23 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Chief Negomo Courts Controversy

CHIEF Negomo is not your ordinary African chief. Born Lucias Chitsinde, Chief Negomo is a former school teacher. He even uses a laptop and boasts of operating a thriving business in his home area.

But unlike the other traditional chiefs, Chief Negomo's love for publicity is legendary. The media is usually on tow when he or his messengers serve summons on high-profile people who would have wronged him or his subjects.

His rulings have also set tongues wagging beyond the Matepatepa mountain range that shadows his chiefdom.

A fortnight ago, he ordered commercial farmer Pip Mattison of Tavydale farm in Mazowe to pay US$1,1 million in compensation to 55 A1 farmers whose crops were destroyed following disturbances brought about by a land dispute.

The verdict was passed as a default judgment after the farmer's lawyers advised Tavy-dale not to attend on grounds that the traditional leader had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Last year, Chief Negomo also fined Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai two cattle and two sheep among other penalties for marrying Locadia Karimatsenga-Tembo in November. According to the Shona culture, it is taboo to marry during the month of November.

The setting aside of Chief Negomo's judgment saved the premier from the embarrassing episode of having his property attached by the traditional leader. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader won an apppeal at the High Court, but the matter has since spilled into the Supreme Court following an appeal the chief lodged with the highest court in the land.

There are a number of other interesting rulings made by Chief Negomo that have gone unnoticed, but have divided communities within his jurisdiction.

Among them is the alleged fining of anyone seen wearing an MDC-T T-shirt within his jurisdiction: Anyone seen wearing such regalia is fined a goat.

Lawyers representing the MDC-T members have since written to Chief Negomo protesting about the move which they deem to be political.

The chief has also come under fire for not stopping witch-hunt sessions in his area following the death of some villagers during these cleansing ceremonies.

Such activities are illegal in terms of the country's Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Chief Negomo's bizarre judgments or rulings comes hard on the heels of a case in which two other Masvingo chiefs -- Chief Mugabe and Chief Murinye lost a case in the High Court against Econet Wireless in which they were demanding 2000 cattle after a project the latter was undertaking at Sviba Hills near Great Zimbabwe exposed some human remains.

Chief Murinye also ordered Econet to construct a homestead for him as compensation.

Analysts said Chief Negomo's handling of cases has the effect of diminishing his role to that of a partisan political activist.

Gideon Chitanga, a political analyst, said some of the amounts Chief Negomo has been demanding were outside the jurisdiction of community courts and reminiscent of actors driven more by material gains and not community interests.

"Although community courts are meant to provide the rural communities access to the courts of law and the formal national legal system, Chief Negomo is clearly confused about his role as a community leader or he is simply deliberately acting up to confuse ordinary folks. His theatrics would be totally frivolous if it were not for their impact on the rule of law," said Chitanga.

"The Chief is abusing community conventions which are the basis for his authority as well as the legal system which provides for traditional courts to deal with fairly small cases which can be compensated for by small fines. Otherwise as a community leader he should take his role seriously, conduct himself with dignity and deal with members of his community in a credible way."

This week, human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama said it would seem that the traditional leader is staging stunts that are aimed at political grandstanding and publicity seeking, adding that the chief has abdicated his role of safeguarding African customary practices.

"If he continues on that path, sooner rather than later, he could plunge the office of chiefs into contempt, ridicule and disrepute," he said.

Since his father's death in 2008, Chief Negomo has been holding the position on an acting capacity.

Discussions over the installation of a new chief were supposed to have been held on December 6, 2012, but were postponed due to other commitments by officials from the Ministry of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development.

As it stands, Chief Negomo's chieftainship is now standing on shaky ground amid claims that the chieftainship must rotate within four other houses.

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