The incarceration of Ntabazinduna Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni has sparked widespread outrage and condemnation, with some calling it a miscarriage of justice while others suspect a political hand was at play.
Chief Ndiweni was sentenced to 18 months in prison over malicious damage to property charges after he destroyed property belonging to a villager who had resisted his order to leave the area.
His arrest has also raised questions as to whether chiefs should be arrested by courts if they are deemed to have erred in making a judgement at their community courts.
Contacted for comment, Chief Mathema of Gwanda said he and others chiefs would soon sit down and strategise a way forward.
“What the courts did shows some mischief at play. Did the courts take into account that the chief acted according to the dictates of tradition which vary among cultures? A chief does not make decisions individually, when handling a case he always consults his people for a fair decision. A chief represents people, which is why he consults cases set before him at community courts,” he argued.
Chief Mathema believes the courts chose to undermine Chief Ndiweni’s authority and punish him for acting on the interests of his community.
“Tradition is different from how modern courts operate. According to our culture when one did wrong in a community, he was banished that’s why you heard cases of people who practice witchcraft sent to faraway places. There is nothing new with Chief Ndiweni banishing some people,” he said.
Last year in September, Chief Mathema also banished a villager from his area after claiming he had allocated himself a piece of land without his authority.
“The ruling implies political connotations, which are a way to punish him for his views. As chiefs from Matabeleland we will have to strategise on how to deal with the matter. We are all affected. I personally I am unhappy with such,” said Chief Mathema.
He highlighted that if the state was unhappy with Chief Ndiweni’s conduct, it should have approached him personally.
“We now know that in this country you can’t call spade a spade. They should have gone to him straight and told him if they were unhappy with him. I don’t think they gave him such an opportunity and that is unfair,” Chief Mathema noted.
Firebrand Filabusi Chief Vezi Maduna Mafu, speaking though his spokesperson, Nothiwani Dlodlo, said he was yet to release a statement about the arrest this coming Friday.
“We don’t act in haste, all will be said in good time,” he said.
Political analyst, Effie Ncube believed there was a hand behind the arrest of Chief Ndiweni.
“There are no questions behind it. His arrest shows some political maneuvering within Zanu PF. The judgement to land him in prison reveals an external hand meant to make sure the chief is demobilised.”
He said other options could have been explored to deal with the chief and incarceration becoming a last resort, if at all it was necessary.
“His incarceration must not be taken lightly, as he is a traditional leader who had acted in the interest of his community. Arresting the chief should have been a last resort, other options should have been exhausted and when you look at his sentence there is no basis for that. It shows some personal motivation by politicians,”Ncube claimed.
ZAPU National Spokesperson, Iphithule Maphosa, said Chief Ndiweni was incarcerated not because of the crime he is alleged to have committed but has been an undesirable element according to Zanu PF.
“Sending the chief away is a well calculated ploy by the regime that is allergic to dissent. The aim is to intimidate, frustrate and create sense of hopelessness among the people of Mthwakazi extraction. This is not a new tactic as you will remember that this is exactly what they did to our fallen heroes – Lookout Masuku, Dumiso Dabengwa, Joshua Nkomo to name just a few while the list is endless,” he quipped.
MDC Matabeleland North Provincial Spokesperson, Mhlonipheki Ncube, condemned the chief’s conviction.
“We are quite aware that this is not aimed at the Chief in particular but just to instill fear to the generality of disgruntled people of Matebeleland and the entire nation. We the Province of Matabeleland North want to make it clear to the panicking regime that we stand by Chief Ndiweni and share his persecution, his beliefs and the suffering he is going through at the hands of the failed regime who are only doing this solely for power and wealthy,” Ncube echoed.
“We want to take this opportunity to join our President Advocate Nelson Chamisa in calling for the immediate release of Chief Ndiweni for what they are doing its only adding salt to the wound. They are only worsening the already volatile situation and they have only themselves to blame.”