BULAWAYO – Ever since Ntabazinduna traditional leader Chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni flew back from the United Kingdom after a 40-year stay to take-over the chieftainship following the death of his respected father, the young traditional leader has been loved and hated in equal measure by his friends and foes alike.
The eloquent Nhlanhlayamangwe has been a trenchant critic of the ruling Zanu PF party just like his late father, Paramount Chief Khayisa.
Khayisa — who passed away in 2010 aged 97 — had fierce run-ins with former president Robert Mugabe’s regime after routinely criticising the fallen despot’s style of leadership, especially his role in the Gukurahundi massacres and under-development in the Matabeleland region.
A fiery Mugabe critic and a proponent of the concept of federalism, Khayisa at one time refused to meet Mugabe at a hotel in Bulawayo, and instead summoned him to his Ntabazinduna home, about 40 kilometres from the city centre.
Mugabe was forced to drive to the late traditional leader’s homestead where the two held a one-on-one discussion.
Nhlanhlayamangwe seems to be following in his father’s footsteps.
He is undoubtedly the most popular traditional leader in the Matabeleland region.
He is one of the few chiefs who have refused to be cowed into submission by the ruling Zanu PF.
Nhlanhlayamangwe is the only traditional leader so far to declare that all opposition political parties were free to campaign in his land without any hindrance, breaking ranks with the Zanu PF tradition of turning certain rural areas into no-go areas for pro-democracy groups.
Ndiweni allowed the Joice Mujuru-led party last year to proceed with a rally in his area even after police had blocked the party from holding its rally in Ntabazinduna ostensibly because the law enforcement agency did not have sufficient manpower.
He has clashed in angry scenes with wealthy and powerful politician Obert Mpofu, after refusing to kowtow to Zanu PF edicts.
So bad was their relationship that the chief at one point said he was going to make sure Mpofu was not voted back into Parliament. He urged his subjects to vote even for a donkey instead of Mpofu.
At the height of their stand-off, Ndiweni wrote a letter to Mugabe appealing for Mpofu’s withdrawal from Parliament saying he was not a good leader for the people of Umguza.
Mpofu shot back, describing Ndiweni as a politician rather than a traditional leader. He even made it clear that he never recognised him as a chief but his young brother Thambo who remained in UK.
“I don’t know this guy. I have nothing to do with him.
“Legally he is not a chief. He is just masquerading as a chief using opposition politics,” Mpofu told our sister paper the Daily News a few months ago just before he lost his Home Affairs ministerial post.
“He should not blame us for his misdeeds. He has been out of the country for over 40 years and he came yesterday and wants to behave in a destructive and anti-people manner,” fumed Mpofu.
He added: “If he wants me to get involved, I will be involved. Once I get involved, he will regret doing whatever he is doing. I don’t do cheap politics like him.”
Ndiweni escalated his fight by successfully filing for a peace order against Mpofu who he accused of meddling in his and other two chiefs’ affairs — Chief Neville Ndondo and chief Deli Asher Mabhena in the Matabeleland North province.
In her ruling, Bulawayo magistrate Adelaide Mbeure ruled in favour of the traditional leaders, immediately stopping Mpofu from interfering with their works.
In their court application, the three chiefs — represented by lawyer Dumisani Dube of 0Mathonsi Ncube Law Chambers — accused the minister of “abusing his office and authority by constantly throwing spanners into the chiefs work using his agents and thugs.”
But outside his battle with Mpofu, Ndiweni has also taken on Chief’s Council president Fortune Charumbira and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), dragging them to court seeking nullification of provincial assembly and national chiefs council elections held in July this year, arguing the whole process was marred with irregularities.
The ruling is still pending.
Early this year, Chief Ndiweni appeared at the Bulawayo Magistrates’ Court, together with his 13 subjects facing charges of malicious damage to property after they destroyed a villager, Fetti Mbele’s perimeter fence, accusing him of refusing to divorce his “promiscuous” wife.
As punishment for defying his orders, Chief Ndiweni allegedly seized Mbele’s two beasts.
An incensed Mbele reported the matter to the police, leading to Chief Ndiweni’s arrest.
Such has been one of Ndiweni’s many escapades against things that he feels are out of order. He is never one to take things lying down regardless of position or status one might have in the society.
Chief Ndiweni has also become an outspoken proponent of dealing with the Gukurahundi grievances and has openly expressed his bitterness over the post-independence killings.
He has also hogged the limelight for rallying behind the call for the revival of the Ndebele Kingdom, which government has declared illegal. The chief has presided over the secret installation of the new King, Bulelani Khumalo.
His crusade to go against the grain has come at a huge cost, stalling his official installation ever since he took over from his father.
On April 25, the Local Government ministry wrote to the provincial administrator advising that Chief Ndiweni’s installation would be on May 10 in Umguza District.
“Kindly inform the clan and commence preparations,” the letter read.
However, in a turn of events, in a letter dated April 30, the Local Government ministry wrote to the Matabeleland North provincial administrator, advising of the postponement.
“We regret to advise of the postponement of the official installation of …Ndiweni as substantive Chief Ndiweni. The installation was scheduled for May 10 and has been indefinitely postponed,” the letter read.
This was the fifth time the installation of Chief Ndiweni was stalled under unclear circumstances.
Chief Ndiweni told the Daily News on Sunday that Zimbabwe was still in a struggle of unfulfilled promises, hence the need to keep fighting the prevailing injustices.
“I have very strong beliefs which emanate from the fact that we are one as a nation,” Ndiweni said.
“What has happened since independence has been a travesty of our independence. Our heroes and heroines are lying in the Limpopo and Zambezi. They fought for profound ideas, ideas which are now being neglected 38 years later.
“I am fighting for the recognition of our neglected and traditional and cultural principles.
“For example, I also fight for the emancipation of the Ndebele people who for years have been marginalised,” Ndiweni said.