HARARE – Vice President Constantino Chiwenga on Friday issued a chilling threat to traditional leaders, warning that they would be stripped of their positions for criticising the Zanu PF government.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputy corralled traditional chiefs in Harare, furious over rare public criticism of his regime.
Zanu PF relies on traditional leaders for its rural mobilisation, although the chiefs are required by the constitution to be apolitical. In recent weeks, however, there have been signs of a rapture in that relationship as chiefs voice growing disquiet, usually over economic activities of “outsiders” in their areas of control.
Mnangagwa was recently forced to send a ministerial delegation to Zanu PF’s Uzumba stronghold where the local chief was angry over a Chinese mining company which had displaced tens of villagers while mining for black granite.
Similar concerns have been expressed by chiefs in Mavhuradonha, Mashonaland Central, over the activities of Chinese miners.
Then, last week, Chief Murinye of Masvingo gave a stunning assessment of Mnangagwa’s government which he said was allowing corruption to fester. He warned that Mnangagwa would be defeated in 2023 elections if he does not act on the rampant corruption.
All the country’s 272 chiefs were summoned to Harare where Mnangagwa unleashed Chiwenga and the president of the National Chiefs’ Council Fortune Charumbira to read the Riot Act to them.
“What we have seen in the past few days is never done,” fumed Chiwenga. “This thing of just standing up to say whatever you feel to the paramount chief (Mnangagwa) is never done. It’s done by people high on mutoriro (crystal methamphetamine). In this country it’s never done.
“We have one Munhumutapa (Mnangagwa), we have one leader and it is that leader we give respect. It is that leader we show the entire nation what respect is all about. So, what has been done by Chief Murinye is going to be investigated by the minister of local government and the Chiefs’ Council and if found guilty, disciplinary action would be taken.
“This is Zimbabwe. I thought I should say this, I respect Munhumutapa (President Mnangagwa) and no-one touches him as long as I live.”
Chiwenga reminded the chiefs that “the chieftaincy is given, and the chieftaincy can also be withdrawn.”
With Mnangagwa watching on, Chief Charumbira said Chief Murinye’s comments were “an individual’s views”, adding: “It does not reflect the views of the institution, in fact, it’s the direct opposite of our views.”
Zanu PF has controlled chiefs through a system of patronage. They are issued brand new vehicles every five years and paid monthly allowances as well as a free supply of grain and farming implements.
Mnangagwa’s regime previously stripped outspoken Ntabazinduna chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni of the chieftaincy, but he has challenged the move in court.
In his comments captured on video, Chief Murinye said he was not afraid to lose the title.
“I want the message to go straight to ED (Mnangagwa) that he is not going to cross over in 2023 if he doesn’t stop his people from looting,” the chief said.
“We are fed-up with these criminals that surround the president. This is nonsense and it must stop; this country does not belong to anyone. You can kill me if you want, but stop this.”
Chief Murinye described newly-built houses in the posh Harare neighbourhoods of Borrowdale, Chisipite and Glen Lorne as proceeds of corruption.
“I would rather be a poor chief than have such filthy wealth in the midst of poverty,” he said, speaking at the funeral of Elson Gonye, the head of Pay and Benefits Development and Management Agency who died of Covid19 related complications aged 47.
Chief Murinye, born Ephias Munodawafa, said the same conditions that led to the coup of November 2017 were in existence today, if not worse.
“We don’t want people who want everything for themselves while leaving the poor to suffer. Should we go back to (General) Valerio Sibanda to tell him to lead a coup as happened in November 2017? We don’t want to be the laughing stock of this world, if you go to South Africa you get to an extent of wanting to hide your passport,” he fumed.
The chief also took aim at the local Zanu PF MP Edmond Mhere, threatening to pull him by his crown jewels in an angry outburst.
“I warned you against voting this man into parliament in 2018 and you did not heed my call. Now you are regretting. He is never here and none of you even know his number. He is a failure. What type of an MP is he who has no office and does not give his mobile number to the electorate?” asked Chief Murinye.