First Destruction of Venda Kingship: The Boers

After King Makhado died of suspected poisoning in 1895, the Boers saw his death as an opportunity for them to try once more to colonise Venda and to destroy the Venda monarchy. The Boers infiltrated the Ramabulana Royal House and influenced Sinthumule, the Kingdom’s Prime Minister, to turn against his brother, King Mphephu. War broke out between Mphephu’s group known as Mavhengwa and Sinthumule’s group known as Ngomakhosi. Sinthumule fled to Ha-Manavhela (Manavhela Ben Lavin) and sought help from the Boers who were happy to oblige as they perceived Mphephu as a scourge. In 1898 the Boers finally conquered and subjugated Vhavenda (see Mphephu-Boer War for more info).

The Boers took over Luatame, Songozwi, as Mphephu fled to Zimbabwe. A town was established on 22 February 1899 at Tshirululuni (the cattle post). Tshirululuni was renamed louis trichardt. Sinthumule was crowned the ‘King’ of Venda by the Boers, but his rule was not recognised by Vhavenda. They continued to pay tribute to King Mphephu in exile through Rambiyana and Ravele Matsheketsheke.

The Boers could not, however, establish a permanent presence at Songozwi since they had to engage in a bloody war with the English in the South African war (the Anglo-Boer war) which broke out in 1899. Vhavenda sided with the English and burnt the town of louis trichardt. The Boers were defeated in the South African war and surrendered in 1902.

The English army commander, Taylor, brought Mphephu back to Luatame, Songozwi, in 1902. Sinthumule was removed from the throne and had to reconcile with Mphephu. Taylor, who was bent on punishing the Boers and everyone who assisted them in the South African war and Mphephu war, went on a killing spree, killing Boers and Tsonga-Shangaan men who assisted the Boers. Because of this killing spree, Taylor was nicknamed “Bulalazonke Matshangani” (kill all Shangaans).

The 1913 Land Act declared large tracts of land in Venda to be ‘white areas’, and were turned into white-owned farms. Vhavenda who resided at Tshirululuni, Songozwi, Ha-Maemu, Magoni, La Ndou, Vhulorwa, Lunoni, Ha-Funyufunyu, Mudzivhadi, Ha-Liswoga, Phawe, Khavhambe, Ha-Mulelu, Ha-Makhavhu, Ha-Mabasha, Tshifhefhe, Tshitungulu, Tshidzivhani, Ha-Ratombo, etc, were forcibly removed and resettled at Ha-Kutama, Ha-Sinthumule, Nzhelele, and Vuwani.  King Mphephu was forced by the Boers to relocate his Royal Palace to the ancient capital of Dzata (Dzanani). But Songozwi continued to serve as the Royal Court and the burial site of Mphephu Kings and Chiefs, and Sinthumule and Kutama Chiefs.
King Mphephu died in 1924, and was succeeded by his son Mbulaheni George.  Mbulaheni was crowned King Mphephu II in 1925. But the Boers referred to him as Paramount Chief Mphephu of the Ramabulana Regional Authority. This area included Nzhelele, Ha-Sinthumule, Ha-Kutama, Ha-Nthabalala, Ha-Masakona, Ha-Masia, Ha-Davhana, Tshimbupfe, Tshivhulana, Ha-Nesengani, Tshakhuma, Tsianda, Ha-Mutsha, Ha-Mashau, Ha-Mashamba, Ha-Mulima, and Ha-Muila. This declaration stripped King Mphephu II of his powers as the King of Venda. But the majority of Venda chiefs outside of the Ramabulana Territorial Authority continued to recognise King Mphephu II as their king. King Mphephu II died in 1949 and was laid to rest at Songozwi.

King Mphephu II was succeeded by his son, Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana who ruled from 1949 to 1988. He was crowned King Mphephu III.  He too was referred to as Paramount Chief.

The Native Affairs Act, No.23 of 1920, provided for the establishment of local councils and a Native Commission to advise the South African government on issues that affected Africans. The Bantu Authorities Act, No 68 of 1951, provided for the creation of tribal, regional and territorial authorities. As a result of this Act, 25 tribal authorities, three regional authorities and one territorial authority were established in Venda. The three regional authorities were Ramabulana, Tshivhase, and Mphaphuli. The apartheid ideology recognised Vhavenda as distinct from non-Vendas, as a homogenous entity who needed to have their own territorial state. This led to the establishment of the Thohoyandou Territorial Authority in 1962 headed by Mphephu III. The 25 tribal authorities were represented in the regional authority by two or more members and one of the members had to be a Khosi (senior chief) or Vhamusanda (junior chief). The regional authorities were in turn represented by their chairmen and other members depending on population size and the numbers of taxpayers.

Proclamation R.168 of 20 June 1969 proclaimed the Thohoyandou Territorial Authority as the Venda Territorial Authority. This led to several changes in the form of representation. Each ‘tribal’ authority was represented at the Territorial Authority by its Khosi or chairman and another member elected by the tribal authority from among its councillors. The Black States Constitution Act of 1971 provided for the creation of Legislative Assemblies in the Bantustans. The Venda Legislative Assembly was constituted in 1973 and this led to Venda becoming a so-called self-governing territory. The Legislative Assembly was made of 60 members, 42 of whom had to be Mahosi or Vhamusanda. The remaining 18 were elected by Venda citizens as well as Vhavenda who were outside the Venda Bantustan.

In 1979 Venda became a so-called independent state and was known as the Republic of Venda. Thovhele Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana was elected the first president of the Republic of Venda. This Banana Republic was, however, only recognised by its creators, apartheid South Africa, and fellow banana republics: Transkei, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei.

Mphephu III became the Chief Minister of Vendaland in 1973. He later followed in the footsteps of Kaizer Matanzima of the Transkei, and Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana, and opted for nominal independence. Venda became a ‘republic’ in 1979 with Mphephu III as the ‘President’. The capital of the ‘Republic of Venda’ was Thohoyandou.

