By Bevan Musoko
Once upon a time, Felix Nhlanhlayemangwe Ndiweni controversially assumed the Ndiweni Chieftainship on 22 August 2014 following the death of his father, Chief Khayisa Ndiweni who had held the post for over five decades. His ascension to the throne was without controversy as his brother, Joram, filed a High Court application challenging his nomination for the Chieftainship on the grounds that Nguni customs, practices and norms recognise the eldest son as the heir to the throne. With the support of his mother, Agnes, and, as it is coming out now, G40 elements in ZANU PF then occupying influential positions in Government, Felix eventually triumphed over his brother. The new Chief spent over 28 years staying in the UK.
Fast track to 2017. A case was presented before Chief Ndiweni involving the wife of his subject, one Fetti Mbele, Nonkangelo Mpengesi in July 2017. Nonkangelo had been caught being intimate with a fellow villager. It turned out that the accused woman was a Zanu PF member in the area. During trial, a number of witnesses, including Zanu PF Secretary for Administration, Cde Obert Mpofu testified. Cde Mpofu’s was entangled in the case following Chief Ndiweni’s testimony in Court that Cde Mpofu efforts to “fix” him after he had filed criminal charges against the him.
Chief Ndiweni eventually ruled that Mr Mbele’s “adulterous” wife should be banished from the village, saying “prostitution” would not be tolerated in his area. Apparently, Mbele and his wife eventually resolved the matter amicably but the Chief’s court insisted that she had to respect the ruling by leaving the village. She did not. As penalty for contempt of his ruling, the Chief instructed his court assistants to remove the family's garden and kraal fence. On July 26 in 2017 at around 4pm, Mr Mbele and his wife arrived from Bulawayo to find some villagers standing outside their homestead. One Kimpton Sibanda (72), a village head and two other villagers, claimed they had been ordered by Chief Ndiweni to destroy Mr Mbele’s garden fence and kraal. Chief Ndiweni arrived later and ordered the villagers to continue destroying Mr Mbele’s fence and kraal.
The matter was reported to the Police and Chief Ndiweni, together with his 23 subjects he sent to destroy the fence, was charged with malicious damage to property. The matter dragged in the courts for two years. The Chief was represented by a lawyer throughout the proceedings. Along the way, Chief Ndiweni sought to politicise that trial by claiming that Dr Mpofu was fixing him over a different case in which he had sued him for allegedly stealing his late father’s 200 herd of cattle.
On 15 August 2019, Ndiweni and his subjects were found guilty of the charge. On 16 August 2019, the Chief Ndiweni was sentenced to an effective 18 months imprisonment. His 23 subjects were ordered to perform 525 hours of community service.
It therefore boggles the mind that some anti-Government activists, mainly in the MDC, Mthwakazi separatists and civil society organisations, are claiming that the Chief’s conviction is politically motivated. MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa, went to the extent of calling Chief Ndiweni a “political prisoner” and demanded his “immediate release.” This coming from a lawyer who is well placed to understand and respect both the judicial process and its outcome!!! In his pursuit of political opportunism and grandstanding, Chamisa forgets the interests of the Mbele family who were subjected to this clearly illegal act. What should be good for the goose must surely be good for the gander as well. Describing a judicial process convict as a political prisoner may be in contempt of court. This may be interpreted as an attempt by Chamisa to politicise the country’s judicial system.
Chamisa’s claims and posturing can be understood from the background that Chief Ndiweni has publicly identified himself with MDC opposition politics. He attended the MDC Congress in Gweru in May 2019 and actually delivered a solidarity message.
MDC and Civil Society duplicity
The MDC is surely aggrieved over the imprisonment of its activist in traditional leadership garb. This is despite the fact that the MDC and its surrogates in the civil society community actively campaigned for the arraignment of Zimbabwe Chiefs Council (ZCC) President, Chief Fortune Charumbira in the High Court on allegations of being pro-ZANU PF. The MDC, hiding behind the Elections Resource Centre (ERC) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights secured Chief Charumbira’s conviction for allegedly violating the Traditional Leaders’ Act through a statement he made while reading ZCC resolutions that traditional leaders stood behind Zanu PF. The ERC was unrelenting in its persecution of Chief Charumbira, to the extent of petitioning the High Court to hold the Chief in contempt for not publicly withdrawing the ZCC resolution.
It is this same MDC and the civil society that are crying more than the bereaved today over the conviction of Chief Ndiweni for a crime that he committed, stood trial for and got convicted. While the MDC celebrated Chief Ndiweni’s appearance at its congress, the ERC was conspicuous by its silence on the open violation of the same Traditional Leaders Act upon which it had earlier on persecuted Chief Charumbira. So it means Chiefs are free to associate with MDC while it is taboo for same Chiefs to associate with Zanu PF.
Is it far-fetched to link Chief Ndiweni’s criminally unreasonable attack on Mbele’s homestead with the political affiliation of the Mbeles? Could it be that fate had it that Mbele’s wife’s infidelity coincided with her Zanu PF membership and her appearance before the MDC activist dressed as Chief Ndiweni?
The conviction of a Chief for a criminal offense is not new in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Zwelibanzi Dalindyebo is in prison as well for abusing his traditional position. The King was accused of kidnapping a woman and her six children, setting their home on fire and beating up four youths, one of whom died, because one of their relatives had failed to present himself before his traditional court. What the two cases demonstrate is that the two countries uphold the rule of law, irrespective of who the accused is.
Instead of celebrating this strict adherence to rule of law, MDC and its surrogates are criticising the judiciary and Government for merely implementing the law as it stands. The Chief’s case is purely a criminal case in which he took the law into his own hands. He is now paying the price for that.
The MDC claims to be a party committed to rule of law. Chief Ndiweni’s conviction and sentence flowed from the judicial process in line with the Constitution which the MDC assisted in co-authoring. The Chief’s political activities are not the issue at play in this case. While his defenders would want to link them to the case, there is a clear distinction. What he did was criminal.
Another issue that may still be subject to review is the Chief’s ascension to the throne. Tensions continue to simmer in the Ndiweni family over his controversial rise to the throne. It remains to be seen how the issue would pan out.