Under normal circumstances, chiefs are supposed to be apolitical in the execution of their duties.
Chief Negomo of Chiweshe in Mashonaland Central province, who came into the spotlight last year when he fined Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for breaching customary law, said they endorsed Mugabe because he has always rescued people in times of need.
“Tsvangirai promised people many things when he was campaigning but he has not fulfilled any of his promises,” said Negomo, who could not elaborate on the alleged promises.
“But President Mugabe has always led the people well and always comes to their rescue in their times of need, for example during drought. He does all this in consultation with the chiefs.”
He said Mugabe “was given that seat by the ancestors”.
Section 5 of the Traditional Leaders’ Act states that a chief shall be responsible for promoting and upholding cultural values among communities under his jurisdiction, particularly the preservation of the extended family and the promotion of traditional family life.
The Act says chiefs are also responsible for preserving the environment, regulating settlement on land under their jurisdiction, playing the middlemen between a community and its rural district council.
It also says they are responsible for supervising headmen and village heads in the performance of their duties and ensuring that all public property is not destroyed by people or animals.
Constitutional expert and University of Zimbabwe law lecturer, Lovemore Madhuku, said chiefs breached their constitutional mandate by endorsing Mugabe.
“Endorsing political leaders as candidates for elections is outside their constitutional responsibilities,” said Madhuku, who is also National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairman.
“Constitutionally, they are supposed to preside over people, ensuring preservation of customary values.
He said chiefs are supposed to be of service “to all people regardless of political affiliation but they are getting involved in politics probably because of the benefits that come with that”.
Some chiefs have also been accused of encouraging over political violence by allegedly participating in the harassment of MDC-T supporters, especially during election periods.
Others have also been accused of denying non-Zanu PF supporters farming inputs and food aid sourced from government or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
During the violent 2008 elections, some chiefs and other traditional leaders forced their subjects to vote for Mugabe by ordering them to line behind them during voting.
The president of the Zimbabwe Chiefs Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira, refused to comment only insisting a chiefs’ caucus would on Wednesday clarify “all misconceptions about the institution”.
The Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development, Ignatious Chombo, whose ministry controls traditional leaders, could not be reached for comment last week.
The MDC-T and civic organisations last week called for the replacement of traditional chiefs by qualified officials that administer customary law accusing them of abusing their offices by openly supporting Zanu PF.
MDC expects chiefs to be non-partisan: Mwonzora
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwo-nzora said his party expected chiefs to act in a non-partisan manner to gain people’s respect and confidence.
“MDC has always expected chiefs to act in a constitutional manner,” Mwonzora said.
“The Global Political Agreement and amendment number 19 of the constitution clearly state that chiefs are supposed to be apolitical and they are not supposed to show favour or disfavour towards any political party.
He added: “But what we have seen is continued abuse of the chiefs’ institution, for example they have been coerced to endorse Mugabe as a presidential candidate twice.”
Mwonzora said his party believed the chiefs were acting out of fear of losing their positions and benefits that go with the posts.
Government pays chiefs at least US$300 per month and were each given a vehicle, among other benefits.