First Restoration of Venda Kingship

The Venda parliament decided, just before ‘independence’ in 1979, that the Venda monarchy needed to be restored. Parliament, agreed that the most senior Vhavenda royal house was the Mphephu Ramabulana royal house. It was, therefore, agreed that Mphephu III was the King of the whole of Venda.

King Mphephu III died of suspected poisoning in April 1988. Mphephu III’s cousin, Khosi Nndwakhulu Frank Ravele of Mauluma, became the new ‘president’ of Venda after Mphephu’s death. Khosi Ravele took over the presidency of the ‘Republic of Venda’ at the time when the tide was turning against the apartheid rulers in South Africa. The liberation movement was unbanned in February 1990 and political prisoners were released. People in Venda intensified their calls for the re-incorporation of Venda into South Africa. Riots broke out in Venda and so-called witches and wizards were killed through stoning and ‘necklacing’. The riots culminated in the military, the Venda Defence Force, led by Gabriel Mutheiwana Ramushwana, staging a bloodless coup d’état in 1990.

Second Destruction of Venda Kingship: RAMUSHWANA MILITARY JUNTA

The Ramushwana military junta appointed the Mushasha Commission to investigate the issues surrounding Venda traditional leadership and kingship. The appointment of the Mushasha Commission was partly due to the fact that the Constitution of the ‘Republic of Venda’ stated that the Head of State was the Paramount Chief / King of Venda. Ramushwana and his military junta did not, therefore, want to be accountable to the King. The Mushasha Commission stated that Vhavenda had no such thing as Khosikhulu (King), and that the Mphephu Ramabulana royal house should not be recognised as the most senior Vhavenda royal house. For the second time in less than a century, the Mphephu Ramabulana royal house was demoted to the status of the other 27 Mahosi (senior traditional leaders).

Shortly before the April 1994 elections, Venda was dissolved as a homeland and a republic and re-incorporated into South Africa. But the illegal action taken by the Ramushwana junta, through the Mushasha Commission, led to Mphephu III’s son and successor, Tshimangadzo, being referred to as Khosi Mphephu. Tshimangadzo, whose title was Dimbanyika Thohoyandou II, was, however, referred to as King by his subjects even though the government classified him as Khosi (Senior Chief).

Dimbanyika Thohoyandou II died in a car accident in December 1997, leaving a baby girl as the only heir to the throne. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Toni, who was crowned by former president Nelson Mandela in 1998 as Mphephu Ramabulana.

Second Restoration of Venda Kingship

Calls for the restoration of Vhavenda monarchy grew louder from 1998. This culminated in a meeting of Mahosi of Venda in February 2003 to discuss the restoration of the Venda monarchy which was destroyed and abolished by, first the Boers, and secondly by the Ramushwana military junta.  The meeting took place in Thohoyandou. All 28 Mahosi, including Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, were present.

After a short discussion, there was a unanimous decision by 27 Mahosi that the Mphephu Ramabulana royal house was the most senior royal house, and that Toni Mphephu Ramabulana was the king of Vhavenda.

There was only one dissenting voice, at the February 2003 meeting, that of Khosi Midiyavhathu Kennedy Tshivhase of Ha-Tshivhasa. Khosi Tshivhase argued that Vhavenda should have two kings, himself for the Tshivhasa area, and Toni Mphephu Ramabulana for the rest of Venda.

After the meeting, the 27 Mahosi petitioned the then premier of Limpopo, Ngoako Ramathlodi, to restore the Venda monarchy and to confirm Mphephu Ramabulana as the king of Venda. But The Ramathlodi government refused, and the Mahosi of Venda decided to take the matter to Thohoyandou High Court.

In April 2003 Tshidziwelele Nephawe, a gota/Vhamusanda (junior chief), of Mudunungu village, Ha-Tshivhasa, claimed that he was the rightful king of Vhavenda. Tshidziwelele argued that Vhangona are early inhabitants of Venda, that their capital city was Mapungubwe, and that the king of Mapungubwe was King Tshidziwelele. He also argued that Vhangona were conquered by the Vhasenzi who came from Zimbabwe, and that they settled in Venda and lost their Karanga affinities through intermarriage with Vhangona women, and were assimilated into Tshingona culture and language. He argued that King Tshidziwelele was killed at his kraal by Vele-la-Mbeu of the Masingo clan.

In August 2003, six months after the February meeting, Khosi Gole Musiiwa Mphaphuli of Ha-Mphaphuli broke ranks with the other 26 Mahosi and argued that Vhavenda should have three kings, himself for Ha-Mphaphuli, Tshivhase for Ha-Tshivhasa, and Mphephu Ramabulana for the rest of Venda. Gole Musiiwa Mphaphuli’s spokesman, Magwedzha Mphaphuli, argued that Musiiwa had supported the decision taken at the February meeting out of ignorance. He stated that the Mphaphuli royal house was withdrawing its support for Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, and that it would not join the other 26 Mahosi in forcing the Limpopo government into confirming Mphephu Ramabulana as the king of Venda.

The Ravhura royal house of Makonde entered the fray in 2004 when it announced that it should be recognised as the most senior royal house of all Vhavenda. They argued that they had kept quiet for more than 230 years, and that the truth needed to be told.

The 26 Mahosi who supported Mphephu Ramabulana approached the Thohoyandou High Court to force Ramathlodi to confirm Mphephu Ramabulana as the king of Venda. They also wanted Ramathlodi to make public the report of the Ralushai Commission of Inquiry which was appointed by Ramathlodi in 1996 to investigate, among others, claims by certain traditional leaders that they were irregularly deposed or not duly recognised by the apartheid government. The Mahosi argued that the Ralushai Commission indicated that Vhavenda had one king, Mphephu Ramabulana.

