Chiefs and the economic agenda

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WHEN President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa met the National Chiefs Council in Gweru on Saturday last week, he was not only re-establishing the traditional leaders’ community curatorship role but was adhering to basic economic fundamentals that were the norm during the pre-colonial era.
Of significance was that this was Zimbabwe’s new leader’s first leg of engagement with key stakeholders in the country.
In the next coming few weeks, President Mnangagwa will meet with war veterans, students, farmers, captains of industry and the generality of Zimbabweans as he sells his well-received economic reform agenda.
By making the chiefs’ meeting his first port of call, President Mnangagwa was sticking to the ethos of community development.
Economic growth and development begins at the community level with the chiefs spearheading that process.
This is the traditional role of chiefs that President Mnangagwa was restoring and bestowing upon the revered traditional leaders in Gweru.
It has been a roller-coaster thus far for President Mnangagwa since assuming office on November 24 2017 as he seeks to revive the economy that has been stagnant since the turn of the millennium.
He has embarked on a drive to bring everyone on board in reviving the economy.
The signs so far have been positive, with investors flocking to the country to capitalise on the many investment opportunities that the country has to offer.
This week, South African tycoon Robert Gumede visited the country to pour US$1, 2 billion into the economy.
The Guma Group founder said he had identified sectors in energy, tourism and information technology for his proposed investment.
More good news was visited upon Zimbabweans following the announcement by moribund giant steelmaker ZISCO Steel that it will be seeking approval from its minority shareholders for takeover by Hong Kong-based company Tian LI.
During the meeting with the chiefs, President Mnangagwa said revival of ZISCO Steel was part of his administration’s 100-Day Plan and that the steel giant would resume operations within that time frame.
In August last year Tian LI revealed that it had agreed to invest US$2 billion into ZISCO Steel.
Ziscosteel, before its collapse, was Africa’s leading exporter of integrated steel.
It used to export to Europe as well as other African countries.
During the meeting with the chiefs, a pervading sense of a long awaited return to the country’s traditional values engulfed the sprawling ZANU PF Convention Centre, the venue of the gathering.
In Gweru, at long last, the position of the chiefs and their importance to sustainable development was recognised.
It was as if the clock had been rewound; as has been the norm, development will now be driven from the grassroots with chiefs playing a central role in the matrix.
This was the language that dominated discussions during the Gweru meeting.
It was in light of the restoration of the powers of the chiefs that the role they played before the colonial era was revisited.
History shows Africans, before the coming of whites, had an administrative system that promoted economic development and prosperity, peace, democracy, human rights and cohesion.
At the helm of African societies were chiefs.
The term ‘chief’, ishe or vashe in Shona and induna in Ndebele, refers to an individual who, by virtue of ancestry or spirituality, occupies a clearly defined leadership position in an area.
Researcher and historian Aeneas Chigwedere in the book titled Shona Chieftainships: Principles of Succession explains the importance of chiefs in African cultures.
Chiefs were guardians of the land as well as other natural and mineral resources.
“The chief task of the chief was partly to promote and partly to protect the interests and welfare of his people,” writes Chigwedere.
“The chief did not only initiate the organisation of all community rituals but such rituals were organised in his name.
“It was believed that to maintain the political, economic and social equilibrium, certain rituals had to be organised annually.”
The creation of the post of Native Commissioner stripped traditional chiefs of their duties and roles.
Following the imposition of a more modern system of government by the settlers after 1893, the chiefs’ role was restricted and modified and by 1960 was relegated to the traditional leadership of the people living in the tribal areas.
These were areas restricted to the occupation of indigenous black Zimbabweans and constituted 16 million hectares or just over 40 percent of the total area of the country.
Following independence in 1980, 3, 8 million hectares of land held by commercial farmers were purchased and transferred to tribal occupation, raising the area under tribal dispensation to over 50 per cent.
The chiefs suffered the same fate under Ian Douglas Smith’s Rhodesia; they were subjected to abuse.
When he realised that the traditional chiefs were a ‘sacred’ people who were highly regarded in their communities, Smith saw many advantages in using them to further the imperialists’ political agenda.
It is common knowledge that the chieftaincy was tempered with.
