The real owners of this land, traditional leaders, were in Bulawayo over the past three days for their national conference.
That is the time they congregate to discuss issues of interest to them including the welfare of the communities they lead and the situation in the country at large. Representatives of Government, led by the President religiously attend. He and his ministers and senior officials listen as traditional leaders speak and they respond.
The National Chief’s Conference is an important event on the national calendar. Given the essentiality of traditional leadership in our country, the meeting is almost to the level of the ruling party conference.
This year’s edition was unique in a few ways. Headmen, the level just below chiefs but above village heads attended the conference for the first time in the history of the event. President of the National Council of Chiefs, Chief Fortune Charumbira and his team made a good decision by creating space for their second-in-command; a critical rung of traditional leadership in the country composed of figures who, in most cases, are of the same bloodline as the sitting chiefs. In the future, it might be good for space to be created for village heads as well. However, noting their large number, just having a team representing them could be workable. This goes well with the Government’s decision in July last year to pay village heads an allowance.
With headmen now attending the conference, it would be good to rename the summit the National Traditional Leaders Conference.
There are other takeaways from the conference that will not only consolidate the work of traditional leaders but also national development.
The decision by the Government, as we reported yesterday, for chiefs to undergo legal training is important. This comes after years of complaints by traditional leaders that magistrates tend to overturn many of their judgments, in some cases, chiefs being summoned to the magistrates’ court as witnesses.
Yes, that strengthens the judiciary for even High Court and Supreme Court judgments can be successfully appealed against, but a chief being summoned to be a witness over a judgment they made is difficult. Be that as it may, we don’t see an alternative. That is why the training indicated earlier will be key. It will sharpen chiefs’ legal skills, building upon the wisdom they personally and that which the court structure has.
Yet another significant takeaway from the conference was traditional leaders asserting their inviolable connection to the people, to the land and the political leadership.
“This land was once taken by the white colonialists and as traditional leaders in 1895/1896 we were the first to take arms to fight the imperialists,” said Chief Charumbira.
“From then we were then ruled by the whites and our people were resettled by the whites to unfavourable areas. Some of the chiefs were moved from Fort Rixon and were pushed to Midlands.
Chief Gwebu was moved from Mbalabala (in Umzingwane District) to (Buhera) Manicaland. If you go to Chief Gwebu’s area in Buhera you will be surprised that they will be speaking in IsiNdebele because they were removed from Mbalabala.”
“The point I’m making is that Zanu-PF was formed because traditional leaders had lost their land. I said during the Zanu-PF Conference, the party was formed but the issues that it was fighting had been started by the chiefs when they lost their land. Zanu-PF should be named a party for the traditional leaders, who are the owners of the land.”
The connection between traditional and political leaderships is long and must be strong as Chief Charumbira enunciated.
A commitment by President Mnangagwa that all traditional leaders who were stripped of their authority during the colonial era would soon be reinstated was another welcome issue to come out of the conference. To keep the leaders out of power was to perpetuate a colonial injustice. Happily, that is changing as the Second Republic continues on its path of people-centric leadership.