Chiefs last week resolved to set up a mechanism to resolve the long-standing grievances by people in Matabeleland and the Midlands provinces emanating from the atrocities blamed on the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.
The big interview BY OBEY MANAYITI
This followed concerns that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was not doing enough to help survivors find closure, a year after former president Robert Mugabe was toppled.
However, the proposal has been criticised by some chiefs from Matabeleland who feel the president of the Chiefs’ Council, Fortune Charambira, is trying to hijack their own local initiatives to force the Zanu PF government to tackle problems that arose because of the massacres known as Gukurahundi.
Charumbira (FC) told our senior reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) in an exclusive interview that traditional leaders had been under pressure to act on Gukurahundi for a long time and they felt Mugabe’s removal made it possible for them to intervene.
He denied that he was trying to cleanse Zanu PF leaders accused of being ringleaders in the massacres. Below are excerpts from the interview.
OM: The resolution by the Chiefs’ Council to set up a taskforce to tackle the Gukurahundi atrocities has sparked debate with some critics saying you are trying to cleanse Zanu PF as some of its leaders were the architects of the massacres. What is your comment on that?
FC: There was no taskforce that was set up at the conference, no. That is false and it has to be corrected in the minds of anyone who has believed that.
At the conference, there was simply a motion moved by the chiefs to the effect that with the coming of the second republic, traditional leaders must now assert themselves to effectively play their various roles that they have played since time immemorial, which have expanded with time, of course.
Chiefs were saying we want our space and we perform judicial functions, but there are certain bottlenecks and there were issues that were raised in that respect.
Chiefs have a mandate to ensure peace and orderliness in our communities. It’s our inherent role, we are in the second republic and we want to move forward.
If there are areas that chiefs have lacked in the past, please let’s work together to correct that.
The issue of Gukurahundi is a response to calls by society at large and people may not know the pressure under, which the traditional leaders have been subjected to from political parties of all persuasions over the past years, various segments of society — social and economic — saying why are chiefs not asserting themselves, especially with issues of divisions and conflicts, including Gukurahundi.
We waited for a long time deliberately until the conditions were conducive.
We felt that this is the right time because we are in the second republic, the president having declared himself as a fair person, wants everyone to effectively play their role.
This was not driven by any political party. I see insinuations that maybe Zanu PF is involved, but it is not true.
This is coming from the institution itself and this is a mammoth task that we can only undertake in consultation with various stakeholders.
To all those that are making noise, we are saying we will take on board every genuine stakeholder, be they political parties, NGOs or churches.
This initiative is not being driven by any political party, but over the years all the parties, even MDC in its various formations, especially after the 2008 election, was asking why we were not taking action and we said maybe the time was not ripe.
We are not excluding anyone including the NGOs that are making noise.
They just need to appreciate the fact that chiefs are taking the lead.
OM: What are the objectives of the taskforce and will the findings be binding, considering that the taskforce does not derive its mandate from the constitution?
FC: Unfortunately that is not true. I said our role is inherent.
When churches go to mediate as they have been doing, is it in the constitution? When the NGOs go out to try and assist in conflict resolution, is it in the constitution? Churches have been doing some work on conflict resolution even on the Gukurahundi issue.
If you see people fighting in the street and you restrain them, do you need to refer to the constitution? Conflict is bad, full stop. It is a societal issue, a moral issue, an ethical issue and we cannot leave people remaining in conflict perpetually.
You don’t even need a law to quell a conflict, even if you are in a foreign land, if you see people fighting you still go and stop the fight, you don’t need a law to do that. but for the chiefs it is even stronger and in the constitution, one of our roles is conflict resolution.
However, whether constitution or not, this is our inherent role since time immemorial.
However, I need to emphasise that there was no taskforce formed; we don’t need a taskforce for this.
Our approach is different, we have the conference of chiefs, we have the chiefs’ council, we have the provincial assembly of chiefs and then the chiefs themselves.
There is no taskforce that is going to resolve the Gukurahundi, but each chief is going to do it in his or her area.
There are no external people that will go to a particular area to talk about Gukurahundi.
The chief and his people, including those that are making noise, even those outside Matabeleland, will be part of these meetings to give their own ideas too.
Charumbira will not go to Matabeleland to resolve any dispute; we are simply setting up a framework to activate the institution to start performing its roles.
OM: What makes you think that you are better placed to bring closure to the Gukurahundi atrocities yet you have been part of the government that has done nothing to address the issue since the end of the killings in 1987?
FC: Have there been any major initiatives to resolve this issue? The Chihambakwe Commission simply conducted an investigation and did a report.
It was not there to resolve issues, so are you aware of any initiative on this?
People kept on saying because of that absence of a major initiative, some people still feel aggrieved and despite the Unity Accord which was a big step in fostering unity at the higher level, there are people at the lower levels who believe that maybe the Unity Accord did not go to the furthest extent possible.
