BY SHARON SIBINDI
DESCENDANTS of the Ndebele monarch, King Lobengula, have called for the immediate release of Ntabazinduna Chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni who was jailed last week, saying the decision has left traditional leaders vulnerable and their powers diluted.
Prince Zwide Khumalo said politics and interference in traditional justice system were reasons for his incarceration.
“First is the social side of things that encompass the chief, the chief’s institution, the community and family. Secondly, there are the legal issues that pit the justice system against traditional courts and last, but not least, is the very ugly face of politics that seems to be at play to some degree here,” he said.
Khumalo said the apex of a nation’s identity is the institution of chieftaincy and the powers vested in a chief give the traditional leader and his advisers some level of autonomy, as enshrined in the Constitution.
“Notwithstanding the judgment on Chief Ndiweni, which in our opinion is rather too harsh, the very incarceration of a chief has irreparable damage to the institution of chieftainship,” he said.
“The chief is being incarcerated for actions carried out in his capacity as a chief and, therefore, it is the chieftaincy and not the individual at trial here.
How does the magistrate casually strip chiefs of their power to execute their duties. It is difficult to accept that what has been done to keep him in jail is good for the people he leads, let alone himself and his family. It must be imagined what this whole saga means to the rest of the family households, that for 18 months they should stay without their leader. How is this vacuum filled?”
Khumalo added that a chief makes a judgment on the basis of consultation and that diverts direct personal final decision from him.
“Secondly, the law needs to look at the value of the damage in relation to the sentence. To the aggrieved, who could have appealed the chief’s sentence, the damage of value of $300 could be seen as high, but the human face to the two, damage and 18 months jail term in prison of a man that thought he honestly was doing his job, there is no complementarity,” he said.
“Banishing a wrong doer from an area is not isolated to Ntabazinduna. It has been practised for decades on end by traditional leadership. That, however, is not to say property destruction is right.”
Khumalo said the judgment had weakened chiefs’ powers.
“Let me show how seriously this judgment has weakened the powers of the chiefs and to what extent it has left chiefs vulnerable. Similar to the practice of banishing, there is a longstanding practice to require a wrong doer to provide a goat to the indaba as part of a sentence to feed the participants in debating the case,” he said.
“How will courts look at it when the wrong doer turns around and says the chief and his presiding officers stole his goat. Will the chief go to jail? The more one considers the outcomes of this case, one cannot help but to get the feeling that the lack of consideration of the social and legal ramifications that arise as a result of the incarceration of the chief leads one to think that it may be more the nature of the chief than the nature of the case on trial here.”
Khumalo said the judicial and administrative leadership should rectify the error.
“We call upon the judicial and administrative leadership in the country to act quickly and rectify this obvious error of judgment, as this is a direct assault on the social fabric of the people of Ntabazinduna will serve only to reinforce an ongoing shift in the social and political outlook of the people of Umthwakazi region.”
“Our faith in the political and judicial system of the country in serving our region is being eroded daily, this must not and cannot be allowed to continue unabated one way or another,” the prince said.