The Limpopo provincial government opposed the move by Mahosi of Venda. It argued, amongst others, that the move by the Mahosi was premature since President Mbeki had already announced that he was going to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate the issue of traditional leadership in the whole of South Africa. The commission was going to investigate, amongst others, chieftainships and kingships that needed to be restored.

The Nhlapo Commission of Inquiry

On 16 October 2004, the Minister for Provincial and Local Government, Sydney Mufamadi, announced that President Thabo Mbeki had appointed a Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims in terms of section 23 of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, No. 41 of 2003.

Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo chaired the Commission. In an effort to assist the Commission, the Ministry for Provincial and Local Government handed all relevant research materials, including reports of various commissions of inquiry appointed in provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Free State, North West and Limpopo. Amongst the reports handed to the Nhlapo Commission was the Ralushai Commission of Inquiry report. The Department of Provincial and Local Government also announced that it would take the necessary steps to ensure that the relevant information contained in the Ralushai Commission report was made available to all affected parties who submitted their claims and disputes. The information would assist claimants to prepare for submissions to the national commission and assert their rights.

In terms of section 25(1) of the Framework Act, the Commission operated nationally and had authority to decide on any traditional leadership disputes and claims contemplated in section 25(2) and arising from any province. Accordingly, in terms of section 25(2)(a) of the Framework Act, the Commission had authority to investigate either on request or of its own accord the following:

  • a case where there is doubt as to whether a kingship, senior traditional leadership or headmanship was established in accordance with customary law and customs;
  • a traditional leadership position where the title or right of the incumbent is contested;
  • claims by communities to be recognised as traditional communities;
  • the legitimacy of the establishment or disestablishment of ‘tribes’;
  • disputes resulting from the determination of traditional authority boundaries and the merging or division of ‘tribes’; and
  • where good grounds exist, any other matters relevant to the matters listed in this paragraph, including considerations of events that may have arisen before 1 September 1927.

When considering a dispute or claim, the Commission had to consider and apply customary law and customs of the relevant community, as they were when the events occurred that gave rise to the dispute or claim.

The Nhlapo Commission collated information and documentation that was useful in the execution of its task. It gave all claimants to the Venda kingship an opportunity to make written and oral submissions.

Below is a summary of the submissions made by the claimants.

