Chiefs in Constitution U-turn

HARARE - Traditional chiefs have made a dramatic U-turn, throwing their weight behind a draft constitution seen as eroding their powers.

Debating a motion on the draft constitution in Senate on Thursday, Chief Fortune Charumbira and Chief Ngungubane said they had a change of heart, and were going to support the draft constitution to be voted for in the referendum.

Ngungubane said although the chiefs had initially protested against the draft as it curtailed their traditional powers, they were now fully behind the draft as they had realised that it captured the views of the people.

“We support the draft as the politicians have put Zimbabweans first and this is a job well done and hence we have decided to support it,” chief Ngungubane said.

“Some of the chiefs who participated in the thematic committees had their names omitted in the report and that anomaly must be corrected.”

Parliament adopted the draft on Wednesday. But traditional leaders had been arguing that they had been excluded from the administration of most land except communal land, a move they argued had left them powerless.

Clause 15.3 (2) of the Copac draft states that: “Except as provided for in Act of Parliament, traditional leaders shall have no authority, control or jurisdiction over land except communal land or over persons outside communal land unless the cause of the action arose within the area of the traditional leader’s jurisdiction.”

Chief Charumbira said the chiefs will be campaigning for a “yes” vote despite their objection to some clauses and hoped these issues can be corrected when the draft comes to Parliament as a Bill.

Copac co-chairperson Douglas Mwonzora told Parliament that the draft constitution had a chapter on traditional chiefs which recognises their role and importance.  

“We did not want to equate the status of chiefs to that of President because the institutions are different,” Mwonzora said.

The chiefs had demanded to seek audience with President Robert Mugabe over clauses in the Copac draft constitution which they feel undermined their authority.

The clauses are on land, property rights and the Judicial Services Commission.

Chapter 15:1 on traditional leadership states that: “Traditional leaders must act in accordance with this Constitution and the laws of Zimbabwe, observe the rules pertaining to traditional leadership and exercise their functions for the purposes for which the institution of traditional leadership is recognised by this Constitution and treat all persons within their areas equally and fairly.

“Traditional leaders must not be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics, act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or cause or violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person.”

The draft is set to mark the end of partisanship by the traditional leaders who have openly proclaimed their allegiance to Zanu PF and in most instances fanning violence by discriminating against those perceived to be in opposition to the former sole ruling party.

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