Traditional Leardership in Zimbabwe

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Constitutional select committee

TRADITIONAL LEADERSHIP

INSTITUTIONS AND CUSTOMS

A paper presented by

Chakunda Vincent

January 2009
Harare, Zimbabwe
BACKGROUND
Africans in this country including those in urban areas have their roots in some rural community under the jurisdiction of traditional authority systems. This system of traditional authority is entrusted with the custodianship of clan customs, rituals and tradition. It is important to note that it is these customary and cultural attributes that distinguish us as a people. Such customs have been passed on through generations and affect our general and affect our general deportment and decorum, how we relate with others, family conduct and hierarchy, courtship and marriage.

In the pre-colonial era, chiefs enjoyed unlimited and undefined powers over the tribe. The chief was the custodian of tribal land and allocated it to tribesman to farm and for residential purposes. The chief was legislator, adjudicator and executor all in one.

The system was however unraveled with the advent of colonialism. With colonialism traditional leaders were turned into auxiliaries for the colonial administration and were stripped of much of their powers. Non-pliant chiefs were often deposed and replaced with more malleable ones.

In post-independence Africa, the political elite has largely accommodated the traditional leadership systems without necessarily considering them as important components for building the modern post independence state. In the Zimbabwean context, the post-independence era saw the enactment and subsequent passing of the Chiefs and Headmen Act, Chapter 29.01 that relegated and condemned traditional authority to the periphery zones of governance as a result of the perceived role they played during the liberation struggle.

However, the evident influence of traditional leaders despite efforts by government to thwart their powers was challenged by the findings of the Rukuni Commission leading to the enactment of the Traditional Leaders Act, Chapter 29.17 of 1998. The findings of the commission observed that traditional leaders are the true representatives of their people, accessible and therefore essential to the politics of the nation and the building of democracies.

The above position concurs with the observation of the Political Governance Programme (PGP) of IDASA which agreed at its May 2009 Annual Strategy review to further explore how existing customs and practices on the continent can serve to consolidate democracy and embed it within communities. There is growing recognition that African communities being mostly rural, continue to place high value on indigenous customs and tradition for guiding their day to day lives. Traditional leaders, to use the generic term, are at the core of these traditional polities and as such should be seen as central in devising strategies of embedding popular democracy on the continent.

Traditional leadership is part of the panoply of localized governance structures on the continent which to varying degrees subscribe to values and practices that contain elements of democratic governance, such as the consensus building approach to taking decisions. Legitimacy of Traditional Institutions

It is crucial to note that unlike public officials and administrators who claim authority basing on qualifications, professionalism and constitutional legality, traditional leaders, derive their legitimacy from tradition though enshrined in the constitution. They are seen to represent “indigenous truly African values and authority.” Religiously they claim links to the divine world of God, ancestors or a spirit. It is a revered office steeped in custom and tradition and fortified by midzimu (amadhlozi).

The Traditional Leaders Act, Chapter 29.17 is the statutory instrument that is responsible for the appointment and observes the conduct and referees the powers and jurisdictions of traditional leaders....
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