OM: Will the taskforce not be duplicating the work being done by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), a constitutional body?
FC: In fact, at our conference the NPRC were in attendance. So we are working with them, but their being there doesn’t mean that chiefs must not do their duty of peace-making.
We see them as an extra body that should assist the chiefs.
As chiefs, we cannot go and sleep because there is this thing, [NPRC], which has a tenure of 10 years. The permanent institution is that of chiefs, but our roles complement each other. They are not in conflict at all and that is why at our conference we agreed on how to set up this thing together.
OM: Some chiefs are accusing you of having a tribal agenda in your Gukurahundi interventions. What is your reaction to that?
FC: It is not true. At the conference all the chiefs were there and this thing was done democratically.
The support was unanimous and we don’t know about these fictitious chiefs that you are referring to and if they are really there, they must have come out.
The proposal and the secondment came from chiefs in the provinces, including Matabeleland so we don’t know these fictitious chiefs you are referring to. All the genuine chiefs were there and they supported it.
OM: If your taskforce establishes that action needs to be taken against Gukurahundi perpetrators who might happen to be your leaders in Zanu PF, would you take up the process?
FC: Our interest at the end of it all is to ensure that we resolve these issues in a sustainable manner, permanently.
There will be no issue too big to handle for the institution, but as you know, as traditional leaders we have over centuries resolved conflicts and we rely on our methods. I can assure you on that. We will create a win-win situation and no one should be a loser in this process.
OM: Western election observer missions that watched over the July 30 elections noted that bias by traditional leaders was the biggest threat to credible polls. What is your reaction to those findings and are you motivated to depoliticise chiefs?
FC: You know what, the problem is that those observers came up with historical perceptions of politics in Zimbabwe.
It is true that in 2000 when we embarked on the land reform programme, chiefs were very active because we wanted to make sure that land was taken [for redistribution].
I agree that between 2000 and 2005 yes [chiefs meddled], but after 2013, chiefs made noise about this political party or that party. But our issues have been resolved.
In 2018, if you observed well, the chiefs never came out as they used to do in the past in supporting whichever party although we know that there are some chiefs who even support MDC.
The problem with this is that it only assumed that chiefs support Zanu PF, but there are some who support MDC, it’s a fact.
If you read the reports of the observer missions, they are shallow. The people that they asked do not represent the situation on the ground and we took them to task over this. About 99% of the allegations about chiefs are incorrect.
OM: What is your reaction to observations by the same groups that partisan distribution of food by traditional leaders swayed the election in favour of Zanu PF?
FC: You have a duty as the media to educate Zimbabweans.
People in Zimbabwe have been so polarised that each group believes in their own lies. What food is being distributed and what food was distributed over the past five years?
Many distributors are NGOs and they identify their implementing partners.
Where do you find traditional leaders in their systems of distribution? This is what you should do. You must challenge them to produce their distribution framework and the truth will come out.
Chiefs are not the ones who nominate anyone to get food.
This is total misrepresentation and I am challenging the media in this country, if they want on their own or jointly with us, to go out and check on how the food is distributed.
The image of our institution is tarnished unfairly over these things, yet we do not identify any beneficiary.
The other category of food distribution comes from the government through the social welfare department and that once again is prescribed because it has age limits and also targets orphans.
It is done by the social welfare department itself and the chiefs are not involved even though we want to be involved because this is like the Zunde Ramambo.
In the absence of NGOs, we have granaries and when people come to chiefs we supply them with food from our granaries.
OM: You were sanctioned by the courts for dabbling in partisan politics. Have you ever considered being non-partisan?
FC: By Election Resource Centre? Did they win the case? As far as I know, I was never sanctioned.
In a court of law you have to produce facts, this is not just about writing an article. I was never sanctioned.
OM: There was an order….
FC: No, there was no order. What happened is that they went to court when I was outside the country and the days elapsed to defend myself. The matter was all over the press claiming that I was sanctioned, but I came and challenged it.
OM: Lastly, things are increasingly getting difficult in the country, there is no fuel and prices of basic commodities are on the rise. The cost of living has risen and people are saying this might be a failure of leadership and many are proposing for dialogue between Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa.
What are your views?
FC: Of course, that question is too political and I will never want to be involved lest I be accused of meddling in politics.
However, all we know is that it is true (rising cost of living) and about five weeks ago there was serious depreciation and disparity between the value of the US$ and the bond notes. That has created hardships, of course, but we need to resolve these things.
We need to create an environment conducive for resolution of conflicts and our economy should start performing.
Elections are held in the belief that they will bring peace and harmony in the country so that there is a clearly recognised leadership.
It is unfortunate that even after elections people continue to dispute what came out and that is not good for this country.
If there is space for political parties to be able to work harmoniously, then that is good because we all need peace in this country.
The more we fight, the more we scare possible economic friends and then suffering is perpetuated.
Harmony is what we are looking for as chiefs and we are prepared to assist the political parties if the situation allows.