Chief Hata – Nyanga South

The role of traditional leaders in economic development in Zimbabwe communities.

Traditional chiefs have an important role in developing communities in independent Zimbabwe. Traditional chiefs in Zimbabwe as a whole are the custodians of our values, norms and tradition. Having this onus, these traditional leaders play a leading role in developing every society economically, politically and socially. They work hand in hand with the government, Non-governmental organisations and private organisations in fostering development in their respective areas. Chiefs preserve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by allocating land, preserving the environment, promoting gender equality, peace and justice, good health and quality education. It is the role of chiefs together with headmen to preserve and promote these development indicators. At this juncture it is prudent to applaud the role played by Chief Hata in Nyanga South area.

Origins/Historical background.

Chief Hata who is ascribed to ‘Mheta’ is believed to have branched from chief Saunyama. The origins of these people are connected to the Saunyama people. The Saunyama people are believed to have migrated from Mozambique and resettled on a hilltop of Mount Muozi in present day Zimbabwe. Historians conclude the Saunyama ancestry to the Barwe of the Sena dialect. Mt Muozi was the territory on which the Unyama people first established themselves upon their arrival from Mozambique.  Unyama territory is regarded as their most sacred shrine and this archaeological site is believed to have been used as a centre for rainmaking and chief installation ceremonies as well as a burial zone for Saunyama chiefs’. Possibly with population growth and resource needs the Unyama people moved to occupy the present day Ziwa Ruins. Within these ruins the Unyama terraced and built marvellous stone structures that are economically benefiting the local people. However, the advent of colonialism and perhaps population growth the Unyama kingdom became big and diluted. Globalisation and resettlement disrupted the continuity of Ziwa Saunyama existence. Structures were left unhindered. It is therefore prudent to reason that, origin of the Unyama got roots in the present day Saunyama, Kadzima, Mapeta, Nyatondo and Magaso Family. Their fore fathers bow this history and thus their son’s family rotates chieftainship. It is however, believed that Chief Saunyama remains the overall head and the others family act as headman. Currently, Chief Hata from Sedze area is preserving the chieftainship. He reports directly to Chief Saunyama. Saunyama and Hata are just one family which only shared different surnames but same totem. Mheta means a python or Shato in shona. In preserving their totem, the Unyama people punish everyone found killing this vicious snake and he or she will be fined for such behaviour. Therefore, this history is important in trying to elucidate where these traditional leaders came from and how are they preserving the environment. They are surely making strides in preserving their territory and being ambassadors of economic, political and social development.

Economically, Chief Hata currently in Mapeta family are monitoring, distributing and evaluating land. Land is the mother of economic development. Communal land is used for residential, crop cultivation and grazing. Agricultural production of cash crops are dominating in Chief Hata area. Cash crops such as onions, potatoes, garlic, peas and fruits are grown in Sedze area. Fair land distribution and other resources by Chief Hata promoted growth and development of Nyanga area. Management and monitoring of water and climate change in Chief Hata area enables efficient irrigation systems. In trying to mitigate water and climate challenges in his area, Chief Hata came up with deterrent punishment, for example deforestation, channelling water illegally from Nyajezi River, unnecessary burning of bushes and wearing of red clothes during the rainy season. Anyone found doing the above acts or commissions is liable to a fine of one beast, one goat and money. Thus, these measures were designed in trying to promote agricultural continuity and promotion of adequate food supply.  Unnecessary burning of bushes and grazing land proves beyond doubt that, the Nyanga area under chief Hata are pastoralist. Animal husbandry in livestock and small stock are preserved in Chief Hata area. It is therefore, prudent to applaud Chief Hata in taking positive steps in distributing, monitoring and evaluating land. These conservation measures have yielded positive results in providing adequate food for the people thereby improving health, education and economic development of the people.

Chief Hata is the man behind quality health and education in Sedze area. Through his customary powers, he distributed abundant land for the construction of local clinic and schools for his people. His vision to seeing continuity of society is backdated to history when their ancestors constructed the Ziwa ruins which up to now are benefiting the local people. Provision of quality education is key in developing a society. In doing so, Chief Hata is promoting the social progress and human development is his area. By improving the local clinic, mortality rate declined within the area. Therefore, economic development is being witnessed in Sedze area.

There is very peaceful core- existence in Chief Hata area. The chief performs his judicial role of dispute resolution. Peace and stability are needed for economic development in any society. With all powers vested in him, Chief Hata designed stiffer penalties for those who cause anarchy, chaos and family fights.   In fact, he is helped by a council of elders in resolving disputes and making decisions. The chief deals with a plethora of cases including murder disputes, marriage disputes and theft cases.

The chief has the mandate of preserving the cultural norms, values and beliefs of Sedze area. The area of Nyanga headed by Chief Hata observes its cultural and traditional believe. For instance, preservation of environment is done by respecting totems. People who are ascribed to monkey (Soko), Mheta (shato) and Buffalo (nyathi) are not permitted to disturb life of these animals. Thus, by respecting totems Chief Hata’s people preserve these different animals and creations. Unwarranted cutting down of trees unnecessarily also attracts stiffer penalties. It is the environment that we benefit from for food, shelter and clothing and thus by preserving this, Chief Hata is an agent of economic prosperity. 

The society headed by Chief Hata is egalitarian and economic development is witnessed. The chief works hand in glove with Non-governmental organisation such as GOAL, CAMFED, FACT and governmental portfolios to cement smooth flow of resources and ideas to weed out poverty and underdevelopment in the area. This stance by the traditional chief proves beyond doubt that chiefs are strong agents for economic development. It is therefore justified that, traditional leaders are fostering economic growth and development in independent Zimbabwe.

Leon Chigwanda is an Economic historian with Great Zimbabwe University.

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