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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

National Annual Chiefs Conference-a big charade

By Blessing Vava
The just ended National Annual Chiefs Conference held in Bulawayo was reduced to a comical show which left me laughing as if I had been watching the hilarious DSTV Jerry Springer show. The whole conference was characterized by weird, unimaginable and outrageous demands  reducing what was supposed to be an important national event by our traditional leaders  to tackle a host issues affecting our rural areas to a ‘big charade with nothing of importance coming out of that conference.’  To sum it all, it was a ZANU PF conference but this time focusing on one of their numerous wings masquerading as traditional leaders who have since ceased playing their role as community leaders. We all expected vigorous deliberations on how they were going to deal with the issue of drought and hunger that the nation is facing and other issues of development to our rural areas which remain backward, under-developed and marginalized. 

Part of the drama-Mugabe gets Gaddafi gown  from the
national chairman of House of Traditional Elders in Kenya
Kamlesh Mondoo Patti
The conference had no serious deliberations but demands and praise singing of President Mugabe. One would have mistaken the gathering for a nursery school party. Chiefs have indeed digressed from their role that among other things is of settling customary disputes, connecting residents to district assemblies, acting as gatekeepers for their subjects and championing local development.

Sad how they have become ZANU PF activists and commissars who do not deserve any respect at all if what they deliberated at their so-called Indaba is anything worth talking of. Maybe they were not briefed on the purpose and importance of the gathering because surely that meeting was a waste of our hard earned taxes.  I feel pity for the thousands of people who are under the custodianship of our chiefs. So what feedback will they give the people they left in the communities? What will they tell the people about the apparent food deficit? How will they answer to the young people’s cry for jobs and other opportunities? Most obviously, after being drugged on such luxuries, they will just go on to say ‘it because of sanctions.’ When they spent four days, making noise and demanding luxuries some of which you wonder if they really deserve in a country that is struggling economically. Maybe they were assured that the closely guarded ‘diamonds purse’ will cater for them. The comedy show which was officially opened by President Mugabe drew 1000 delegates including 200 wives of our country’s chiefs who also accompanied their husbands to this indaba. They also took time to enjoy the luxury of the 5-star hotels they were booked as most of them reside in rural areas.  As the script goes on I also realized that the hosts of the event were said to be Mashonaland East province but surprisingly the event was held in Bulawayo and one wonders why the event was held in Bulawayo and not in the hosting province Mashonaland East.

One of the main highlights which spiced the comedy show were the newspaper headlines which ran through from the day the conference started right up to the end. I have tried to pick a few newspaper headlines for everyone to see the kind of deliberations by the people who preside over a very important but backward constituency and they seem not to understand their role as community leaders. The few headlines I came across had titles like,‘Chiefs demand guns,’ Chiefs says Mugabe will die in office,’ Chiefs endorse Mugabe,’ Chiefs wives goes sightseeing,’ most sickening being ‘Mugabe gets Gaddafi gown,’ as if there are no important issues that are affecting the people they lead in their communities worth debating. Of great surprise was a one Chief Dandawa, chairperson of the traditional chiefs in Mashonaland West province who demanded that chiefs be given guns to protect themselves from people who do not respect them especially politicians. So does it mean that when one owns a gun that is a passport for you to be respected? Chiefs do not need guns, otherwise they will end up intimidating or killing in the name of respect. I find Chief Dandawa being a good candidate for psychiatric treatment.

The chiefs also demanded diplomatic passports. My question is, to go where and to do what? Because their job is purely local and does not require any travelling abroad and hence they should not be given diplomatic passports. The list of demands goes on such that I can’t write it all, and at this rate very soon they will be demanding designer underwear. However, in all this melodrama, for the first time Vice President Nkomo said something sensible and I salute him for that when he dismissed their demands attributing it to laziness. Nkomo is right, all of the country’s chiefs benefited from Mugabe’s controversial land reform exercise and they were some of the main drivers. They are direct beneficiaries of the agricultural inputs, food aid and farming implements and are also responsible for the distribution which they have been abusing by only giving ZANU PF people. Chiefs should stop behaving like cry-babies and do something productive on their vast pieces of land for them to get the luxuries they are clamouring for.

Such levels of greed and self-aggrandizement are the reasons why our rural areas are still backward and undeveloped. What they said in Bulawayo was a clear sign that these chiefs are only interested in satisfying their personal needs more than that of the communities they lead. Their active role in pushing partisan politics is regrettable and a betrayal to our African cultural values. It can clearly been deduced that the role of chiefs in development of our country is very critical as they can facilitate and either derail or delay development. It is therefore very important that the role of chiefs in the society is well articulated as they should be in the forefront fostering development at local level. The laws governing chiefs, their jurisdictions and key result areas should be clearly articulated just as the roles of the President or Prime Minister are clearly articulated in our laws and statutes. The challenges such as succession in chieftaincy as well as open political participation of chiefs are prominent and critical and need to be addressed by policy makers.
Blessing Vava is from the Committee of the Peoples Charter (CPC), and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com