BULAWAYO – Chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni of Ntabazinduna was jailed for an effective 18 months on Friday, a ruling criticised by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
The popular traditional leader was convicted on Thursday of malicious damage to property along with 23 of his subjects. They were accused of destroying a fence and kraal of a villager banished from the chief’s area.
Magistrate Gladmore Mushove jailed Chief Ndiweni, 54, for 24 months but conditionally suspended six months of the sentence.
Twenty-three others, including 72-year-old headman Kimpton Sibanda were also jailed for 24 months but 18 months were conditionally suspended. A further six months were suspended on condition they perform 525 hours of community service.
The case arose from an incident in July last year when Chief Ndiweni – an outspoken critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime – banished a couple from his area after the woman was caught having sex with another man.
According to the chief, he had directed that the villager, Fetti Mbele, sends his wife, Nonkangelo Mpengesi, back to his in-laws “for a short period of reflection”. When the couple resolved their dispute, however, the woman stayed on leading to a traditional court to expel the family from the village.
The case has served to magnify the conflict between traditional customs and the legal system.
Magistrate Mushowe said the decision of the chief and his traditional court to banish the couple was “barbaric”.
“This is a serious offence that was committed in aggravating circumstances using fire, axes and other dangerous weapons. Fire is categorised under the third schedule which means the offense was committed in aggravating circumstances,” she said before a packed courtroom.
“A chief’s duties include protecting his people and maintaining peace and freedom. Now, for him to break the law like this is very disturbing. The court will take into consideration that the other 23 accused persons were acting under the instruction of a chief who is a voice of authority. As such there shall be a disparity in sentencing.”
In a video recorded before his conviction and sentencing, Chief Ndiweni – who appeared in court dressed in prison garb – vowed to appeal.
“The case itself does not exist, it’s a political fabrication,” Chief Ndiweni says in the video.
— ZimLive (@zimlive) August 16, 2019
Mpengesi, according to Ndiweni, is a member of Zanu PF and following the traditional court’s decision, the ruling party “stepped into a wholly traditional matter.”
“We will appeal straight away to a higher court and a higher court above that one because we are defending our customs, traditions and practices,” the chief added.
MDC leader Chamisa called for Ndiweni’s unconditional release.
“Trumped up charges and arrest of Chief Ndiweni of Ntabazinduna is a direct attack on Zimbabwean culture and traditional leadership. This attack opens yet another fresh national wound that will be difficult to heal. We demand the immediate release of the chief and his subjects,” Chamisa tweeted.