By Thupeyo Muleya
Beitbridge 13 December 2010
Soon after independence the government introduced a new system of governance which sought to decentralize power to the traditional leaders (chiefs).
These fall under the Chiefs and Headmen Act.
This was meant to help them preside over several civil matters which didn’t need interventions of the justice system. Traditional leaders are also viewed as the custodians of culture and values of certain tribes across the country.
However Beitbridge district have been hit by a tragedy of being cheifless for the last four years. The district is literally under the jurisdiction of two chiefs, that is Chichewo Matibe in the East and Pariti Sitauze in the West.
Chief Matibe who passed away in May this year is of the Vha Pfumbi tribe, while Chief Sitauze of the Vha Venda tribe passed away in September 2006
A fierce battle has been raging on for sometime between the group led by the late chief’s brother, Paul Sitauze and one led by a rival Johnson Mbedzi a descended of the late chief’s brother Marema who has since roped in the ward 11 councilor Pini Mbedzi to his side.
Marema was born with Matshavha and Mauda being sons of Diasikwa the man who started a bitter fight with Siturimani in the late 1930s.
A 10 member Research and Steering committee was appointed by family members on 24 February 2007 to oversee the succession issue.
The camp led by Paul has since chosen Mubuso Mbedzi the surviving eldest son following the death of his brother Simon to take over the throne, while Johnson is claiming that the late had been performing the duties on a caretaker basis and is not of the “royal blood”. He says Siturimani’s father Mabukila was never a chief in his life.
Mbedzi is alleging that the late Chief Pariti Sitauze was only a caretaker chief whose grandfather, Siturimani was only “planted” by the then Native Commissioner a Mr. Elliot during the Rhodesian government.
The succession issue is yet to be settled and the two camps are failing to reach a compromise.
Chief Matibe (63) died following a short illness at his Makothe village in Madaulo area some 80 km out of the border town.
Funeral procedures were carried out on the morning of May 11 in line with the Vha Pfumbi culture.
Chichewo took over the reigns in 1976 following the death of his father in the early 1970s and was to be replaced by his nephew Timba Matibe as acting chief who then passed on in 1975.
Chief Matibe is survived by his wife Maria Matibe, 9 children and several grandchildren.
The Vha Pfumbi tribe is naturally mean with information regarding their cultural values and tradition to strangers, but however the Herald managed to penetrate the clan in a visit to the late chief’s homestead on Friday last week.
The tribe seems to have an amicable way of dealing with the chief’s successions as compared to many tribes across the country.
According to the late chief’s brother, Lungano Matibe affectionately known as Two-Two by other villagers in Beitbridge East their clan does not take lightly to prying strangers.
The Herald caught up with Lungano at his homestead at Chabili some 20 km away from the chief’s homestead. Ironically he is the only one in the family who can speak fluent Venda. All other members are comfortable in speaking their Pfumbi language.
After some minutes of negotiating, Two-two finally gave in and took us to the chief’s homestead where we were told to wait at the Khoro (Chief’s court), while he consulted with other family members to talk to us.
The Matibe clan whose totem is Chidzivahungwe derived from the crocodile lives aloof from other villagers in Madaulo area just near Keyanse Estate on the boundary of Mwenezi and Beitbridge districts.
They have their own dip-tank and borehole in the midst of their village. They also speak a language which is a mixture of Venda and Shona.
“When a chief dies, we have a different way of burying him. We take his body to his hut (Pfamoni) were he used to keep his sacred tools and make a bed of logs made on top of a stilt. The body is then locked there and the house is sealed for 12 months.
“The eldest aunt then selects some family members who would pour the water into the hut every day through the top of the roof known as Chiludzini.
“This is done until the body is rotten and only bones are left. After a year we carryout some rituals to bury his body at our local shrine Tshiendeulu at Malungudzi Mountains where our forefathers are lying.
“Our succession procedure is not very difficult, when the right time comes (after a year of the chief’s death); all his children make a queue to push the door inside. Who ever pushes it and falls in will be installed the next chief, whether it’s a boy or girl.
“When they are inside there is stone which they take from his remains and swallow it. This will guide them through their rein as chief. This has been in practice since time immemorial. The stone was taken from the stomach of a crocodile which is our totem.
“In our traditions when a chief passes away we don’t appoint anyone to act in his capacity, instead whenever there is s dispute we come together as family elders and make a decision”, he said.
Lungano added that from the first day of the Chief’s death until a successor is found, the family members gather together at his homestead with her widow.
“We don’t cry and we beat a drum until the next morning when we disperse to our houses. The Nengwani drum is the cradle of the Va Pfumbi tribe and is four generations old.
“We use it in happy of sombre times. Let me warn you this is a very sacred drum which cannot be touched anyone who is still of child bearing age. They can only do that with the permission from the family elders” he said.
He said the drum in such a way that it could produce a lot of sounds adding that there is a special uniform which is worn when they beat the drum. The Nengwani drum is over 120 years old.
He added that after the new chief is installed he is indoctrinated with their beliefs and way of life.
Lungano said unlike other tribes, the chief need not to carryout the rainmaking rituals himself, saying a council of family elders sits and allocate tasks to each other.
He said they had similar practices with those Vha Pfumbi living under Chief Maranda as they are always in contact with each other.
“In our culture, the chief doesn’t necessarily need to go to Matonjeni (Njelele Mountains) for rain making rituals himself. Instead we seat as a council of elders and allocate each other responsibility with his guidance” said Two-Two.
The late chief’s eldest son, Elsh said they would invite other villagers for the burial programme adding that they would however be allowed to watch the proceedings from the sidelines.
“We are going to invite a lot of people on the burial day, but they would just be on lookers while close family members will carryout the rituals. The burial at the shrine is a very sacred process in our tradition and we will not entertain strangers prying” he said.
In an interview a historian in the Border town, Mr. Samuel Mulaudzi said the Vha Pfumbi had an amicable way with dealing the chieftaincy succession.
He said the tribe was a section of the Venda people who were known for rainmaking rituals.
“This is a clan which was responsible of rain making rituals. Their language was formerly termed a sacred one as they used it to communicate with the Gods during the rain making ceremonies.
“It then spread into the community through women were from one of the ceremonies at Njelele mountains. It so happened one year that soon after conducting the rain making ritual.
“The group told people to look for a lot of firewood that would last them for a month, saying they were going to be heavy rains for that following month.
“The heavy rains came as they predicted resulting in other members of the Venda community calling them Vha Bvumbi Vha mvula (meaning they could predict what would happen in the next rain season). Thus the name became to be known as Vha Pfumbi” said Mulaudzi.
Mr. Mulaudzi said the clan swallow the stone from a crocodile to show their strength which they equate to that of a crocodile.
Renowned author and Professor Ntambeleni Charles Netshisaulu (Venda) of the University of Venda (UNIVEN) in South Africa said the Vha Pfumbi we descendents of the Vha Ngona tribe.
He said it is common practice that every eligible Venda chief should swallow that stone which forms the essence of the chieftaincy.
“This is a common practice among the Venda chiefs. You will realise that every eligible chief in the Venda tribe has to swallow the stone which is known as Ngwedi.
“In most cases the chief vomits it on the very day he passes on. The stone is then kept in that scared hut and will be given to the heir to swallow it. That can only be swallowed by an eligible heir to the chieftaincy” he said.