Some of the appointees were used to destroy the African ways which had ensured that Africans thrived by appointing chiefs from ‘wrong’ homes and disregarding African procedures, they sought to break the African spirit with the ‘blessing’ of Africans.
Loyal and puppet traditional chiefs were appointed, with some of them openly disassociating themselves from freedom fighters who were fighting to liberate the country.
The then Minister of Information, Immigration and Tourism Pieter van der Byl would appoint puppet chiefs who were against the struggle.
The media was then used to convey the message that chiefs, the custodians of the land, were opposed to freedom fighters.
The African Times praised chiefs ‘for their stance’ against fellow citizens who were engaged in efforts to free Zimbabwe.
On November 7 1973, the newspaper carried the headline ‘Chiefs Back Government Against Terrorism’ and claimed that over 1 000 chiefs and headmen had been consulted and condemned the freedom fighters for taking up arms and fighting for their freedom.
But 45 years later, in Gweru it was back to basics: Never mind the propaganda that the chiefs were being ‘bribed’ with cars.
The chiefs deserve more. They deserve to be given their power back.
They deserve to play a leading role in economic development and they require vehicles to execute their mandate.
In Gweru, the gathering was an interactive affair as chiefs were afforded the opportunity to air their grievances before President Mnangagwa took to the podium.
He duly responded to issues the chiefs raised, while promising to attend to those he could not deal with instantly.
President Mnangagwa told delegates that it was high time Zimbabweans stopped mourning about the effects of the illegal economic sanctions imposed on the country but focus on what needs to be done.
Outlining his vision to the chiefs, he said Zimbabweans must unite in order to develop the economy.
“Takaita masanctions edu atidzorera shure, asi ikozvino hatichafaniri kuramba tichichema namasanctions. Nezvatinazvo, tikabatana tinosimuka. Nyika yedu inosimuka. Matoona kuti tava nesolution in the area of agriculture and the area of food security. Tava nesolution nemasolutions in manufacturing,” said President Mnangagwa.
“We must also have a solution in the area of beneficiation and value addition. We must have solutions in the area of the types of skills that must be taught in our institutions.
“Recently, I had a meeting with the vice-chancellors (of universities) and the heads of institutions and we all agreed that the teaching, the content of teaching in our institutions, should talk to what we must do, what industry needs, what the farmer needs, what the communities need to grow and develop.
“We cannot just have institutions which are academic and just continue being academic without addressing and looking at what the needs of society are.
“So, whatever we are doing and we agreed with the Minister responsible for higher education that our curriculum should now be structured so as to talk to the needs of society. So, across the board, that’s what we must now endeavour to achieve.”
With the country heading for elections this year, there is need for tolerance of divergent views and voices said President Mnangagwa.
He emphasised that there was no need for violence in the country and promised to deliver a free and fair election.
President Mnangagwa has been stressing on the need for the country to hold credible, peaceful, free and fair elections.
“So, message yatinayo ndeye unity, unity, peace, peace, love, love, non-violence. Patinoenda kusarudzo, hatidi kunzwa violence, vanhu batanayi. Nyango mukapesana nezvematongerwo enyika, mumwe akaita rimwe bato raanofunga kuti rinomubatsira, hazvifanirwe kuti nekuti munhu adaro, murwisane. Kwete.
“Indangariro dzake. Bato rimwe nerimwe rinenge richitaura kuti kudayi tikatonga, richaita zvakati asi hakuna bato rinemazano angapfuure edu. Takabva kuhondo tichirwira kuti nyika isununguke. Hakunazve rimwe bato rakarwira kuti nyika isununguke. Saka tiine shungu nehudzamu hwekuda nyika.
“Vazhinji vaneshuviro rekuti tishande takabatana. Only when the country is peaceful can we develop, can we ensure our own children can be supported to go to school, to go to universities, to go abroad and bring back the skills needed for development in the country.”
There was consensus among the gathered delegates that Zimbabwe’s time, its moment of reckoning had finally arrived.
With the blessings of the chiefs, President Mnangagwa’s administration will now continue on its path of development, armed with the knowledge that the country’s guiding and protecting spirits have endorsed them.

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