Judge Wades Into Political Minefield

Local Government Minister has had a decision he made to appoint a traditional leader in Hwedza nullified.

Harare, Zimbabwe, 28 December 2009

Justice Anne-Mary Gowora at the High Court of Zimbabwe perhaps does not know how the ZANU PF patronage machinery works. That is why she has nullified the appointment of a Headman in Hwedza by Local Government Minister and Mugabe homeboy Ignatious Chombo.

The Headmanship is for Goto Ward in the Hwedza Area. Strictly speaking, no matter what the modern laws say, Headmen are the responsibilities of the Chief of the area. Having a Minister appoint a Headman is akin to asking a Board Chairman to appoint a shop-floor supervisor, but that is how deeply ZANU PF is controlling the rural areas.

This being Goto Ward, it would have been expected that traditional laws of natural inheritance dictate that Milton Goto, the obvious candidate, would have been appointed. But Chombo instead appointed a Madzimbamuto Chikowore to the job. This was in May 2007.

Willard Goto promptly took the Minister to court and took the matter all the way to the High Court.

He is insisting that the current laws (Section 8 of the Traditional Leaders’ Act, Chapter 29/17) say he should be appointed.

The High Court agreed with him last week, in a ruling that nullified the decision made by Chombo in 2007. The ruling does not direct him to appoint Got, however, and only says he should revisit the appointment of a Headman for Goto Ward in accordance with Section 8.

But, as I pointed out above, Chombo's actions were not because of ignorance of the law. They were in spite of it. He knew exactly what he was doing. It could well be that the rightful Headman (Goto), could not be trusted to toe the party line and rally villagers around ZANU PF.

The Chiefs and Headmen, you will recall, were also used by ZANU PF in the farcical Presidential "run-off" of June 2008. They were told that they would queue to vote with their subjects forming a single line behind them.

It was a tactic used to intimidate not only the villagers, but also the chiefs themselves. ZANU PF claimed that they would be able to tell which Chieftainship had MDC voters within it and then deal with the Chief as well as his subjects once the votes had been counted. The Chief was also being held accountable for any absentees who heeded Morgan Tsvangirai's call to boycott the election run-off.

Turnout was very good in the rural areas, as a result of this intimidation.

The Chiefs are paid salaries by the ZANU PF government (now pretending to be co-governing with the MDCs) and they are also supplied with cars. Headmen get motorbikes. Chombo has also promised to built palaces for all the chiefs in Zimbabwe.

They are onto a good thing, obviously, and would not want to bite the hand that feeds them. Ironically, this was the very same approach used by Ian Smith's Rhodesia government. And he still lost. So there's still hope yet.

It is, therefore, in the interests of ZANU PF to put in place people they can count on, even if that means breaking the odd Section 8 law now and again, and again, and again........

It remains to be seen whether Chombo obeys the ruling or not. ZANU PF bigwigs have acquired the nasty trait of assuming that they are above the law. Almost certainly, Chombo will appeal to the Supreme Court and by the time the case is heard, perhaps ZANU PF would have quietly changed the law to make Chombo's desires legal.

Mugabe is very good at that. Instead of obeying the law, he changes the law so that it obeys him.

This is why we have 18 amendments to the Constitution (far too many for a nation that is barely a quarter of a century old.

Still, the Jsutice can now rest assured that she has been added to the ZANU PF list of "hostile judges" and may find her path to up the lagger missing quite a few rungs.



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