Editor’s Memo Dumisani Muleya
WHY has Chief Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni of Ntabazinduna in Matabeleland North, outside Bulawayo, raised so much controversy and debate in Zimbabwean social and political circles to a point where his public profile is growing at a dramatic rate? His controversies have been trending on social media and traditional platforms for sometime.
Let’s get the atmospherics about Ndiweni’s conviction with 300 villagers for allegedly destroying a neighbour Fetti Mbele’s fence and kraal out of the way first. Ndiweni was arrested and sentenced to 18 months over the issue. He has appealed and is currently out on bail. Many people say, even if his conviction was to stand, the punishment in
proportion to the crime is too harsh. They say his plight is because of politics.
In the meantime, fierce debate is raging over the Ndiweni unorthodoxy, some say histrionics.
Profound issues arising from this span customary law and the chiefs’ jurisdiction, reform of their leadership establishment, protests over systematic marginalisation of
Matabeleland, real or imagined, and the resultant growing calls for secession. There is also chiefs’ role in politics which is always a big issue, especially during elections.
Even if one is not interested in his activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore him. He has been in the local and regional media; the other time I saw him on
SABC with Bulelani Khumalo, whom those who know say is the heir apparent to King Lobhengula (or is it?) in Ndebele society. There are other claimants to the throne, including the
affable Peter Zwide KaLanga Khumalo.
There are many reasons why Ndiweni — who comes from a family and clan with a long political and military record, especially in Ndebele history — has stirred a tidal wave.
To begin his unorthodox thinking and views, challenging the conformist idea that chiefs should not be involved in open political issues, or if they do, they must align themselves
with the status quo, the Zanu PF regime, are rocking the boat.
Ndiweni’s independent thinking makes him a maverick and non-conformist. Hence, to the current rulers, a dissenter and an opposition activist, especially because he has publicly
said he will associate — without fear or favour — with all political parties, as his people support different parties anyway.
Further, Ndiweni’s association with the main opposition MDC and its leader Nelson Chamisa has ruffled feathers and, in fact, caused alarm in the corridors of power. Beyond that,
his bid to rock the traditional chiefs’ party-political edifice to its foundations and reform it has also stirred a hornet’s nest.
Ndiweni appears like a moderniser; a reformist, considering that new changes will soon allow chiefs to support parties of their choice. He is also associated, by acts of omission
or commission, with demands for democracy, human rights and justice, besides the Mbele drama.
Ndiweni has also become a force in counter-hegemony narratives.
Therein lies the potentially volatile issue of marginalisation and domination of people in his area and region; Matabeleland that is. It is an explosive situation characterised
by growing political instability and very strong emotions. If you then factor in Gukurahundi atrocities, it becomes a cauldron of repressed anger.
In the process, some then accuse him of being a rallying point for secessionist and even tribal sentiments. Usually without any iota of evidence, his indicters claim he is the
new leader of centrifugal — devolution and even secessionist — forces gathering in Matabeleland.
There is nothing wrong in a democracy with debating secession in the context of complaints about systematic marginalisation and exclusion.
Yet it is the court case which triggered the current debate. It’s healthy in a democracy to debate issues like these and others usually avoided or swept under the carpet.
Zimbabwe must develop a culture of freely debating critical issues of public interest without fear or toxicity.
Ndiweni, despite his controversies, is a catalyst for debate. Progress usually emanates from such fearless debate.