular note are the changes he made to the Constitution that has made the Judiciary beholden to his whims.

While government officials have been at pains claiming that the country respects the rule of law, evidence suggests otherwise.

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