The Ministry of Local Government is planning to increase the number of chiefs in some provinces in a move that has been linked to the ruling party's succession battles.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change charges that this is meant to purge its supporters ahead of the 2018 polls.
Traditional leaders are generally regarded as custodians of the country’s customary law and culture but in recent years they have been linked to national politics.
The Local Government Ministry, headed by Saviour Kasukuwere, who is also Zanu PF’s secretary of the commissariat, has reportedly been creating new chieftainships in most parts of the country.
Wilson Mugari of Nharira village in the Chikomba district, Mashonaland East province, claimed that two new chieftainships have been created on top of the five traditional posts.
“It’s quite surprising and alarming because the chieftainships are being increased. We do not know for what purpose, and for example, last week when we were at the funeral of our colleagues who died the chief of the area who was supposed to give a speech was not there and the guy who came and we know him as the subchief and we were surprised he was given the onus as the chief.
“ … and we hear that his chieftainship was celebrated recently meaning it’s one of these increases and it was not in his jurisdiction for him to come and officiate at that funeral, his name is Maromo and we hear they is another one called Kareya in the same and we don’t know what is going to happen next but chieftainships are being increased and we don’t even understand what’s happening.”
Mugari said celebrations to mark the official installation of the new traditional leaders, Chief Kareya and Chief Maromo, are set to be held next month, adding that villagers are now being asked to contribute towards the ceremonies.
Another Chikomba resident, who only wanted to be identified as Kenneth Musarurwa, who lives in the Hokonya area, said he is also worried by this development.
“What I can tell you is that this is an issue that has been going on in this community and people are very surprised with such kind of moves but we do not what’s the reason because we are being told that there more chiefs here. What we know is that whenever we are going for elections, Zanu PF coerces people to vote for them but we don’t know what really happening here.”
Both Chief Maromo and Chief Kareya refused to discuss their new status referring questions to Kasukuwere.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai says it fears that the creation of new chieftainships in most provinces countrywide was a well-calculated move by the ruling Zanu PF party to target its supporters ahead of the 2018 polls.
According to Piniel Denga, the opposition party’s chairperson for Mashonaland East province, people are now fearing that they will be victimized as voting will be conducted at ward level.
“Mostly if you look at it, they are people who are related to top Zanu PF officials, So we are seeing Zanu PF mobilizing people to vote for Zanu PF through village heads and chiefs in most rural communities so people are going to be forced through their village heads to vote for Zanu PF.”
Chiefs and headmen have been accused by the opposition of allegedly working with Zanu PF to manipulate the people’s will in previous elections although the ruling party says the polls were free, fair and credible.
ZANU PF FOLLOWERS ALSO SURPRISED
Musarurwa, who is also a Zanu PF supporter, said President Robert Mugabe’s succession battles are increasing within his party, adding that the move to create new chieftainships was mooted by a Zanu PF group loyal to First Lady Grace Mugabe calling itself Generation 40 in order to weaken a faction reportedly led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Musarurwa said mistrust is now the buzzword within the ruling party’s top hierarchy hence the move by G40 to seek to control of traditional leaders.
“They no-longer trust anybody including those current chiefs so what they are trying to do is to create other chieftainships so that they put new people whom they trust because those at the helm are no longer trustworthy or they are no longer loyal to them.”
Denga said this would further strain the country’s fiscus. “We are struggling as a government to pay civil … We are going to increase their allowances including new vehicles for them and if you look at village heads they are being paid more than $30 per village head and we have got hundreds and thousands of these village heads meaning that we are suffocating our budget and using that money paying people who are supposed to be in their communities surviving in their communities.”
Kasukuwere was not reachable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.
His personal assistant repeatedly said her boss was in meetings. But some officials in his ministry, who refused to speak on tape, told Studio 7 that the new chiefs were being introduced to cater for some settlements created countrywide following the land reform program.