A few days before President Emmerson Mnangagwa removed Ntabazinduna chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni, the outspoken traditional leader told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube that he was a victim of politics.
Ndiweni (NN), who on Friday filed an urgent court application seeking to reverse Mnangagwa’s decision told Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that he enjoys the backing of the Ndiweni clan.
He said the alleged dispute in the family over the chieftaincy was being engineered by people with political interests. Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: You step into big shoes of your father Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, who was chief before you and lived from 1913 to 2010. He was a larger than life character, controversial in many respects. Tell me, what role did he have in shaping who you are?
NN: He had a profound effect on me, obviously someone who is your parent, your father but nonetheless an individual who’s been in the office for nearly 71 years.
It’s rare to come across an individual like that, who’s in the office, at work for 71 years.
That is a wealth of knowledge and influence they impart on you.
The great shape that he did on me was really, its simplicity itself.
You have to be a listener, take time to rationalise things, take time to understand things.
Don’t prejudge people. Don’t prejudge things and events because he would tell me something that history has a nasty habit of playing the same song again to you.
And if you didn’t hear that song the first time, listen well; it will come to you again.
So those were the great things that he imparted to me.
Even if he was in the hustle and bustle; I mean when I was reading up some articles about him clashing with the then prime minister Ian Douglas Smith on many occasions, being threatened with court actions on many occasions, he was not troubled because he was a rational individual and he was a man of faith and spirituality and Ubuntu — all rolled into one.
So for him, he imparted into me that being a chief means that you have a higher calling. A higher calling that really puts your personality, your being second fiddle to this role that you have been given. And, yes I saw it on a day to day basis.
TN: And he clashed with Robert Mugabe.
NN: Yes, ferociously, ferociously. He clashed with him head-on, on principle, on beliefs, on governance and on all those things because he had a long-term view of what this nation should be, of where we should be going as a people.
Yes, of course he recognised the office of the president but when things come down to it one must be able to engage with that incumbent of that office to say we have a different way of doing things; we would like to do things in a different way.
So it was a principled engagement with him.
TN: And he started the National Federal Party. He was a federalist in a way.
NN: Indeed, he was. He was a federalist really to the core. His federal principles came out when he got an invitation from the then government of West Germany to come over and see federalism in Germany and how they have done it.
And they have done it in a wonderful way whereby it is the trickle-down effect — central government is central and it trickles down.
That does not work all the time, so you turn the whole thing upside down and say let me empower the local people.
After all, it’s the local people that know how they want to live, whatever they want to do, the things they want to do, the legislation, the way of life, the medication, the schools.
All those things, people know. Hence for him, and also myself as well, I subscribe to that, to say that really, it is the people that know best how to govern themselves.
TN: Interesting! And correct me, my reading around as I was researching said that Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, your father was not the first born. So, he was made a chief even though he was not the first born. Explain to me the precedent and how far that goes back?
NN: Yes, I think sometimes we tend to rush these things and we tend to try and think we understand it totally.
How the chieftainship succession happens if you are looking at it from the southern part of Zimbabwe, which is father to son.
In that arena, you are looking at saying, well okay; to son, which son is it that what you are looking for?
It is not naturally all the time that the first born son becomes chief in the chieftainship succession or even in the monarch succession with the Khumalo clan.
It is only one criteria that you are addressing that the child is born first, the first born son, then follows another test for that son; that son’s character, the conduct, the morality, all those things come into play.
So yes, you passed the first criteria of being the first born son but the remainder of it, do you really actually fit that office because you have to govern people.
You have to be able to lead those people, so every single chieftaincy or single royal family has that second part of the criteria to say is that person fit for that.
For the late chief Khayisa Ndiweni, my father, he was not the first born son.
The first born son was ubaba uNzehe. My grandfather (Nzehe), had a temper, he was a hard drinker, he was a womaniser, he was a rabble-rouser. Everything the Ndiweni did not want a chief to be.
TN: That disqualified him?
