Ombudsman Martha Chizuma has intervened in the Traditional Authority (T/A) Mzikubola succession wrangle after the current chief, Masabani Jere, lodged a complaint that Inkosi M’mbelwa V and the Ministry of Local Government were delaying his installation.
Former president Bingu wa Mutharika appointed Masabani as T/A Mzikubola in 2009, but this was challenged by his relation Zodwa Jere, who claimed to be the rightful heir and court battles ensued.
Chizuma, in her determination, has asked Ministry of Local Government and Rural Administration Principal Secretary Charles Kalemba to institute an inquiry to determine how Masabani was appointed.
“If it is established that everything was fully done, then you are duty-bound to proceed with the installation. If, however, your inquiry finds otherwise, then you are duty-bound to inform the President on the same and advise on the corrective measures to be taken,” she said in the ruling, dated November 17 2020.
Chizuma has given the ministry until January 31 2021 to submit its findings to her office.
The Ombudsman stated that during a hearing she presided over, M’mbelwa said his council did not recognise Masabani as heir to the throne.
The Mzimba T/A’s succession procedures show that M’mbelwa submits the name of the successor to government, which then proceeds with the appointment and installation.
The Ombudsman said she found that the High Court in Mzuzu ruled in favour of Zodwa, but the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside the ruling on grounds that “there were irregularities in the manner in which the trial court handled the matter”.
The Supreme Court, in 2016, ordered a retrial of the case at the High Court.
However, a report which the Ombudsman authored shows that Zodwa or any concerned party did not take the matter to the High Court as recommended by the Supreme Court.
“Apparently, no one moved the court. The complainant [Masabani] then applied to the court for dismissal for lack of prosecution…The assistant registrar dismissed the matter,” said Chizuma.
She further writes that in 2018, the ministry organised the installation of Masabani, but it was later postponed.
On Wednesday, Masabani confirmed taking the matter to the Ombudsman, saying he felt he was being treated unjustly.
“Every time the ministry plans to install me, there are some forces that block it. It has happened on three occasions. This is the reason I decided to seek the Ombudsman’s intervention,” he said.
Masabani is accusing M’mbelwa of trying to take away his right to the chieftaincy.
“I don’t know why I am being victimised,” he said.
Inkosi M’mbelwa V admitted being summoned by the Ombudsman over the issue, disclosing that he rejected Masabani as the rightful heir to the throne.
He said T/A Mzikubola was supposed to be Zodwa, but his death meant his son Khetwayo, would be the next in line.
“What happened was that Zodwa’s father was the one that was supposed to be the T/A, but he fled to Zambia after going in bad books with government during the one-party system. He died there.
“In his absence, Masabani’s father became the acting T/A until his death. As it is, the chieftaincy is supposed to revert to the rightful family and it is that of the late Zodwa,” he said.
Meanwhile, M’mbelwa has said he has informed the ministry to install Khetwayo as T/A Mzikubola.
“The M’mbelwa District Council has done thorough research before reaching this conclusion. Even the people in T/A Mzikubola testified that it is Zodwa’s family that has the right to inherit the chieftaincy,” he said.
The chief said he was optimistic that the ministry’s investigations, as directed by the Ombudsman, will back their stand.
“We will cooperate with the ministry and submit all the necessary documents, including the letters we were writing the ministry to withdraw Masabani and replace him with Khetwayo’s name,” he said.
On his part, Kalemba said the ministry was relying on the M’mbelwa District Council to make a resolution as to who ascends to the throne.
“The law requires that the person to ascend to the throne is legally and culturally qualified. So, when it comes to culture it is not the government that determines. It is the cultural traditions of that area so M’mbelwa is the one responsible. Our part is to listen to what the cultural custodians say,” he said.