The Capture of Traditional Leaders by Political Parties in Zimbabwe for Political Expediency

The Capture of Traditional Leaders by Political Parties in Zimbabwe for Political Expediency

Jeffrey Kurebwa (Bindura University of Science Education, Zimbabwe)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2364-3.ch009
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Traditional leaders have been at the centre of controversy from the pre-colonial to the post-colonial period. The recognition of traditional leaders by the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) in Zimbabwe has been controversial. Since 1999, the ZANU-PF government has been facing a serious political crises and an increasingly powerful opposition party (Movement for Democratic Change). Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013 which, among other things recognizes the role of the institution of traditional leadership which operates alongside modern state structures. While recognizing the role and status of the institution, the Constitution strictly regulates the conduct of traditional leaders.
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Traditional leaders play very important functions in rural areas as provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) and the Traditional Leaders Act (1988). Their legitimacy, control and influence in rural areas remain widespread demonstrating remarkable resilience, despite facing various threats. The pre-colonial and post-colonial governments have sought to maximize this strength for their respective narrow political interests. Traditional leaders play very critical roles in the process of good governance. These roles can be categorized into three:

  • 1.

    Advisory role to government and participation in the administrations of rural areas.

  • 2.

    Developmental role, complementing government’s efforts in mobilizing rural communities in implementing developmental projects, sensitizing them on health issues such as HIV/AIDS, promoting education, encouraging economic enterprises, inspiring respect for the law and urging participation in the electoral process.

  • 3.

    Conflict resolution.

The role of traditional leaders in governance has received different thinking within the academic field. Some scholars have argued that the increased role of traditional leaders in governance processes has provided stability in most African countries and improved governance and development (Sklar, 1999; Englebert, 2000). Other scholars have maintained that reliance on traditional leaders in governance has reduced transaction costs and facilitated collective action (Dia, 1996). In other countries, the institution of traditional leadership has been celebrated as an important vehicle for more or less authentic indigenous political expression capable of contributing to genuine democratisation and development (van Nieuwaal & Ray, 1996). Skalník (2005) supports this argument and goes further to draw a dichotomy between traditional leaders as representing a ‘consensual method of decision-making, which prefers non-violent methods, and the modern imported state as a coercive apparatus, ultimately based on the use of violence. According to Skalnik (2005) African should re-introduce a new form of indirect rule or a dual political system where hereditary traditional leaders are granted the role of watchdogs of democracy, providing checks and balances with regard to elected politicians and state bureaucrats. In contextualising the relationship between traditional leaders and the colonial and post-colonial state, Von Trotha (1996) argued that the relationship has evolved into one where traditional leaders act as an intermediary between the state and the people. He called this ‘intermediary domination’. This reflects an antagonistic relationship between the state and the people. The use of traditional leaders reflects the limits of state power to organise directly.

Key Terms in this Chapter

ZANU- PF: The ruling party in Zimbabwe.

Movement for Democratic Change: The biggest opposition political party in Zimbabwe.

Political Party: organized body of like-minded people who work to elect candidates for public office who represent their values on matters of policy.

Constitution: A set of basic laws or principles for a country that describe the rights and duties of its citizens and the way it which it is governed.

Headman: A traditional leader who pays allegiance to a chief in accordance with customary law.

Chief: This refers to a traditional leader of a specific traditional community.

Traditional Leadership: Customary institutions or structures or customary systems or procedures of governance, recognised, utilised or practised by traditional societies.

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