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Civil society calls for stronger institutions

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BY BLESSED MHLANGA/NQOBANI NDLOVU

ZIMBABWE should deliberately strengthen its institutions, especially the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, so that it is able to deal with partisan traditional leaders.

In a statement to commemorate the International Peace Day, election watchdog Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said only strong institutions could bring about lasting peace in the country.

Zesn said it was important for chiefs and headman to be depoliticised and empowered to ensure that justice and peace is nurtured.

“In addition, Zesn calls upon traditional leaders to undertake their duties in a non-partisan manner as enshrined in section 281 subsection 2(a) and (b) of the Constitution which stipulates that traditional leaders should not be members of any political party or in any way participate in partisan politics; act in a partisan manner,” Zesn said.

“Efforts must be made to ensure the role of chiefs continues to be guided by the Constitution. CSOs [civic society organisations] must continue with their watchdog role to ensure tenets of democracy are maintained and upheld and adherence to human rights.”

Traditional leaders have been viewed as largely partisan, supporting mainly the ruling Zanu PF party during elections, while at the same time acting as judicial officers in their jurisdictions.

The Constitution states that chiefs should be apolitical, and “should not in any way participate in partisan politics, act in a partisan manner, further the interests of any political party or violate or cause the violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of any person.”

Zesn said government and civic society actors should capacitate traditional leaders with public administration skills to enable them to effectively play their roles in a non-partisan manner as vanguards of the traditional justice system.

Zesn said only through continuous capacitation in peace-building and conflict-resolution skills can traditional leaders resolve even political disputes in their areas of jurisdiction without favour.

“The network thus calls upon the government and CSOs to provide traditional leaders with the requisite skills in public administration, developmental policies and law so that they can effectively settle community disputes across their jurisdictions as vanguards of traditional
law.”

Historically, traditional leaders drew their authority and legitimacy from an unwritten body of local customary law and practice.

The Constitution recognises and formalises the authority and legitimacy of the institutions, explicitly listing a variety of powers and responsibilities of traditional leaders.

The Traditional Leaders Act assigns some functions to headmen and village heads with the primary role of these appointed officials being to support the chief at their respective levels.

“Zesn notes the significant role of the traditional justice system which has seen traditional leaders being consulted to reinstate reconciliation and accord within the community on many issues including political and election-related matters,” Zesn added.

“CSOs must continue with their watchdog role to ensure tenets of democracy and adherence to human rights are maintained and upheld.”

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