NN: It immediately disqualified him. So when it disqualified him on that score to be a chief even though he was the first born son, the elders, the Ndiwenis stood up and they went to Tsholotsho to pick up the young Khayisa Ndiweni from school, brought him back from Tsholotsho to Ntabazinduna in the presence of Nzehe and the others to say we will enthrone him as the chief of Ntabazinduna.
So it is that calibre, those issues
TN: Had there been a precedent before?
NN: Within the clan, the Ndiweni clan, the Thambo clan, that precedent goes back at least two to three generations back.
So Khayisa Ndiweni was not the first. He was following a well-established precedent and even if you say here is the Ndiweni clan of Ntabazinduna, there is a bigger precedent.
If you say the Ndiweni clan; we are from the greater Amangwe clan, we have a reigning monarch right now today Inkosi Mangethe, the King Mangethe in South Africa.
He is also not the first born. Even if you go to the Khumalo royal family, Mzilikazi was not the first born; Lobengula was not the first born.
So, there is always this criterion that comes in, that kicks in to say God has given you the grace to be first born, but qualify your character.
TN: Interesting! You have spoken about the role that your dad had in shaping you. What about your mom?
NN: My mom has a huge role…
TN: Explain that to us?
NN: Powerful role, she is my mother, translating over to Indlovukazi, Queen mother.
Her role really is the rock and the foundation within the chieftaincy.
Many people have a warped idea about feminism when it comes to the African context.
If you read books from Germaine Greer and the others there, they may say feminism in Africa is downtrodden, the male figure is too powerful but in our true culture, in true tradition, it is the mother that looks after the whole chieftaincy.
The mother in her quietness, in her silence, sitting in the corner there or going about her job will actually enthrone a chief because she knows the whole family.
She knows everything about that chieftaincy, quietly.
TN: She knows the character of her children…
NN: She knows the character of the children, but more important than that, it is the fact that the whole community gravitates to her.
If you want to have a silent word that you would want to reach the chief, go through the mother, go through the ladies. It is the ladies. It is the ladies, who mould that difficult issue that you have and present it to the chief.
And when they present it to the chief, then it would be acceptable but if you ignore the mothers, you will have a hard time because that issue that she could have taken for you to the chief will get to the chief in a horrible way.
You want to marry somebody’s daughter, pass it through the mother and so the chief gets to hear it in a nice way where it’s buttered and moulded….
TN: Pillow talk?
NN: Pillow talk! She is the one who can do that. Here baba nkosi yami, so and so wants to get married to so and so. I think it will be wonderful.
TN: So it is very good to be in good books with her…
NN: That is it. That is the only way through even if putting it in a historical context when there was a Matabeleland revolt, first and second down in the southern part of the country.
It is Cecil Rhodes who finally understood it and he went through the womenfolk to get to the menfolk that was why the ceasefire was called at Matopo Hills because it came through to Cecil Rhodes to say that if you want to approach our menfolk, present yourself unarmed.
Disarm yourselves because these are people — these are warriors — they will not attack you if you are disarmed. And he did that and that is how the talks began.
TN: You were born in 1965 and you have a fascinating upbringing. You moved to London in 1981 and you worked as an auditor for Waltham Forest council. What were the highlights of that? Did you walk around the streets of Waltham Forest council thinking one day I am going to come back and be a chief?
NN: No, I didn’t. I didn’t! To start, at the beginning, I know it has been reported in the media that I was born in 1965. I was born in 1963. It’s an error that came into the media just like that.
TN: Thanks with regards that correction.
NN: But within Waltham Forest which is the eastside of London, I was actually a street crime warden. The auditor stocktaking I did prior to that. So in Waltham Forest, I was doing things like community cohesion and diversity and also looking at low level crime, looking at drug
issues, drug gangs, yardies, prostitution, and all those kind of things.
I was the first link within the police arena whereby they were trying to look for a softer touch into the local community especially the communities that felt as if they were being pushed out of the normal society in London to find a way to engage those.