  1. After Dimbanyika’s death in a cave at Mount Lwandali in 1722, Vele-la-Mbeu became the king of Venda;
  2. Vele-la-Mbeu fathered Tshavhungwa, a girl, from the first house (dzekiso), Thohoyandou from the second house, Tshisevhe, from the third house and Raluswielo (Tshivhase) from the fourth house;
  3. The dzekiso house failed to produce an heir and therefore, as the son of the next senior house, Thohoyandou succeeded Vele-la-Mbeu. Thohoyandou accordingly reigned as king after the death of his father;
  4. During his reign, Thohoyandou deployed his son Munzhedzi Mpofu, to Songozwi, and his brother Raluswielo to Dopeni;
  5. Thohoyandou disappeared in 1770. After his disappearance, the elders installed Tshisevhe as acting king. It later transpired that Thohoyandou had died;
  6. After the death of Thohoyandou some family elders confirmed Tshisevhe as king. He was not installed by the royal family as is customary. He therefore usurped the throne. As a result, a conflict arose between Munzhedzi Mpofu, the first born son and rightful heir of Thohoyandou, and Tshisevhe. Tshisevhe was assassinated. Ravhura, the first born son of Tshisevhe, fearing for his life fled to Makonde. Munzhedzi Mpofu was finally installed as  Thovhele at Dzata;
  7. Tshivhase, who had been strategically deployed by his brother, Thohoyandou, at Dopeni, attempted to return to Dzata and usurp the throne. Tshivhase was defeated by Munzhedzi Mpofu;
  8. Munzhedzi Mpofu later relocated the great place from Dzata to Songozwi. This was because the latter was strategically situated, as one could see the whole kingdom from the summit: from Vhukalanga, Luvhombo, Vhuzwana up to Mashishing (Lydenburg);
  9. Tshivhase once again mobilized an army and invaded Munzhedzi Mpofu at Songozwi). The battle was fought along the banks of a river that became red with blood. It was consequently known as Khwivhila, which means red. Tshivhase lost the battle. Having been defeated twice, first at Dzata and then at Khwivhila, Tshivhase fled. Munzhedzi Mpofu remained king of Vhavenda;
  10. Munzhedzi Mpofu was succeeded by his son Ramabulana;
  11. Ramabulana was succeeded by his son, Makhado;
  12. The Boers arrived in Venda during the reign of Makhado Ramabulana between 1867 and 1895. They gradually interfered with the institution of traditional leadership and reduced the status of Makhado Ramabulana from king to an ordinary traditional leader. As a result, on 15 July 1867 Makhado Ramabulana drove the Boers out of Venda. Consequently, the Boers retreated to the south and established Polokwane in 1886. Makhado Ramabulana quashed further attempts by the Boers to return to Venda in 1869. He then became known as “the Lion of the North”. He died in 1895;
  13. Makhado Ramabulana was succeeded by his son, Alilali Tshilamulela Ramabulana (Mphephu) in 1895. He continued to keep the Boers out of Venda. War, known as Mphephu War, broke out in 1898 and the Boers ultimately drove Mphephu Ramabulana to exile in Zimbabwe. He fathered amongst others, George Mbulaheni;
  14. Mphephu Ramabulana returned to Venda in 1902 and settled in Dzanani, near the old Dzata. Many traditional leaders paid homage to him. He died in January 1925;
  15. Alilali Tshilamulela was succeeded by his son, Mbulaheni George Ramabulana (Mphephu II) in February 1925. Mbulaheni Mphephu Ramabulana died in 1948 and was succeeded by his son, Patrick Ramaano (Mphephu III) who reigned from 1950 to 1988 as Paramount Chief of Vhavenda and became the first president of the erstwhile Republic of Venda;
  16. Makhadzi Phophi Mphephu Ramabulana was regent for Tshimangadzo Ramabulana (Dimbanyika Thohoyandou II) from 1988 to 1993. Dimbanyika Tshimangadzo Ramabulana reigned from 1993 to 1997. He died in 1997 and was succeeded by his younger brother, Peter Toni Ramabulana (Mphephu Ramabulana); and
  17. Peter Toni ascended the throne in 1998.
  1. Thohoyandou was not the son of Vele-la-Mbeu. He was the brother to Vele-la-Mbeu;
  2. Thohoyandou never reigned as king but was regent for Tshisevhe;
  3. Vele-la-Mbeu had given one of his sons, Nelugunda, the charms and herbs that guarded the whole kingdom;
  4. After the death of Vele-la-Mbeu, the main houses in order of seniority were: the first house to which Tshavhungwe was born, followed by the houses of Tshisevhe, Munzhedzi Mpofu and Raluswielo (Tshivhase) respectively;
  5. The most junior house was that of Nelugunda (Mphaphuli) also known as Tshibogo;
  6. Although she was born of the first house, Tshavhungwe being a female could not succeed. Therefore, the royal council nominated Tshisevhe who was next in line. Since Tshisevhe was still a minor, Thohoyandou was appointed regent on behalf of Tshisevhe;
  7. Tshisevhe was later assassinated. The royal council then instructed Nelugunda to go with Ragavheli, the son of Tshisevhe, to a Ndebele traditional healer in order to prepare him for succession to the throne. En route Ragavheli was also assassinated;
  8. Nelugunda fled to Tshitomboni and never returned to Dzata;
  9. Following their departure from Dzata, the house of Nelugunda Mphaphuli was not involved in the events that took place at Dzata;
  10. The Mphaphuli house created a new kingship independent of the Dzata kingship in that Mphaphuli gathered his followers from Dzata and settled at Tshitomboni and later sojourned to Mbilwi. They found Vhangona and other traditional communities who submitted themselves to the authority of Mphaphuli in order to avoid invasion by other traditional communities;
  11. Mphaphuli was succeeded by Tshilala, Ratsimbi Ranwedzi, Makwarela, Phaswana, Magwedzha and Mpandeli respectively;
  12. The arrival of the Boers heralded the end of Vhavenda kingships in that they established their own version of royal leadership, in a manner that is both ignorant and defiant of African culture and customs;
  13. The Boers deposed legitimate royal leaders and based on tokenism, wrongly elevated commoners against the applicable customs and customary laws of succession. They also realigned traditional borders and created their own for their own convenience; and
  14. Consequently, all the Vhavenda kingships, including that of Mphaphuli were destroyed.
  1. Thohoyandou was not the son of Vele-la-Mbeu. He was the son of Masindi, a younger brother to Vele-la-Mbeu. Thus Thohoyandou and Tshivhase were cousins;
  2. Thohoyandou was installed as regent for Tshivhase;
  3. During his reign, Thohoyandou settled at Dzata II in 1760;
  4. Thohoyandou disappeared around 1770;
  5. After the disappearance of Thohoyandou, there was feuding between three half brothers namely, Tshisevhe, Munzhedzi Mpofu and Raluswielo (Tshivhase) who were potential successors. The elders concluded that Tshivhase should be installed as king of Vhavenda;
  6. All the three half brothers left Dzata because the centre could not hold. Tshivhase went to Dopeni to establish a new kingship. The Tshivhase kingdom was established around 1780 by Raluswielo Vele Tshivhase because of royal feuding and the succession battle;
  7. Tshivhase expanded his kingdom. The people of Tshivhase assimilated some of the Vhangona traditional communities they found in the Dopeni area;
  8. The royal court moved from Vuvha to Vhulaudzi, Phiphidi, Denga and finally settled at Luaname (Mukumbani) where it presently resides;
  9. Tshivhase ruled from 1780 to 1834. He was succeeded by his son Mukhesi Luvhengo Ramarumo;
  10. Mukhesi Luvhengo Ramarumo reigned from 1834 to 1867. It was during his reign that the first white settlers arrived in the Tshivhase kingdom in order to establish the Transvaal Boer Republic. Acting in concert with the British colonialists, they set about disarming the Tshivhase community. Many of their traditional leaders and their subjects were arrested and tortured. Others were even murdered as they resisted payment of the violently imposed taxes;
  11. Mukhesi Luvhengo Ramarumo was succeeded by Tshivhase Raluswielo, who in turn was succeeded by Legegise. Ligegise reigned from 1867 to 1902;
  12. Ligegise was succeeded by Vele Ramaremisa and he reigned from 1902 to 1930. Various pieces of land legislation were enacted between 1913 and 1936. Massive tracts of land were expropriated as a result, the kingdom virtually collapsed and there was a shift from sovereignty to subjugation;
  13. Vele Ramaremisa was succeeded by Rasimphi Phiriphiri Frans Mphaya in 1930. He was subjected to persecution in that the Black Administration Act which had been introduced during his reign, served as a legal instrument to depose him. He was arrested for defying the Smuts-Hertzog Government between 1930 and 1947. He was banished to Hammanskraal, north of the present day Tshwane. He died in 1952;
  14. Ratshalingwa Thikhathali Prince reigned from 1963 to 1966. He is the father of the current incumbent Kennedy Tshivhase.
  1. Thohoyandou was the son of Dimbanyika the brother to Vele-la-Mbeu and therefore the uncle to Tshisevhe;
  2. Tshisevhe was the son of Vele-la-Mbeu;
  3. Since the first house failed to produce an heir, the next senior house was that of Tshisevhe. However, as Tshisevhe was still a minor Thohoyandou was appointed as regent;
  4. After the disappearance of Thohoyandou, Tshisevhe was enthroned as king;
  5. Tshisevhe fathered Ravhura;
  6. Tshisevhe was later assassinated;
  7. After the death of his father, Ravhura fled to Makonde on the advice of Mwali (Mwari), the Supreme God of Vhavenda. As he fled from Dzata to Makonde, he maintained his status as successor-in-title to the kingship of Vhavenda;
  8. At Makonde, Ravhura ruled as king of Vhavenda as a whole;
  9. Various traditional leaders came to Makonde to pay homage to him and ask for rain and blessings because Mwali communicated with Vhavenda through Ravhura as king;
  10. Ravhura successfully defended himself against an attack from Tshivhase;
  11. In 1879 colonialists called a meeting of all traditional leaders at Muananzhelele. The meeting was attended by the chiefs including the Tshivhases, Mphaphulis and Ramabulanas. Ravhura did not attend the meeting because as king he could not be summoned to a meeting;
  12. The failure by Ravhura to attend the meeting was viewed as insubordination by the colonialists. Ravhura was sidelined and demoted to the status of chief;
  13. In order to reward Tshivhase, who had faithfully attended all meetings convened by colonialists, Ravhura was placed under the jurisdiction of Tshivhase;
  14. Ravhura mysteriously disappeared and was succeeded by Malise, his younger brother;
  15. Malise died and was succeeded by Jim Masindi Badaga (1911 to 1955);
  16. Badaga was succeeded by Solomon Mavhungu (1956 to 1965); and
  17. Solomon Mavhungu fathered the claimant, Azwianewi David Mutshinyalo Ravhura.

