The Sunday News
IN many countries traditional authorities play a pre-eminent role as mediators of any conflict. In general terms, traditional leaders especially chiefs bring disputing parties together and create an atmosphere in which they can resolve their differences, thus playing a mediator role, all aimed at finding lasting peace.
Chiefs in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces have been tasked by President Mnangagwa to lead in the Gukurahundi resolution process. The chiefs have been tasked to talk to their communities and find out what the burning issues are and how Government can step in to resolve whatever issue, so that the country moves forward from that emotive issue of post-independence political disturbances.
The call by the President to give that role to chiefs was a masterstroke, simply because chiefs are custodians and gatekeepers in any society. In fact, chiefs know the aspirations, fears as well as physical, spiritual and cultural needs of their people. Chiefs also front the social and economic interests of their communities. They are part of the people and understand what the real issues are at grassroots level, as opposed to other organisations that come in as “them and us”. In addition, chiefs represent local communities and speak for and on behalf of locals, unlike civic society organisations or some political parties whose interests and purpose might be articulated from elsewhere, and therefore their interventions are tailor-made to excite their handlers and not locals.
An academic based in South Africa, Dr Cetshwayo Mabhena is on record as saying giving chiefs the leading role was befitting as chiefs hold the centre of people’s lives, tradition, customs and history.
“Chiefs are a custodian of a people’s history; they connect a people to their ancestors. Chiefs are a custodian of a people’s cultures and values. They are also the ones that keep a people’s memory. They are a custodian of traditions, rituals and rites of people. They are also champions of a people’s culture, they monitor and preserve that. They know the spiritual, physical, social or economic needs of the people because their lives are grounded with the community. So there are no fitting champions of engagement than chiefs, so it’s important to invest trust and leadership to them. It’s a way of going back to how things were done in the past, it’s a way of involving the people. Let’s not forget that chiefs are also custodians of knowledge of how people live daily. If you want to know how people live, feel or their desires, go through chiefs. Chiefs are not elected, they are not politicians, they are chiefs because of culture, so it’s a way of depoliticising the whole process as opposed to using non-governmental organisations who might have their own agenda,” said Dr Mabhena.
To ensure that chiefs carry out their duties as expected, they have been equipped with guidelines and other necessary tools. Last week, President Mnangagwa launched a manual on the Gukurahundi community engagement processes by chiefs including a report on their consultative meetings as the Second Republic takes a bold step towards finding a lasting solution and fostering national unity for the healing of the victims.
Traditional leaders crafted and adopted the Gukurahundi manual to guide the holding of victim-friendly public hearings to ensure national healing as the country confronts its unfortunate past brought about by the 1980s conflict. The manual, which is a product of inclusive engagements between chiefs and various stakeholders, is a culmination of traditional leaders’ meetings with President Mnangagwa, which started in March 2019.
Chiefs are expected to lead the public hearings in some parts of Matabeleland and Midlands provinces. The president of the Chiefs’ Council,presented the document, which is in two volumes, to President Mnangagwa during the launch. Information contained in Volume 1 is on what has been done so far in terms of the Gukurahundi issue while Volume 2 reflects on what will be done after the launch.
The manual will guide chiefs on how to conduct the consultative and engagement process in the communities. The President has already mandated traditional leaders to hold meetings in their communities to capture their views and ascertain possible solutions. This is a move in the right direction, and we urge Zimbabweans to allow chiefs to carry out their mandate, as Government moves to put closure on that emotive episode in the country’s history.