THE Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) yesterday expressed concern over the proposed new system of choosing chiefs saying it might result in political interference.
They said in the past government is on record trying to control chiefs, especially during election periods, resulting in them being used to intimidate the opposition.
Last week, Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage minister Abednico Ncube was quoted in the media as having said that chiefs will now be chosen by committees consisting of neighbouring chiefs, district administrators, president of Chiefs Council, and officials from his ministry who would sit as a committee and select a chief.
In the past the task was the prerogative of the family, but the system was not immune to squabbles as there are several court cases raised on chieftainship issues.
“ZimRights would like to express concern with the recently announced proposal by the government to have a new format of selecting chiefs, involving increased control by government purportedly to reduce succession disputes.
“It is ironic that the ruling party sees succession among chiefs as problematic, while there is evidence of the same sort of infighting and rivalry among its ranks and within government with a real threat to national security,” the NGO said.
“While the mere intention of the government trying to bring sanity in traditional leadership succession is understandable, it has the danger of increasing political interference in the selection of chiefs, which should be the prerogative of royal families.”
ZimRights said government itself has been blamed in some of the wrangles for interfering with traditional processes in an attempt to control the chiefs, whose roles, procedures and processes of traditional leadership predate those of current government.
“This intention to control is even clearer as chiefs have allegedly been used by the ruling party to victimise and discriminate against supporters of opposition political parties through threats of land evictions, or harassment during elections.”
They said sections 281 (2 a – c) of the Constitution prohibits traditional leaders from acting in a partisan manner, or further the interests of a political party, or cause.
“Section 282 (3) says, “In the performance of their functions, traditional leaders are not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, except as may be prescribed in an Act of Parliament.”
The rights group called for alignment of the Traditional Leaders Act with the constitution in order to strengthen their independence from political interference.