Nhlapo Commission’s Findings

The Commission dealt with the following:

  1. Whether in the course of the history of Vhangona a kingship was established; by whom, how and when; and how and when was the kingship lost;
  2. Whether in the course of the history of Vhavenda a kingship was established; by whom, how, and when; and how and when was the kingship lost;
  3. Whether at the split Tshivhase left to establish his own kingship; Mphaphuli left to establish his own kingship; Munzhedzi Mpofu or Ravhura retained the Vhavenda kingship as a whole;
  4. If the kingships are to be restored as claimed, and if they can exist as such;
  5. Whether the kingship of Vhavenda can be restored; and
  6. If the kingship of Vhavenda is to be restored, under whose lineage should it resort?

The Nhlapo Commission reached the following conclusions:

Vhangona cannot claim seniority over the other traditional communities of Vhavenda because:

  • there is no evidence that Vhangona subjugated or conquered Masingo or any other traditional community. To the contrary, they concede that they were subjugated by Masingo;
  • there is no evidence that Vhangona conquered, subjugated, assimilated or exercised authority over Vhavenda at any stage in their history; and
  • Even though Vhangona were an independent traditional community, with their own cultural and linguistic elements, they lost their independence and identity when they were conquered, absorbed and assimilated by Masingo and Bapedi.
The claim by the house of Tshivhase that Tshivhase had been enthroned as king of Vhavenda is not supported by the facts presented before the Commission or any other material researched.

  • It is highly unlikely that having been so honoured, Tshivhase would have left Dzata to create an independent kingship;
  • Furthermore, it is common cause that after having left Dzata he had attempted to attack Munzhedzi Mpofu at Dzata and at Songozwi. This is an indication that he had not relinquished the fight for the kingship of Vhavenda as a whole;
  • It is common cause that Tshivhase settled within the jurisdiction of the Dzata kingdom and that his forefathers had already defeated Vhangona. Therefore, he cannot claim to have subjugated Vhangona again;
  • The house of Tshivhase did not establish a traditional community with a new identity, through conquering and subjugation, either similar to or distinct from that of Vhavenda as created by Dimbanyika;
  • The house of Tshivhase contends that the house of Ramabulana was wrongly elevated by the apartheid regime because the house of Ramabulana was in agreement with the creation of homelands. The Commission finds that such elevation was in line with custom in that the house of Ramabulana was the most senior of the descendants of Vele-la-Mbeu; and
  • In the circumstances, there is no evidence that the Tshivhase house established a kingship.
The house of Mphaphuli concedes that they come from a junior house of Vele-la-Mbeu. Their claim for kingship therefore, does not emanate from genealogical seniority, but from establishing a new traditional community at Tshitomboni independent of the Dzata kingdom.

  • It is clear from the evidence that after the split the descendants of Vele-la-Mbeu ruled independently;
  • There is however evidence that the house of Ramabulana exercised some authority over the other houses; and
  • The Commission therefore finds that there is no evidence of the house of Mphaphuli having established a new kingship in that Mphaphuli did not establish a traditional community with a new identity through conquering and subjugation similar to that of Vhavenda created by Dimbanyika. Vhangona had already been subjugated by his forefathers, therefore Mphaphuli cannot claim that they submitted to his authority.
Tshisevhe was enthroned as king and reigned for a short period before he was assassinated.

  • Upon the death of Tshisevhe, his successor-in-title, Ravhura should have ascended the throne;
  • Ravhura concedes that he fled to Makonde. In so doing, Ravhura effectively abandoned his right as the successor to Tshisevhe;
  • In any event, Ravhura could not have fled to Makonde with the kingship as this was before he was enthroned; and
  • The Commission finds that, at the split Ravhura did not retain kingship.
The Commission does not deem it fit to make a finding as to whether Thohoyandou was the brother or son of Vele-la-Mbeu in that it is common cause that Ravhura fled to Makonde thereby abandoning his right to succeed Tshisevhe.

