Who killed ex-chief Avhatuwi Richard Tshivhase?

2013-12-01 06:00

The last time Avhatuwi Richard Tshivhase’s family saw him alive, he was leaving his Vhufuli home on a quad bike.

He was headed towards his plantations in the village outside Thohoyandou in the Venda area.

There was smoke rising from the fields and Tshivhase was going to investigate.

That was on September 8. He never returned.

A frenzied search ensued, with residents from the nearby villages of Tshitereke and Ha Makhuvha joining their neighbours, together with police and sniffer dogs.

Days passed with no sign of Tshivhase – and then, one evening, a man rushed to the family home and said had come across a dead body at Tshivhase’s farm.

Tshivhase’s brother, Maambele Tshivhase, and others went outside where they discovered his burnt body. “He was lying there on the very same spot we have walked over many times in his search. His cellphone was next to him, also burnt,” said Maambele.

“It became clear that my brother had been kidnapped and was murdered. It’s not clear whether he was burnt to death but we believe the fire was a cover-up and that he was killed somewhere and burnt on his farm sometime after we called off the search for the day.”

Avhatuwi Richard Tshivhase was part of a group that had lodged an application seeking to have the current senior chief of the Tshivhase traditional house, Kennedy Tshivhase, removed, arguing that he was not the rightful heir to the throne.

Maambele said his brother and other members of the royal family had lodged their application with the Kgatla Commission, which is investigating more than 500 cases related to traditional leadership disputes in Limpopo. He said his brother played a “meaningful role” in the application.

Maambele said the deceased was removed by the current traditional leadership council as a headman in his village because of discord in the royal family and that although against his will, he accepted it.

After his removal, he said his brother concentrated on livestock farming, and got involved in commercial farming, planting mangoes and bananas.

“There is no way that he was just a random crime victim. My brother didn’t die such a cruel death for nothing,” Maambele said.

“His involvement in the ongoing traditional leadership battle or jealousy by small-scale farmers who didn’t like the fact that he owned big land and produced tons of fruits could be the reasons for his death. We need the police to get to the bottom of this case.”

He said now, more than two months later, police were yet to make any arrest despite some leads presented to them.

“There’s a man who said he saw my brother before he disappeared. The young man was out with his girlfriends close to the farm when he saw a bakkie and about nine men,” Maambele said.

“My brother asked if he knew those people and he said ‘no’ and proceeded to his farm and that was the last time he was seen alive. This man has presented his statement to the police but nothing has happened.”

Limpopo police spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that police were yet to make a breakthrough in the case but said investigations were under way.

The Tshivhase traditional leadership has been in the spotlight in the past two decades. The incumbent chief, Kennedy Tshivhase, was confirmed as the rightful heir by the court in the early 90s.

His father, Price Tshivhase, died when he was about seven years old and his uncle, John Tshivhase, held the fort until Kennedy Tshivhase came of age.

When the time came to hand over the ropes to Kennedy Tshivhase, the uncle apparently refused to do so and the matter ended up in the Venda Supreme Court, which declared Kennedy Tshivhase as the chief in 1992.

This was seen as the beginning of divisions in one of the biggest Venda royal families. The application lodged with the Kgatla Commission is believed to be another attempt to unseat Kennedy Tshivhase. Attempts to get hold of Kennedy Tshivhase and his tribal council were unsuccessful.

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