Some disputes in communities are not criminal, but they affect the living conditions of that said community and that is where tribal chiefs come in.
A Mpumalanga chief brings his tribal court to the people, to show how they mediate and resolve community issues.
Ndabezitha Chief Nsizwa Mahlangu of Hlalani Kahle is the presiding officer of their tribal court and he tells Drum that they work very closely with their local police station as well as the Witbank Magistrates Court.
Their way of life is going to be broadcast on national TV in a show called Ebukhosini, coming to Mzansi Wethu.
About 70% of their population go straight to the tribal court to resolve their issues and sometimes others go to the police and they refer them back to the tribal court.
“Sometimes the police will realise that the issue a person wants to report is not necessarily a criminal matter, but something that we could sort out in our tribal court. Equally so, when community members report things to us and we find that there is a criminal element to it, we then refer the matter to the police to handle it,” he said.
Chief Mahlangu tells Drum that they deal with a variety of cases including:
- Marital disputes like infidelity
- People who owe each other money
- Family feuds
- Neighbours fighting
- Lobola disputes
- Inhlawulo (damages)
“The core priority of the tribal court is to find alternative dispute resolutions. We are there to mediate. It is not our core business to issue fines and punish people by having a guilty party because we want these people to walk away and be able to live harmoniously together. Generally a hug and a handshake are the aim at the end of a case. Our priority is harmony.”
The chief says they hardly have to give fines because their community listens to them and the resolutions are binding. Their fines usually peak at R1000.
He says there are no legal representatives, but all participants are encouraged to bring someone with them to “listen with them”.
“Sometimes people get emotional and cannot state their case properly or at the end they need someone else there to explain back home, then at least they had someone else with them. People speak their mother tongue because it is a mining and even though I am a Ndebele chief, I preside on matters for all cultures.”
His aunt is one of his advisors and she looks closely at the rights on women, and he also has an orderly to advise him and come to a decision.
“The reason the Traditional Courts Bill has been rejected twice over 10 years is because women have not been allowed to speak up.
“We wanted to take this to TV because we are finding a repetition of issues. Same cases, but different people so we thought we would the opportunity to educate more about when we are on this platform. We cannot have people asking for R80 000 as inhlawulo, it's too much. We also want to promote ubukhosi because a lot of people do not understand the role and relevance of traditional leadership in this day and age,” he says.
He adds that their main focus is for people to learn that issues can be resolved when you sit down and talk.
“We want to promote culture and Ubuntu.”
Chief Mahlangu has a legal background as he has an LLB from the University of Pretoria and his main area of expertise is deceased estates.
Ebukhosini premiers on Mzansi Wethu on 15 October at 8.30pm.