Zim judgment paves way for equality in chieftainship succession, rights group says

30 June 2020 - 08:18 By ERNEST MABUZA
A judgment in Zimbabwe has set aside aside a decision by a district administrator, who had ignored a woman's claim to the chieftainship and instead seconded the woman's uncle as the next chief.
A judgment in Zimbabwe has set aside aside a decision by a district administrator, who had ignored a woman's claim to the chieftainship and instead seconded the woman's uncle as the next chief.
Image: 123RF/gorosi

The Bulawayo high court has set aside a decision by a district administrator, who had ignored a woman's claim to the chieftainship, but instead seconded the woman's uncle as the next chief.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, the organisation which supported  Princess Silibaziso Mlotshwa, said the judgment was an important step towards affirming women’s equal rights to chieftainship succession.

The district administrator took a decision to recommended the princess's uncle, Saunders Mlotshwa, for appointment as chief after the death of Chief Nyangayezizwe Mvuthu Mlotshwa.

Chief Mlotshwa, who died in March  2014 aged 61, was chief of the Mvuthu area in Hwange District.

The district administrator had sidelined Princess Silibaziso, the eldest daughter of the late chief, solely on account of her gender.

Princess Silibaziso then brought an application to compel the district administrator to act lawfully.

On June 25, Justice Maxwell Takuva passed a judgment in which he found that the district administrator — being fully aware of the constitutional provisions of equality and non-discrimination — carried out his duties in terms of the Traditional Leaders Act in a discriminatory manner.

The court declared the initial nomination by the district administrator void.

Takuva ordered that the district administrator reconvene a meeting within 60 days to select a chief.

The court further compelled the district administrator to act lawfully during the selection process, within the constitutional dictates of human dignity and equality before the law.

“I am happy that the court has recognised that despite being a woman, I am a human being first, deserving of being afforded equal opportunities in all spheres of life including traditional and customary life,” Princess Silibaziso said.

She said no-one chooses to be born male or female and no-one should be judged on the things that they do not have control over.

“Society has to start acting in accordance with the rights enshrined in our constitution which advocates for non-discrimination especially in terms of gender, for what men can do, women can do too or even do better.

“Our struggle is not over until the society starts recognising that men and women are equal,” the princess said.

Brigadier Siachitema, from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre — which assisted with the case — said the judgment was an important step towards affirming women’s equal rights to chieftainship succession.

“The judgment focuses on the bottom line, that any decision, including decisions relating to customary law, must comply with the constitution. Simply put, discriminatory practices are unlawful,” Siachitema said.

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