PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday gagged traditional leaders from criticising him in public, a development seen as part of the Zanu-PF regime’s strategy to further shrink the country’s democratic space.

Mnangagwa held an emergency meeting with traditional leaders from across the country in the capital yesterday, three days after Chief Murinye of Masvingo publicly castigated him for failing to rein in “rogue” associates “surrounding him”.

Murinye warned that Mnangagwa risked losing the 2023 presidential elections, or being toppled via a coup. He was speaking at the burial of top civil servant Elson Gonye, the head of Pay and Benefits Development and Management Agency in Masvingo province.

The burial was attended by senior government officials.

Mnangagwa’s deputy Constantino Chiwenga and Chiefs Council president Fortune Charumbira said Murinye’s comments were unacceptable, would not be tolerated and would be investigated.

“Chiefs have been guided accordingly,” a visibly angry Chiwenga said.

“Chiefs should know channels to raise issues. Chief Murinye’s conduct is not tolerated and thus will be investigated. The President should be respected by all and sundry. The President has my total support.

Charumbira chipped in: “My great Monomotapa (in reference to Mnangagwa) cannot be touched as long as I am alive. What we have seen recently should never be repeated. Zvinoitwa nevakanwa mutoriro zviya (Murinye’s conduct is only attributable to those who abuse crystal meth),” he said.

“Chieftainship is given by the paramount chief and if you are stubborn, the paramount chief has the powers to withdraw you from the chiefdom.”

Charumbira added: “We are with you as the National Council of Chiefs. Chief Murinye’s utterances should be regarded as his individual view and not that of the national council of chiefs.”

The presidential communications department said: “Chiefs should be guided in their conduct of their governance roles by ubuntu/hunhu, hard-work, peace, unity, respect, love and harmony.”

Mnangagwa pledged to further improve the welfare of traditional chiefs by ensuring that they had reasonable allowances.

The Zanu-PF government has in the past pampered chiefs with vehicles, land and houses among other benefits, to garner electoral support.

Legal expert Tawanda Mapuranga said yesterday’s gag order was a deliberate plan by the government to deal with discontent among traditional leaders over corruption, in particular involving questionable land deals with Chinese mining companies.

“There is nowhere in the Constitution where chiefs are prohibited from criticising the President,” Mapuranga said.

“Government must learn to respect criticism from whomever to promote transparency and accountability. Government should actually stop chiefs from supporting political parties to uphold the dictates of the Constitution.

“The Masvingo chief who spoke against corruption did nothing wrong. Government should actually take heed of the advice.”

This comes less than a month after Mnangagwa signed into law the Data Protection Act (Chapter 11:12) that contains provisions that undermine the freedom of expression and freedom of the media.