Zanu PF targets rural vote

HARARE - As Zimbabwe’s political parties up the campaign ante ahead of what pundits have billed as yet another watershed poll slated for 2013, the rural vote has become the focal point with traditional leaders coming under scrutiny.

Investigations by the Weekend Post show that the inauguration of traditional leaders has been fast-tracked, with some cases inviting challenges from family members who are contesting the inauguration amid claims proper succession lines were not followed.

This has cast the spotlight on top Zanu PF member and minister of Local Government Ignatius Chombo who has been criss-crossing the country since the beginning of the year inaugurating chiefs, in some cases in areas where there have been no substantive traditional leaders for more than seven years, raising questions about the timing of the traditional leaders’ inauguration.

In Tsholotsho where 31-year-old Chief Mandlakazulu was inaugurated in June, the traditional chair had been vacant for five years after the death of then Chief Neja Mathuphula in 2007.

Chief Mandlakazulu wrested the reins from a senior village head.

He refused to discuss anything to do with his chieftaincy, but rural Matabeleland has become the focus for political parties as the three coalition partners position themselves ahead of polls slated for next year.

Also in Tsholotsho, 21-year-old Chief Tategulu was inaugurated at the end of May.

Chief Tategulu’s father died in 2005 and the Tategulu chieftaincy had been under the tutelage of a headman up to the inauguration of a substantive chief.

In Lower Gweru, Chief Bunina’s inauguration is being challenged at the Supreme Court, with Chombo and President Mugabe cited as respondents.

The challenge came after one Golden Moyo claimed the inauguration was un-procedural.

In Gwanda, Matabeleland South, a 16-year-old was in June this year inaugurated as the country’s youngest chief, raising questions about the political implications of such a move as in other areas, an older acting chief held fort until the next in line came of age.

The Gwanda inauguration attracted its fair share of criticisms from family members who accused minister Chombo of going against their customs by vesting the young man with such powers.

Vice President John Nkomo has already said chiefs should actively participate in the country’s governance, a confirmation of what critics say is the roping in of chiefs by Zanu PF in politicising traditional leaders ahead of elections.

Traditional leaders have been accused since the bloody 2000 polls for working with Zanu PF in intimidating voters and denying suspected supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change food assistance. Chombo however dismissed the allegations saying the delay was because the tribes involved took long to agree to a candidate.

“Inauguration of chiefs takes longer and as government we are only referees. Under normal circumstances it should take less than 24 months. What we only do as government is to encourage the communities involved to do so within the stated 24 months,” said Chombo.

“Of the 264 chiefs, local communities tell us whom they want to be chief, we don’t interfere. The chiefs are appointed by the tribesman, women children of the tribe or rotated among the tribes.”

Asked why all of a sudden some areas in Matebeleland which have gone for years without substantive chiefs suddenly have chiefs installed Chombo said: “Sometimes it’s complicated because what happens in Murehwa is different from Svosve, Zvimba and Matebeleland.”

Dumisani Nkomo, chief executive officer of Habakkuk Trust, an NGO running human rights and voter education outreach programmes in rural Matebeleland said it was disturbing that chiefs were taking centre stage ahead of the coming elections.

“The issue of traditional leaders remains contentious because we cannot have ministers publicly proclaiming these chiefs as political appointees like we have been seeing of late,” Nkomo said.

“We have queried the timing of the inaugurations even though we are aware that no area can go forever without a substantive chief. In some areas where some chiefs were installed this year, we are concerned that these young and inexperienced chiefs could be open to political manipulation,” he said.

The mainstream MDC alleges that some of its rallies have been cancelled in Mashonaland West after the police demanded that the party must be cleared by chiefs and headmen first.

A Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace official working in Matabeleland South said there are elaborate plans by the former ruling party to regain the rural vote it has long claimed as its stronghold.

“I know there are areas where the chiefs have been explicitly instructed to watch any form of political activity and many of our voter education meetings have been cancelled because chiefs say they don’t want villagers to be politicized,” the official said, asking his name to be withheld.

Another CCJP official in Lupane said: “The chiefs Council is under instruction to watch out for activities where we distribute any pamphlets, hold meetings, just about anything that is seen as introducing new knowledge in these remote areas.”

These concerns come as Electoral Amendment Bill has worsened differences among the coalition partners and also invited criticism from watchdogs who see it working against moves to create conditions conducive for free and fair elections.

Among other things, the Bill seeks to create polling station-based voting instead of allowing voters to cast their ballot anywhere within their constituency or ward.

The Bill also seeks to create a new polling station-based voters roll which will still fall under the office of the Registrar General’s office, long accused of keeping a discredited voter’s roll which has allegedly made it easy for President Mugabe to rig elections.

Critics such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (Zesn) say this will mean it will be easy to monitor voting patterns and follow-up on who voted for what, creating the ideal conditions for post-election violence.

This exposes especially rural constituencies where traditional leaders are actively taking part in monitoring political activity, and these are areas that have seen untold political violence during previous polls where some MDC supporters fled to the cities in fear for their lives. — WeekendPost

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