The role of traditional leaders in Zimbabwe: are they still relevant?
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Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013 (Constitution of Zimbabwe) which, among other things recognises the role of the institution of traditional leadership which operates alongside modern state structures. While strengthening the role and status of the institution this new Constitution strictly regulates the conduct of traditional leaders. Despite this upliftment and strict regulation, the role and relevance of the institution of traditional leadership is under significant scrutiny. Traditional leaders are often in conflict with State structures, particularly rural local governments, which is largely attributed to competition for power, resources and legitimacy. It is the conduct of traditional leaders, however, that is cause for concern and raises constitutional questions. Their perceived alignment with the ruling Zimbabwe African National Unity-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has brought renewed criticism of their relevance in a modern-day society anchored on democratic values. Yet, traditional leaders still undertake important responsibilities especially in rural areas where 67 per cent of the population resides. Traditional leaders deliver various government responsibilities in some parts of Zimbabwe where the State has no or a limited presence. Their legitimacy, control and influence in rural areas remain widespread demonstrating remarkable resilience, despite facing various threats. Successive governments in both colonial and independent Zimbabwe have sought to maximise this strength for their respective narrow political interests. All these controversies, conflicts and complexities raise questions about the role and relevance of the institution of traditional leadership in Zimbabwe which this article seeks to untangle.