  • Munzhedzi Mpofu was enthroned as king of Vhavenda. Whether this was in line with customary succession or by usurpation is not clear from the evidence. However, he was able to entrench his position by inter alia successfully repelling the attacks of Tshivhase;
  • Munzhedzi Mpofu was the only remaining king of Vhavenda. Tshivhase was defeated by Munzhedzi Mpofu on two occasions, first at Dzata and then at Khwivhila River;
  • Having been installed as king at Dzata, Munzhedzi Mpofu was able to defend his position as such; and
  • The Commission finds that at the split it was Munzhendzi Mpofu who remained with the kingship at Dzata.
The Nhlapo Commission also dealt with whether the Vhavenda kingship could be restored. The Commission dismissed the claims by Tshidziwelele Nephawe, Tshivhase royal house, Mphaphuli royal house, and Ravhura royal house. The Commission found that:

  • In the history of Vhavenda a kingship was created by Dimbanyika around 1600;
  • This kingship was later destroyed by the Boers during the reign of Mphephu Ramabulana in the Mphephu War of December 1898;
  • After the split at Dzata, the descendants of Vele-la-Mbeu existed independently. Such independence did not constitute the creation of new kingships;
  • The Vhavenda traditional communities, as they exist today, share similar linguistic and cultural affinities. The similarities were established by their former kings, among others, Dimbanyika, Vele-la-Mbeu and Makhado;
  • The Commission finds that good grounds exist for the restoration of the kingship of Vhavenda. In pursuance of the need to restore the integrity and legitimacy of the institution of traditional leadership in line with customary law and customs, it is imperative that the kingship of Vhavenda be restored;
  • Uniformity in the Republic, with regard to the status afforded to a traditional leader, in terms of customary law and customs should be achieved and Vhavenda are no exception; and
  • It is the view of the Commission that if the kingship of Vhavenda is to be restored, this can only be done under one king, following the customary law and customs of Vhavenda. Previously, traditional leaders of Vhavenda ruled independently in that each of them were responsible for their daily administrative duties, but they paid allegiance to the Khosikhulu who reigns over all Vhavenda. His role is that of a unifying figure, the father of the nation. The traditional leaders of Vhavenda will seek advice and wisdom from time to time on a variety of issues that affect their territorial authority, culture and tradition.

After making such findings, the Nhlapo Commission had to deal with the question of whose lineage should the kingship resort to. It concluded that the Vhavenda kingship has been passed on in the house of Mphephu Ramabulana from one generation to the next in terms of the customary law and custom of Vhavenda. The Commission stated that “the claim for the restoration of the kingship of Vhavenda as a whole by Toni Peter Mphephu Ramabulana is successful”.

“In the circumstances, the kingship of Vhavenda as a whole is restored under the lineage of Mphephu Ramabulana”.

Khosi Tshivhase, Khosi Mphaphuli and Tshidziwelele Nephawe immediately rejected the Nhlapo Commission Report and challenged its findings and proposals in court.  The matter was argued before Judge Francis Legodi in the Thohoyandou High Court in August 2012. Judgement was delivered in the North Gauteng High Court on 6 September 2012.

Judge Legodi upheld the findings and proposals of the Nhlapo Commission, and dismissed the applicants’ case with costs. Judge Legodi stated that Toni Mphephu Ramabulana was the rightful heir to the throne of Vhavenda kingship.

Khosi Tshivhase and Tshidziwelele Nephawe immediately stated that they would appeal the judgement. Khosi Tshivhase was quoted as saying that he did not recognise Toni Mphephu Ramabulana as his king and that he would fight all the way to the Constitutional Court.

King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana of Vhavenda (Picture courtesy of Zoutnet)

King Toni Or Queen Masindi Or King Mbulaheni?

Just when everybody thought that the battle to decide the real king of Vhavenda had been settled, the nation was greeted with the news, in November 2012, that the daughter of the late King Dimbanyika Thohoyandou Ramabulana II, Masindi Mphephu-Ramabulana, was contesting the throne. As stated above, Masindi was six years old when Dimbanyika died, and according to Mphephu-Ramabulana rules of succession she was not the right person to take over because she was a girl. In 2012 Masindi argued that she was the first incumbent to the throne and that a regent should have been appointed when her father died, and that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her gender.

Masindi was later joined by Mbulaheni Charles Mphephu-Ramabulana, the son of Ramaano Patrick Mphehu-Ramabulana (King Mphephu III). Masindi and Mbulaheni served court papers on several respondents informing them of the intention to have the decision to declare Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana king of the Vhavenda declared invalid. Mbulaheni argued that should Masindi not be considered for the kingship, due to gender discrimination, he should be next in line for kingship. The respondents in the case included Toni Ramabulana, Jacob Zuma (who announced that Toni would be the new king), as well as the national and provincial houses of traditional leaders. The applicants asked the court to first set aside the decision to appoint Toni Ramabulana as king and then to declare that the practice of only installing males as traditional leaders be declared unconstitutional.

Mbulaheni stated that he was the eldest son of the late Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana (Mphephu III). He stated that Masindi was the only child of the late Tshimangadzo Mphephu-Ramabulana (Dimbanyika). Masindi’s father was paramount chief of the Vhavenda and also the second-eldest son of Mphephu III. Dimbanyika succeeded Mphephu III as leader of Vhavenda

Mbulaheni also described the general rules of succession as well as the governing structures. He stated that the Mutumeri or family structure was very important when decisions about the future king needed to be made. The Mutumeri comprises five parties, the first being the Netshiozwi or “mother of the king”. This is not necessarily the biological mother of the king and may be one of the king’s other wives.

The second important party is the Khadzi, or sister of the reigning king. This is the most senior position after the king. The Khadzi is the one to nominate the new king, in consultation with the Mutumeri and the Royal Council. After the death of the king to which she is the khadzi, she ceases to be a khadzi and becomes Makhadzi. She then becomes the advisor to the new king.

