In a move that has raised eyebrows, the Zimbabwean government has awarded traditional leaders a 100% bonus as a “performance reward” for their role in mobilizing their communities to vote for the ruling party during the August elections.
Chiefs, headmen, village heads, and their messengers will receive the bonuses in both United States dollars and the local currency.
Finance Secretary George Guvamatanga, in a circular dated November 7, 2023, addressed to the Public Service Commission secretary Tsitsi Choruma, stated that the traditional leaders’ bonuses would be paid alongside those of civil servants. This practice aligns with the tradition of awarding performance rewards to public service employees in the form of a 13th cheque (bonus) at the end of each year.
The bonus amounts for traditional leaders vary within their ranks. Chiefs will receive the highest amount of US$300 and $337,000 in local currency, which is equivalent to the earnings of teachers. Village heads and messengers will receive the lowest amount of US$100.
It is worth noting that chiefs already receive additional perks from the government, including top-of-the-range cars, fuel, boreholes, farms, and mines. These incentives, combined with their influential roles in rural areas, have been attributed to Zanu PF’s victories in those regions.
Zanu PF Vice-President Kembo Mohadi has been actively engaging with traditional leaders, urging them to support the ruling party in the lead-up to the August elections. While the constitution prohibits traditional leaders from participating in politics, there has been a long-standing perception that chiefs align themselves with the ruling party.
The government has historically offered various benefits to chiefs in exchange for electoral support. However, this move to grant bonuses specifically for their perceived role in the elections has sparked debate. Some argue that it establishes a patron-client relationship, wherein the government rewards loyal supporters with patronage. Critics suggest that it demonstrates the ruling party’s strategy of buying support from various sectors, including chiefs, opposition leaders, and religious institutions.
The situation raises questions about the role of traditional leaders, as they are expected to remain impartial and refrain from participating in partisan politics. According to the constitution, they should not further the interests of any political party. The move to grant bonuses to traditional leaders has drawn attention to the potential conflicts between their political neutrality and the benefits they receive from the government.
The development has sparked discussions about the nature of governance in Zimbabwe, with some describing it as a neo-patrimonial regime that seeks to secure loyalty through patronage. Critics argue that this practice undermines the independence and integrity of traditional leadership, as well as the broader democratic principles of the country.
As the debate continues, the government’s decision to award bonuses to traditional leaders for their perceived political support has shed light on the complex dynamics between politics, patronage, and the traditional leadership system in Zimbabwe.