SEE no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. This has been the mentality reigning in Sub Traditional Authority (STA) Maoni area under Traditional Authority Nkalo in Chiradzulu.
Like the three monkeys in the Japanese proverb— one covering its eyes, one its ears and the other its mouth— the locals are not supposed to see, hear and let alone speak out ills in their community.
Any deviation from this unwritten law is not only abomination but outr i g h t insubordination. If fact, it is tantamount not only to cutting oneself from enjoying fruits of developmental initiatives but also applying for one's eviction from the community.
This is the experience Hipu Mutembo of Sakwata Village in the area has gone through for not abiding by this cardinal rule.
"We see, we hear but we can't speak about the ills perpetrated by leaders. We don't take chances for they have authority to punish us at their will," begins Mutembo.
He r eco l lects how he attracted the wrath of one of his traditional leaders. His only crime was questioning transparency and accountability in the Farm Input Subsidy Fertiliser (Fisp) programme at a stakeholders meeting.
"I talked about irregularities marring the Fisp programme in our area which saw some beneficiaries have their coupons snatched, and the redirection of aid meant for orphans and other vulnerable people.
"One of our chiefs rebuked me right there, saying all was well and that officials should consult him and not locals to get updates," he says.
But this is not all. His chief, whom he is not even bold enough to mention, stormed his home to issue marching orders from the community.
"It was either matching out or live in the community but never again to be considered for community developmental initiatives as before," says Mutembo.
He has not left his home. He can't; this is his home from birth though all the entitlements he and the four orphans [he looks after] used to enjoy have been withdrawn.
"I can't seek redress. I can't drag them to higher authorities as doing so would be sowing hatred which would be vented on my grandchildren while I am long dead," says Mutembo.
A n o t h e r c o m m u n i t y member, Rex Hoja from Ntope Village who heads Nkhalango Community Based Organisat ion in the same area, corroborates Mutemba's sentiments of attempts to disrespect accountability and transparency.
"Corruption has developed deep and wide roots here courtesy of our traditional leaders. Attempts to speak against this sees stiff resistance to the extent of getting personal threats.
"And when such threats are coming from traditional leaders, we just keep quiet for the sake of our families," Hoja says.
Grace Majawa-Banda, an official of a political party in the area, says traditional leaders use all tricks in the book to suppress efforts to promote transparency and accountability.
One afternoon, January 22, 2012 puts the sentiments in the right perspective. This was the day STA Maoni attempted to block a stakeholders' meeting on elections, transparency and accountability.
The meeting— a brainchild of Pan African Civic Educators Network (Pacenet) and Tilitonse Fund under the Zotheka Project— was aimed at letting the community discuss hurdles they face and brainstorm solutions for a better society.
It had brought together chiefs, Area Development C o m m i t t e e , V i l l a g e Development Committees, CBOs, party and religious leaders
But STA Maoni, instead, stole the show and challenged the participants that they would never hold that meeting which he said was aimed at disparaging chiefs.
"Some of you have personal grudges against us [chiefs] so much that it is through such meetings that we get summoned by our seniors to explain on transparency and accountability in this area.
"As far as I am concerned, we have no problems of corruption here; hence, no need to hold this meeting," said the visibly angry STA Maoni. "As long as I am your chief, there won't any meeting here."
Despite attracting booing from the participants, he did not relent.
But Steven Duwa, Executive Director for Pacenet— which had trained local CBOs on issues of transparency and accountability— intervened to rescue the participants, saying blocking them was as good as trumping on their rights.
"This Zotheka Project was sanctioned by the District Council and Tr a d i t i o n a l Authori t ies ; and denying locals to freely deliberate on issues of transparency and accountability in their areas is equivalent to denying them their right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution," said Duwa, attracting applause from the participants.
Enraged, the STA stormed out, leaving junior chiefs.
This did not surprise Pacenet Coordinator for the district, George Chakwiya, who described this resistance as less than how it was during the launching of the project regarding transparency and accountability.
"Some communities and their traditional leaders are learning to allow their subjects hold them accountable on v a r i o u s d e v e l o p m e n t a l projects in their communities.
"Some CBOs we trained have even been getting threats but through determination, the situation has greatly improved as we have infiltrated a good par t of the di s t r ict with awareness campaign on the advantages of transparency and accountability," said C h a k w i y a , a d d i n g t h e resistance from chiefs has been fading away.
Village Headman Ntope said the more the people and traditional leaders get educated on the fruits of transparency and accountability, the faster the shift from see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil mentality.
In fact, the blame game between locals and their leader would be but history.