The third party is the Ndumi who is effectively the secretary to the king and one of his closest advisors. He is ordinarily chosen from the king’s siblings. After the death of the king to which he is the Ndumi, he ceases to be a Ndumi and assumes the title of ‘ Vhavenda’ (not to be confused with Vhavenda for nation).

Mbulaheni further stated that in terms of a strict requirement of Vhavenda law of succession, the Ndumi could never be the next king. This was emphasised to demonstrate that Toni Mphephu Ramabulana should never have been considered for the throne after Dimbanyika’s death since he was Dimbanyika’s ndumi.

Mbulaheni stated that Mphephu III had eight wives and that Mufumakadzi was Dzekiso (candle wife) gave birth to Dimbanyika Ramabulana II, the father of Masindi Mphephu Ramabulana. Doris Mphephu, Mphephu III’s fourth wife and second candle wife, was the mother of Mbulaheni Mphephu Ramabulana. Toni Mphephu Ramabulana was the son of Matamela, Mphephu III’s second wife.

According to Mbulaheni Mphephu Ramabulana, the Royal Council appointed Phophi as regent after Mphephu III’s death in 1988. Phophi was Mphephu III’s sister. Phophi ruled for nearly six years amidst some controversy over who the next incumbent should be. In 1990 the former homeland government was overthrown in a military coup and a year later the Venda Traditional Leadership Proclamation Act was passed whereby the kingship of Vhavenda was abolished and the Mphephu Ramabulana family was demoted to one of the 28 chieftaincies of Vhavenda.

In February 1994 Dimbanyika Mphephu was installed as paramount chief and not as king because of the demotion of the Mphephu Ramabulana family by the mulitary junta. He was, however, recognised as king in terms of Venda customs. Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, Dimbanyika’s younger half-brother, was appointed as Dimbanyika’s Ndumi.

Dimbanyika’s reign lasted only three years and he died in a car accident in 1997. He had only one child, Masindi, who was six years old at the time of his death. According to Mbulaheni, what ought to have happened was that Dimbanyika’s khadzi, Mavis Mphephu Ramabulana, should have nominated Masindi as the queen of Vhavenda. A  regent should then have been appointed until Masindi came of age. But because Masindi was a girl, she was overlooked for the throne. Instead of appointing one of Mphephu III’s sons, Mr David Mphephu Ramabulana (Mphephu III’s brother and who had the title of Vhavenda) nominated Toni as the new king. Mbulaheni himself was became Toni’s Ndumi.

Mbulaheni stated that although the Nhlapo Commission recommended that there should be one king for Vhavenda  and that the rightful king must come from the Mphephu-Ramabulana Royal Family, the Commission did not make a finding about who, within the Mphephu-Ramabulana lineage, was the right person to be recognised as king. He supported this claim by quoting from a speech delivered by Jacob Zuma in July 2010 where he stated that the issue of who within the Mphephu-Ramabulana Royal Family should become the king of Vhavenda would be determined by a new Commission to be established sooner. He also stated that in January 2010 the Traditional Leadership and Governance Act came into effect and that this led to a new Commission being formed. This Commission, chaired by Mr Bagudi Jonathan Tolo, started their work in January 2011 and was supposed to make recommendations to the president who was then supposed to make a decision within 60 days of receiving such a recommendation.

Mbulaheni argued that the Commission had still not made any decision regarding who within the Mphephu- Ramabulana Royal Family was supposed to be the king of Vhavenda. He argued that the Zuma had ignored the new Commission and had gone ahead and wrongly recognised Toni as the right person from within the Mphephu- Ramabulana Royal Family to be the king of Vhavenda.

Mbulaheni stated that the proclamation by Jacob Zuma, just more than a week after Judge Legodi delivered his judgment, recognising Toni as king of Vhavenda, was wrong and that it violated several sections of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA).

The court application by Masindi and Mbulaheni relied heavily on the fact that gender based discrimination took place when deciding on a new ruler. The two stated that the custom that only males should be heirs to the throne was inconsistent with the country’s Constitution and a breach of Masindi’s rights.

Comical Ndanduleni

It gets more interesting and comical. Just when people thought there were three contestants for the Venda throne, some guy, named Ndanduleni Sikhala, came to the fore and claimed the Mphephu-Ramabulana kingship.

Hardly six months after the announcement was made that Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana would be the new king of Vhavenda, Elias Ndanduleni Sikhala challenged the decision. He claimed that he was the rightful king “as the first-born son of the late Patrick Mphephu”. Ndanduleni filed an application in the Thohoyandou High Court, asking for intervention.

But Khotsimunene Vho-Mavhungu David Mphephu (commonly known as Vho-Japan), Makhadzi Vho-Phophi Ramabulana and the family’s legal representative, Nkhumeleni Paul Makhavhu, strongly denied that Ndanduleni was royalty from their house.

They indicated that they had never seen or heard of Ndanduleni before until he started calling Vho-Japan requesting a meeting. When Vho-Japan met him, he introduced himself as the first-born son of the late Khosikhulu Patrick Mphephu.

Makhadzi Vho-Phophi said that she had never met Ndanduleni until he approached her and argued that she must agree that he was the son of her late brother, Mphephu III.

Ndanduleni’s claims were also disputed by his maternal aunt, Luvhengo Selina Mphephu. She expressed her shock and disappointment about his claim to the throne. She stated that Ndanduleni was born at Ha-Madodonga (Ha-Kutama). Ndanduleni moved to Dzanani with his siblings, his mother Maatamela, grandmother Muofhe Sikhala and his grandfather Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala in 1970. They sought refuge at the Mphephu-Ramabulana royal house after Ndanduleni’s grandfather, Tshilume Mphathi, was chased away by the Madodonga community after lightning struck the Mabila homestead. Tshilume Mphathi was accused of being the mastermind behind the lightning.