So yes, we will identify a gang, a street gang. I will go there.
I will find a way to get into them.
I will try and find how the street gang operates, who are the weak links in it, can I get into those weak links and gently but surely bring them over out of the hard things, which they were doing and bring them into a normal society, and everyday society.
TN: How long did you do this for?
NN: I did it for about five to six years.
TN: Has it shaped the way you operate as a chief at all?
NN: It has, because obviously it put me in the forefront. It put me in the forefront, in a dangerous situation.
Alarge component of that role involves things like mediation, conflict resolution and dealing with tricky difficult situations.
If Wilson Brown does not want to talk to you, you need to find a way to talk to him even if he is coming from a very hard position whereby he says, Ndiweni I really do not like you, I do not want to talk to you.
I have to find a way of coming round to eventually talking to him.
So obviously, it has shaped me as a person, as a person in this world.
Like really, I cannot have no-go areas. I have to engage people. I have to talk to people. So really, it shaped me in a strong way.
TN: Fascinating. As I was reading around you that I found out that president Robert Mugabe had no qualms about you being the Ntabazinduna chief. Talk to me about that.
NN: Yes, he had no qualms about it. The Ndiweni clan put together all the paperwork that was required.
We followed due diligence in procedure and protocol of how a chief is given that substantial chief record by the president.
It came to his table and from what we have heard; he stamped it quickly because everything was in order.
Now after that, which is after 2014, what came into play was politics. The political arena from different corners had issues, had various issues that they will like to try and do.
TN: Okay, so before we go in there. So the papers got to President Mugabe and he stamped them quickly. He was happy with the papers. September 2014, you are installed at a ceremony where there are chiefs from South Africa and so forth. Describe to us in a nutshell.
NN: That really is something that obviously I did not plan. It was planned by the elders.
When you find yourself in that position, you are just basically an individual just removed from A, to B, to C to D.
They are the ones in charge of the whole area.
They did something profoundly heavy.
They brought the king of the Amangwe clan, flew him all the way from Flyhard, KwaZulu-Natal to do a ceremony, which has not been done in this country in 126 years.
We are talking deep history here. He performed the ceremony, which I cannot divulge for cultural reasons
TN: We respect that.
NN: But it was the first time a reigning monarch lifted up a new chief, a new inkkosi. It has not been done in this country for 126 years.
TN: So you are installed in the amazing beauty that you describe, deep culture and everything else and then you have your brother Joram going to court to challenge, you know he made a chamber application to challenge your installation. Why is your dear brother Joram doing this?
NN: I think one of the things that came over, that whole issue was part of the political arrangements that come in whereby I think it’s fair to say…
TN: Lets clarify, Joram is your elder brother?
NN: Joram is my elder brother. He is the first born in our family via the chief and my mother Masuku. He is the first born in that family.
After Joram followed seven girls and then came myself
TN: So he goes to court to challenge your installation?
NN: He goes to court to challenge the installation. It is on the basis of being the first born son, and really that is their only basis that comes through but then again the documentation that came through showed that there was politics coming into that because even if you were claiming to say on the grounds of my being first born son, I need to be chief then one could easily say well, actually he is not the first born son.
We have another brother who was not my mother’s son but he was the first born son of the late Chief Ndiweni. He is called Mahlabezulu.
He is alive. He is well. We work together. He saw me off at the airport this morning when I was coming here.
He is actually older than Joram. So even if someone wants to try and challenge the issue to say first born son must always be there, now we will be pushing the card to say here is Mahlabezulu, ‘what do you say about him on that?’
But with that one there Trevor, the impetus for that chamber application came from the political arena. It was ill informed. It was ill-advised.
TN: It didn’t succeed?
NN: It didn’t succeed because really its grounds that it had, and even the grounds that it has even today does not hold water culturally, historically and legally.
TN: You have the support of your mother and we just highlighted how important mothers are. Your mother Agnes supports you, your sister Lydia supports you and some relatives and it looks like you do have the support of the community. How much comfort does that give you?
