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.
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