Chiefs could soon be barred from being members of political parties, attending political party meetings or compelling their subjects to attend such meetings. According to the Traditional Leaders Bill 2016, chiefs must maintain strict political neutrality when discharging their duties. Section 9(3) item (e) says in exercising their functions, chiefs shall observe the principles set out in sections 164, 164 and 281 of the Constitution, that say they shall not: (i) Act in a partisan manner or further the interest of any political party or cause; or (ii) Solicit funds or contribute towards any political organisation; or (iii) attend political meetings or compel any person to attend a political meeting.
The Bill says, “Before his or her appointment as such, a chief shall declare in writing to the provincial assembly of chiefs and the Minister whether or not he or she is a member of any political party.
“If, on his or her appointment as chief, a chief is a member of any political party, he or she shall within thirty days: (a) resign or otherwise terminate his or her contract membership of that party, and (b) give the minister, through the provincial assembly of chiefs, written proof of such termination.”
Yesterday Zimbabwe Chiefs Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira said: “We will respect the outcome of the Bill because it is in line with people’s views which are captured in the Constitution. What the Bill prohibits are situations where chiefs become active in politics and assume political offices or being part of party structures.
“(Chiefs) can exercise their freedom of consciousness in protecting the national interest and this means issues to do with land, natural resources and also the well being of people. They will be bound to say something or take certain measures because chiefs are meant to serve people.”
Some of the duties chiefs will be expected to perform include presiding over community courts, controlling commercial exploitation of communal land and promoting good standards of health and education.
They will also help drought and famine relief agencies co-ordinate programmes.