So the debate over the appointment of Grace Mugabe reaches new constituencies. The National Council of Chiefs has now weighed in and has endorsed her candidacy. This once again reinforces the point made in RAU’s recent report on succession; that the national constitution and the ZANU PF constitution have become inextricably linked. But it raises also the more serious issue about what does the National Council of Chiefs, or least the President of the National council, think that he or they are doing here taking sides in an internal debate within ZANU PF, and, much more seriously, have they read the new constitution at all.
For those traditional leaders that might be in any doubt about how they should be approaching the succession problem, we invite them to consult the constitution, and particularly Section 281. It is very explicit about what they should actually be doing in respect of the succession debate and leadership in ZANU PF.
281 Principles to be observed by traditional leaders
(1) Traditional leaders must—
(a) act in accordance with this Constitution and the laws of Zimbabwe;
(b) observe the customs pertaining to traditional leadership and exercise their functions for the purposes for which the institution of traditional leadership is recognised by this Constitution; and
(c) treat all persons within their areas equally and fairly.
(2) Traditional leaders must not—
(a) be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics;
(b) act in a partisan manner;
(c) further the interests of any political party or cause; or
(d) violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person.
Our reading of Section 281 does not reveal any ambiguities in how the National Council of Chiefs should approach the problem: do not say anything, do not endorse anybody at all, let alone the First Lady, and, above all remember, that it is their duty to treat all persons within their areas equally and fairly.
In addition to the provisions of the new constitution is the Traditional Leaders Act [Chapter 29:11], promulgated before the new constitution, but saying essentially the same things about the non-partisan nature of traditional leadership. Section 46(1) of the Traditional Leaders Act states clearly that in carrying out their duties the traditional leaders must not be “influenced by any considerations of race, tribe, place of origin, creed, gender or political affiliation”. And the duties of chiefs are equally clear in the Act:
- a) promoting and upholding cultural values among members of the community under his jurisdiction, particularly the preservation of the extended family and the promotion of traditional family life;
- b) carrying out the functions of a Chief in relation to provincial assemblies (see below);
- c) nominating persons for appointment as Headmen by the Minister;
- d) approving nominations by Headmen of Village Heads for appointment;
- e) supervising Headmen and Village Heads in the performance of their duties;
- f) discharging any functions conferred upon him in terms of the Customary Law and Local Courts Act;78
- g) overseeing the collection by village heads of levies, taxes, rates and charges payable in terms of the Rural District Councils Act;
- h) ensuring that Communal Land is allocated in accordance with the Communal Land Act79and to ensure that the requirements of any enactment in force for the use and occupation of communal or resettlement land are observed;
- i) maintaining up-to-date registers of names of villages and their inhabitants
- j) preventing any unauthorised settlement or use of any land;
- k) notifying the Rural District Council of any intended disposal of a homestead and the permanent departure of any inhabitant from his area, and, acting on the advice of the headman, to approve the settlement of any new settler in his area;
- l) adjudicating in and resolving disputes relating to land in his area;
- m) and ensuring that the land and its natural resources are used and exploited in terms of the law and, in particular, controlling:
(i) over-cultivation; and
(ii) over-grazing; and
(iii)the indiscriminate destruction of flora and fauna; and
(iv) illegal settlements
and generally preventing the degradation, abuse or misuse of land and natural resources in his area;
- n) ensuring that no public property, including roads and bridges, telephone and electricity lines, dip tanks and animal health centres, clinics, churches, cattle-sale pens, schools and related establishments, is damaged, destroyed or misused by the inhabitants or their livestock;
- o) notifying the Rural District Council for the area concerned, as soon as is reasonably practicable, of the outbreak of any epidemic or prevailing disease, flood or other natural or unnatural disaster affecting the inhabitants, livestock, crops, the land, flora or fauna in his area;
- p) liaising with and assisting development committees established in terms of the Rural District Councils Act in all matters relating to the planning and implementation of local development programmes; and
- q) under the direction of the District Administrator or the Rural District Council, as the case may be, assisting drought and famine relief agencies in coordinating relief and related matters in his area.
As can been, these duties are all important aspects of rural life, many of which can be the focus of disputes between citizens, and citizens living within the area of jurisdiction of a chief can have the expectation that dispute will be dealt with in a non-partisan and impartial fashion uninfluenced by any considerations of race, tribe, place of origin, creed, gender or political affiliation. So, the constitution and the Traditional Leaders Act are not in conflict, and traditional leaders need to take heed of both, and take the lead in constitutionalism for the sake of those for whom they are responsible.