According to sources at Ha-Madodonga, Tshilume Mphathi was feared ‘for his powers to cause lightning’. Mphathi then had an affair with one of Mr Mabila’s wives, who was at loggerheads with Mabila’s other wife. When lightning struck the other wife’s house, it was suspected that the wife who had an affair with Tshilume Mphathi had collaborated with him, as the lightning specialist, to strike her rival’s house with lightning. The matter was referred to khoro (village council) for a formal hearing. Khoro decided, as it was custom, that Mabila’s wives, Mphathi and three community representatives should go to a diviner in another place far from Ha-Madodonga. Although the diviner wasn’t told what the problem was, s/he was expected to discover why the delegation had visited him/her, and to point out who the culprit(s) was/were responsible for the lightning that struck the Mabila homestead.

The delegation visited the diviner who confirmed that Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala and his lover were the culprits. According to Tshivenda culture, a person who was pointed out by a diviner as a witch was half-shaved (what is known as bemu) by the diviner (the head was half-shaved to show that the person was a witch). So, the heads of Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala and his lover were half-shaved as confirmation that they were the witches that caused the lightning. When the delegation went back to Ha-Madodonga, people converged at the khoro, and they saw mabemu on Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala and Mabila’s wife’s heads. People knew that it had been confirmed that the two were the culprits. After community representatives told the community what the diviner had said, a decision was taken that the two should be chased from the village. Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala’s houses were set alight, with his possessions inside, and he was kicked out of the village.

According to sources at Ha-Madodonga, Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala was Ndanduleni’s grandfather. Ndanduleni’s father was a certain Mr Liswoga, also from Ha-Madodonga. Ndanduleni was thirteen years old when his family was kicked out of Ha-Madodonga. His mother, Maatamela, sought refuge at the Mphephu-Ramabulana royal residence in Dzanani. She went there because her sister, Luvhengo Selina, was married to a Mphephu-Ramabulana man.

Tshilume Mphathi Sikhala is said to have initially settled at Dzanani. But he left after the Mphephu-Ramabulana family questioned the wisdom of accommodating a ‘witch.’ He then settled on a farm, where AFB Makhado is situated. He was also chased from the farm after the farmer’s cattle were struck with lightning. Other farm workers who knew him and his alleged reputation accused him of having caused the lightning, and he was kicked out. He moved to another farm in the Nzhelele area known as Ha-Jumbere.

The Mphephu-Ramabulana royal family was surprised that Ndanduleni had changed his surname from Sikhala to Mphephu, and that he changed the surname in 2008. The royal family suspected fraud in the process of changing the surname.

King Toni Mphephu’s Official Coronation Halted

In August 2016, the government announced that King Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana would be officially crowned king of Vhavenda on 9 September 2016. The government stated that the official coronation would mark the restoration of Vhavenda kingship that was destroyed in 1898. By this time, Khosi Tshivhase had made a u-turn and decided to recognise Mphephu-Ramabulana as his king and the king of all Vhavenda.

As soon as the announcement regarding the official coronation was made, Masindi Mphephu’s legal representatives sent a letter to the Ramabulana royal family indicating that they were ready, on behalf of Masindi, to challenge the planned coronation. They stated that the planned coronation was inappropriate and premature as the review application on Toni Mphephu Ramabulana’s recognition as the king of Vhavenda had not been finalised.

The Ramabulana royal family responded by indicating that Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana had already been installed as king of Vhavenda, and that the coronation scheduled for 9 September 2016 was only a formality.

On 2 September 2016, the Thohoyandou High Court halted Toni’s coronation pending a review of Masindi’s application.

Masindi’s Court Challenge Is Dismissed

On 15 December 2016, the Thohoyandou High Court dismissed Masindi’s application. The court said it would provide reasons later. Masindi’s legal team indicated that it would appeal the judgement.

Masindi’s Heads To The Supreme Court Of Appeal

After Masindi’s case was dismissed by the Thohoyandou High Court, she decided to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal (“the SCA”) to appeal against the High Court judgment. In early 2018, Masindi alleged that Jacob Zuma traded Venda Kingship for access to the mortgage bond granted by the Venda Building Society (VBS) Mutual Bank. The mortgage was for Zuma to repay the state money used in building a swimming pool (referred to as a fire pool by Zuma and his backers), cattle kraal, and all other non-security related expenditure at his Nkandla compound.

Masindi stated in court papers that Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana was a shareholder of Dyambeu Investments, the majority shareholder in VBS. She indicated that Zuma announced his intention to hold Toni’s coronation three days after VBS approved his Nkandla mortgage loan.  Moreover, the mortgage was only registered against Zuma’s Nkandla compound several months after the loan was granted.

Masindi also argued in court that she was removed from the line of succession because she was a woman.

The Supreme Court Of Appeal Refers The Dispute Back To The Thohoyandou High Court

In April 2019, the SCA agreed with Masindi that the decisions by Zuma and the Mphephu-Ramabulana Royal Council to recognise Mphephu-Ramabulana were based on criteria that promoted gender discrimination. The case was referred back to the High Court in Thohoyandou for further adjudication on the merits before another judge.

The presidency and the Limpopo premier were directed to refer several issues of customary laws and custom to the national and Limpopo houses of traditional leaders for opinion and advice to be submitted to the high court. Among the issues would be whether a child born before the parent was recognised as a traditional leader qualified to be the successor of the parent, and whether in the Vhavenda custom, the Ndumi qualified to be identified and recognised as a successor.

Although the Mphephu-Ramabulana Royal Council initially reacted by saying that Masindi would be the queen of the courts, they later stated the family had accepted the ruling as handed down by the SCA. The family stated that the matter did not belong to the courts, and that as the royal family they had accepted the decision of the court and would subsequently go and re-look the matter.


Watch this space