December 31, 2003

Ruling on "King" divides Venda's tribal leaders

About 25 traditional leaders of the Venda tribes appointed by the former apartheid regime could lose their positions if the Limpopo provincial government pursued a court ruling that has raised questions about their legal status. The Thohoyandou division of the high court dismissed the application by Khosi Toni Mphephu Ramabulana for the Limpopo government to be instructed to install him as king of the Venda nation. Ramabulana argued that the status accorded to his forefathers was in terms of the then Republic of Venda Constitution Act 9 of 1979 as well as in Venda custom. He said Col Gabriel Ramushwana, who overthrew President Frank Ravele in 1990, acted aggressively when he passed the Venda Traditional Leaders Administration Proclamation 29 of 1991, abolishing the position of king.

With the support of 25 other chiefs themselves appointed during Ramushwana's reign, Ramabulana argued that he was the born heir of the chieftainship of the Mphephu tribe.But Judge Alfred Lukoto ruled that the position of king of the Venda nation was created during the presidency of chief Patrick Mphephu. It was enacted in 1979 that "the person installed as khosi of the Mphephu tribe shall then be enthroned the paramount chief of the Venda nation". Judge Lukoto said he found it strange that the other chiefs supporting Ramabulana recognised the positions created by Ramushwana's military council for them, and yet wanted the court to disregard the council's powers to dispose of the king. The court supported testimony by a government ethnologist that there were only three chiefs in Venda, namely Mphephu, Tshivhase and Mphaphuli. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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