Traditional leaders have an important role that stretches from social, economic and political aspects. They play a pivotal role in the country by working together with the state structures in their local areas. These leaders include village heads, headmen and chiefs in order of increasing powers. The roles played by traditional leaders include the maintenance of standards of living, provision of spiritual guide and cultural leadership, resolving disputes; conservation of natural resources, provision of judicial services, land distribution, providing food to local people, defense of the rural community and molding better citizens.
They are challenges faced in trying to carry out their duties like corruption, violation of women rights and decrease in population. This discussion will mainly focus on the roles played by chiefs.
According to Jackson and Marquette (2000) chiefs maintain the standards of living of the people within their jurisdiction. They do this by coordinating and communicate on fundamental issues that aim to bring development within the villages. To accomplish this, chiefs liaise with and help the development associations of rural local authorities by pressing on prerequisites needs such as health and education.
In addition, these leaders mobilise people to support all the development programs for example improvement of sanitation and conservation of ecosystem amongst other crucial issues. Jackson and Marquette (2000) posit that, chiefs are trusted by the government structures hence they are given power to coordinate various programs in their rural communities. They manage issues which are not beyond their capacity like minor natural disasters and containment of epidemic diseases just to mention but a few.
For instance in Chipinge the river ‘Nyamukunga’ flooded in 2007 and chief Musikavanhu helped the victims by coordinating with well-wishers and government for donations of all necessities needed for life to be worth living for. Apart from that, they also coordinated the food relief programs by various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as Inter-Country People’s Aid (IPA), Christian Care Zimbabwe (CCZ) among others. In addition to that, they also coordinate in the distribution of farming inputs provided by the government under command agricultures.
In accordance with Daneel (1996) chiefs provide spiritual guide and cultural leadership to their villages. The provision of spiritual and cultural leadership help the villages to work closely related to each other and bring the sense of oneness so that unity amongst members will be more pronounced. Apart from that, it also helps in building inter-communities relationships that will help the members of different communities to work, succeed in whatever they do in relation to their cultures. Dodo et al, (2012) chiefs are the only people who are able to convince ancestral spirits to accept new concepts. It is vital to convince the ancestral spirits to adapt to new concepts so that they will be no tensions with the ancestral spirits since they are high chances of being punished by not observing some cultural beliefs. Since chiefs are the leaders of rural communities they perform quite a number of functions linked to culture, customs and traditions. For instance they lead African rain-making ceremonies, acceptance of the dead from the wilderness ceremonies ‘kurova guva’, concepts very much respected and honoured by Zimbabweans. Apart from that, they officiate at other public events where the traditional practice is a requirement like burial, marriages.
Traditional leaders play an important role in resolving disputes and conflicts in communal land and resettlement areas (Rathbone, 2000). It has been discovered that this is the most important role, judging by the time spent doing this duty. The role of solving disputes is limited to minor issues and complicated issues are transferred to police. If the matter is within their jurisdiction they play a pivotal role in restoring relationships amongst members of the village by discouraging the retributive way of solving problems. Owing to the restorative way, the rural community members they always live in good relationships and work together to further the progress of the village. In Bindura Reitpan farms another worker from Dokora’s farm mistakenly lit fire and destroys the crops in Mangwanya’s farm and the matter was taken to chief Chin’unu’unu. They reached an agreement of providing Mangwanya’s family with two tonnes of maize to sustain for that year yet 30 hectares were destroyed.
According to Mukamuri, (n,d) the conservation of natural resources and the way they are exploited in relation to standard regulations is ensured by the chiefs at small scale. They are always involved in the exploitation of natural resources in order to represent their people. The main reason is to let their rural community members benefit from every natural resource exploited. For example in Bindura Rietpan area, the streams of gold were discovered and traditional leaders worked very hard until all the local youths got jobs. It is the duty traditional leaders to prevent indiscriminate destruction of flora and fauna Mukamuri (n,d). They promote conservation plants and animals so that they can be exploited according to law and usually by local people. In this case they work with rural local government on imposing stringent conditions to the perpetrators. By conservation of some natural resources, some chiefs were able to help the state to generate revenue by make use of natural resources to create tourist attraction features. For instance, in Inyanga, the mountains, flora and fauna attract many tourists from different countries.
According to Dodo, (2013) chiefs helps the local people by providing food In Zimbabwe, there is a program called ‘Zunde Ramambo’ (Chief’s granary) which provide food for the poor and orphans. The same facility also helped in times of droughts and other emergencies to help people within their communities. For example the floods in Chipinge cited before, the chief provided food to all the victims. This clearly shows that chief is also responsible for people within their area by taking measures when the problems arise.
The defense system of rural set up is the facilitated by the chiefs and in serious cases they liaise with the government structures like police and sometimes army (Ray, 2003a). chiefs usually fights and protection their people by conducting tense discussions with various people who impose threats to them like land invasions, women grabbers and cattle rustlers. For instance, in 2016 cattle have been reported to be driven out of the country by Mozambican Katindike residence from Nyanga Nyamaropa to their places. The chief of that area had to cross Katindike to negotiate and to reach an agreement, and as a result 63 cattle were driven back to Zimbabwean side. In Mount Selinda, the dispute of land invasions by the Mozambican in trying to extend their territories was resolved by chiefs four years ago.
Land distribution is done by the chiefs; therefore they act as advocates for people’s needs (Dodo, 2013). They advocated for everyone to get enough land for residence and at the same time the land for subsistence farming so that the local people can sustain their people. In Mashonaland East Province in 1999 traditional chief led his people to reclaim the land from fewer white settlers in bid to redistribute it to local people in his jurisdiction. Chief Tangwena fought very hard until they got the land and satisfy everyone in his area.
Chiefs inspire unity amongst their members; unity will help to conquer all challenges met by local people. Dodo (2013) reduction of crime rates and juvenile delinquency has been perpetuated by traditional leaders. They managed to reduce the problems through community programs and imposing stringent laws that address different types of misconducts by local people with the help of other structures to enforce law. Apt from making those laws they also used the linages, totems and relation within the rural communities to curb crime and at the same time uphold unhu/ubuntu. By settling people of same linages and totems, the chances of committing crimes will be low since all the people in that are related.
However, the role is compromised by the level of corruption amongst some traditional leaders (Ray and Reddy, 2003). They fail to distribute whatever they receive to their community members due nepotism and favouritism. This destroys their ability to help their communities to the maximum and owing to that their role is now overlooked. For instance some chiefs are found guilty of withholding farming inputs from Command Agriculture and some are selling.
In Zimbabwe traditional customary law is supported by culture and traditions that views violence against women as normal (Andersson et al, 2008). This normality now stretches to be national beahaviour and as a result of that women and girls is undermined and that’s what causes them to be left behind economically, socially and especially politically. This has been perpetuated by the fact that traditionally, women were not allowed to excel since they were regarded as husband’s property.
Some chiefs are contributing too many deaths of their local people (Dodo, 2013). In trying to keep and protect cultural beliefs, people are restricted to visit clinics and hospital to seek proper medical facilities. Although a certain percentage is related with religious perspectives.
Although there is a debate about misconducts which tainted the roles played by traditional leaders they remain important regarding their roles. This is because there are other traditional leaders who perform their duties properly. The roles they play in the country includes the raising and maintaining standards of living, restoration of friendship relation in dispute resolving, fighting for the needs of the people in their jurisdiction among other important roles.
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