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‘Mugabe appeases chiefs for support’

President Robert Mugabe’s promise to buy new luxury vehicles and increase allowances for traditional leaders in the face of a burning economy shows that he is determined to retain power at all costs, analysts have said.

Everson Mushava

Mugabe last week acceded to the chiefs’ demands for new vehicles and increased allowances. Mugabe promised the chiefs brand new vehicles “of their choice” in response to the “sticking grievances” he had received.

Mugabe made the promise at the Annual Chiefs Conference in Gweru recently.

Media and Democracy scholar Pedzisai Ruhanya yesterday said Mugabe’s pledge to the chiefs was clear testimony that the veteran leader did not care about the economy, but power retention and would do anything to keep the throne.

“Mugabe will meet the chiefs’ demands. All the people who think that Mugabe cares about the economy are mistaken. He is worried about power. He will do irrational things that keep him in power. History has proved that,” Ruhanya said.

“Mugabe is facing an election in 2018 and he can do anything to win the election. It is meant to appease the chiefs and buy them so that they can be part of Zanu PF structures. At every congress, chiefs, war vets and other groups would stampede to endorse him. That is the undemocratic nature of Mugabe.”

He said Zanu PF relied on a patronage system to keep power as evidenced by what Mugabe did in 1997 when he printed money for war veterans’ gratuities in order to buy their support. Ruhanya said thousands of people in Matabeleland and Midlands were killed during an army crackdown when Mugabe’s power was under threat from the late Joshua Nkomo.

“The war veterans’ compensation fund killed the economy but Mugabe never cared as long as he had the power. After the promise to the chiefs, he will do that to war veterans, war collaborators, even vapositori and various other groups to earn their support,” he said.

About the chiefs’ demands, Ruhanya had no kind words saying their history of “treachery” against their people was well-documented. They supported the white colonial masters and sold out the liberation struggle, he said.

Ruhanya said chiefs were not interested in the welfare of their subjects, but self-aggrandisement.

“Mugabe is using chiefs to subvert the democratic aspirations of Zimbabweans in independent Zimbabwe the same way Ian Smith did during the liberation struggle,” Ruhanya said.

Most chiefs during the colonial regime sided with Rhodesians in supressing their own black population. Notable was Chief Jeremiah Chirau, from Mashonaland, who later became a senator in the Rhodesian government in the 1970s. However, others like Chief Nemakonde and Rekayi Tangwena refused to dance to Smith’s tune.

Chiefs were given material things by the Smith regime to incentivise them to support the colonial government. When Mugabe took over power in 1980, he dumped them as punishment for supporting the colonial government and sabotaging the liberation struggle.  

However, Mugabe revised his strategy when MDC emerged in 1999 when he realised his power was under threat. He drew them closer and started pampering them with incentives that included purchasing new vehicles for them in 2004.

Currently, they earn US$300 a month, a figure close to what a qualified teacher earns. But the chiefs’ president, Fortune Charumbira, apart from demanding new cars, also demanded that allowances be hiked to US$800 a month.

Charumbira could not be reached for comment on the feasibility of such demands by chiefs in the face of the grinding poverty that their subjects were labouring under.

A Zanu PF official who refused to be named said chiefs were the “Alpha and Omega” of politics to Zanu PF and Mugabe would definitely honour his pledge, notwithstanding the bleeding economy.

He said traditional leaders had, since the 1940s, become useful instruments available for use by any government for political purposes.

“Mugabe knows the chiefs are influential and he cannot ignore them. For him to survive politically, he should bow to their demands.”

The official said chiefs had never represented the people but were just selfish conduits of their political masters. Chiefs, he added, did not have political constituencies and were motivated only by greed.

Political analyst Alexander Rusero said chiefs were simply taking a leaf from Parliamentarians who have always demanded luxuries while the economy was burning. 

“We are going to have a scenario where chiefs will be well-oiled and would block any opposition in their areas in support of Zanu PF,” Rusero said.

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