Mugabe "Fights" To Buy The Loyalty Of Zimbabwean Chiefs

Local Government Minister, ZANU PF's Ignatious Chombo, seen here investing Harare Mayor Much Masunda with his Mayoral regalia, has promised chiefs that will all get double-cab vehicles. He told them that Tendai Biti is the one stopping them from enjoying this benefit, but that ZANU PF is fighting him on their behalf.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 15 November 2009

Local Government Minister and Mugabe homeboy, Ignatious Chombo, has told chiefs meeting in Mutare that ZANU PF is fighting the MDC-T Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, to be allowed to buy them 271 brand new luxury vehicles.

Even headmen are being bought. The chiefs will get twin-cabs and the headmen will get single-cab trucks.

"Tendai Biti is resisting, but we are fighting on your behalf," Chombo told the gathering. He is the one in charge of chiefs all over Zimbabwe and uses the power he has over them to remove those seen as sympathetic to opposition parties in Zimbabwe.

Speaking at the same conference, Joice Mujuru, who has just been confirmed as a vice-presidential candidate by ZANU PF for the next elections, said that chiefs were a part of ZANU PF. She claimed that the MDC represented those who did not want land returned to black people while ZANU PF was fighting in the same corner as the chiefs. The relationship, she says, goes back to the beginning of the 1970s liberation war, in which land was a chief grievance.

For outsiders and even urbanite Zimbabweans of the new generation, now so vocal on the internet and elsewhere, it is difficult go understand the crucial role played by chiefs in the normal lives of rural Zimbabweans.

Chiefs can effectively ostracise anyone in their domain. They are the first port of call for the disputes that flare up repeatedly amongst villagers, from domestic strife to gardens that are destroyed by a neighbours cattle.

The chiefs still command a lot of power in the petty frustrations of villagers and can make life very uncomfortable for these citizens.

As a result of this residual power they still hold (the power is respected as long as they two the ZANU PF party line), Mugabe has been able to maintain a grip on the rural areas. In the June election run-off, for instance, some chiefs were told that they had to line up with their subjects in order to vote. This was a way to intimidate villagers, who were told that it would be easy to see which group had voted for whom and if, in their group were found some Tsvangirai votes, then there would be hell to pay.

It is an indication of just how intent Mugabe is on maintaining his stranglehold on rural votes that he is now promising to spend millions of dollars on vehicles for the chiefs. 

By telling them that it is Tendai Biti and the MDC-T who are against the purchase of their vehicles, ZANU PF is effectively ensuring that there is no chief left who will be seen to be supporting the Prime Minister's party.


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