NN: It gives one a great deal of comfort because really, if you are doing a job and in respect of myself but anyone, anywhere in the world if you doing your job, it will be nice to know that people support you in that job.
So, for Ntabazinduna, we have the support of the greater Ndiweni clan.
We have the support of the whole Amangwe clan going further there.
We have also the support of now his Majesty; King Bulelani Khumalo from the Khumalo clan, but also more closer to home every traditional chief from this part of the country had to be commander of a regiment.
The regiment that we Ndiwenis in Ntabazinduna used to command was called the Inhlambabaloyi .
Just like ubaba Khumalo Mtshana, commandeered the Imbizo regiment.
So for myself, the Inhlambabaloyi regiment for want of a better word supports me wholeheartedly.
It’s there, hence really I am not too worried or fazed by the tabloids when they go off to say challenges and clashes amongst the Ndiweni clan.
TN: There is nothing of that sort?
NN: They want to sell papers.
TN: You sleep well!
NN: They want to sell papers my brother. It is the cunning, cunning sales pitch.
TN: We will get to the politics. Now, I want us to focus on what’s a day like in the life of a chief? What are the challenging things? What are the stuff that you look forward to?
NN: I think really, the role of a Chief has changed profoundly over the decades.
Nowadays, it is a hot-house and here in our country, we still have a lot of work to do to make that hot-house work.
For myself, I normally wake up at about 0500 in the morning, not that I want to get up, but being woken up by people.
People who have been travelling for about two to three hours at night to get to me to report – Mrs. Dube: ‘My Husband got home drunk last night, he was unruly towards me, beating me and doing all sorts of things”. I have to start dealing with that straight away from that very urgent moment.
The next moment I will be dealing with something in the local schools whether there is whole group of people who have not managed to pay the school fees.
How can I coax them or encourage them to pay the school fees?
From then onwards, I have to deal with a local government official who’s coming in with issues, or the local police coming up with issues.
I don’t know whether a lot of people understand that when you are a chief and you are actually a proactive chief, everything that happens on your turf in your area, you are responsible for it.
That is what the government of the day has said.
So whether you are looking at schools, health care, clinics, agriculture, domestic issues, whatever it is, it is lumped towards you for you to deal.
That is why if you come to Ntabazinduna, I do not have office hours.
Someone can come to me at the dead of night, or at midday, I have to attend to those people. So every day is completely different.
There are no two days which are the same.
TN: And then, you get challenged, rather suspended by the Matabeleland North traditional leaders provincial assembly on the grounds that your chieftainship is being contested after what you have just explained to us, where is this coming from?
NN: I would say my colleagues; I think they were rounded on because really there is nothing new to talk about and even when I hear the feedback from some of my colleagues, letters from 2009 were being read out, 2010 letters were being read out.
These were all letters that were already read before and found to have no validity and chucked out .
Just to give a snapshot of how the process works. The Ndiweni clan sits down, they say who is going to be the successor to the late chief.
When they come to an understanding, they take that whole file to the district assistants and give it over and say we have completed our work.
The district assistants take the whole file to the provincial administrator (PA) to say we have completed everything.
The PA takes that file to the Ministry of Local Government who has portfolio representatives for chiefs and hands it over to them to say the Ndiweni clan has completed all the work, here it is.
Through that, the whole process is being sifted and verified and when it goes from there, it goes to the Matabeleland North Chiefs Council.
They all sift it and verify it. When they are happy with it, they take it to the national Chiefs Council.
They sift it and verify it. After that, it is taken to the Attorney General who sifts it and verifies it.
After the Attorney General is happy with it, he takes it to the president’s office and sifts it and verifies it.
So it is highly unlikely, highly improbable that through all those layers I have just being going through, one letter got through, or was not read or was not verified.
So I think it’s one of those misnomers that happened in the meeting there and when they say suspended, technically, that is not true also because there was no letter written out to say Chief Ndiweni, here is the letter, and you are now suspended!
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