Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Bobirwa Chieftainship II: You can’t make omelette without breaking eggs

In the last installment we sketched a historical background of the chieftainship of the Babirwa tribe and the possible causes of the dispute around the question of who is to succeed the incumbent. We observed that the Mmamagwa invasion had almost changed the face of bogosi in Bobirwa, and that certain events have conspired in the tribe’s favour to return the situation to near normalcy.

In this commentary, we move a step further. We examine the challenges that lie ahead for the Government and the concerned tribal leaders as they try to heal the wounds of a divided tribal community. What should the Minister do in order to avert an all out escalation of hostilities when Kgosi Mmirwa Malema retires in 2015?

The question is not a simple one. The recent move on the part of Government to appoint a task force whose findings can only be released in dribs and drabs will no doubt compound the situation. Already the media is awash with reports of the findings of the task force, and yet, the Minister told Babirwa at a recent kgotla meeting that the findings will not be made public.

The Minister must certainly be finding himself on the horns of a dilemma. If he doesn’t release the report and snippets of it keep coming out intermittently, as is already happening, he is running the risk that he will be seen to be hiding something from the Babirwa people. To some the reason he is not releasing the report is a stratagem to conceal the findings that do not point in the direction most favoured by the powers that be.

Should he however decide to release the findings in the midst of a succession dispute, again he will be seen to be playing politics with bogosi, and no doubt that would not be viewed favourably by the moral judgment of the tribal opinion, aside from the fact that he will also be seen to be taking sides.

In our opinion from now henceforth, the Minister, and so do the tribal authorities from Serowe, should stir their ship away from the Bobirwa chieftainship. They should let Babirwa choose a successor to Kgosi Malema in accordance with their tribal laws and customary norms and practices without meddling. And, for the Bobirwa tribal leaders, they too should tread with care.

It’s widely believed that the Sekoba (and Adam Masilo in present scenario) have reluctantly accepted to play pawns in a power game between certain tribal authorities. It has not been made clear on what basis is Adam Masilo being touted as a potential successor to Malema. The traditions, both oral and written do not support his claim for the chieftainship. It seems he is happy to be riding other’s people’s coattails with the hope that some happenstance might just settle matters in his favour.

As for Serumula, the historical accounts do however recognise him, but not as a chief of the Babirwa tribe, but as the chief’s henchman whose only role in the whole scheme of things, as the name suggests, was to ensure that there was always a fire burning for the chief ( Prof. Makhurane).

Whatever the case may be a successor to Malema would need to have his blessing ÔÇô a coup de tat is most unlikely given the scenario that we have at the present moment. The law recognizes only two types of tribal chiefs: a kgosi (chief) and a motshwarelela bogosi (regent). A kgosi is someone who having been designated by his morafe (tribe) is recognized by the Minister as such. A motshwarelela bogosi fits the same definition as a kgosi except that he would be appointed in the place of a substantive kgosi.

We can thus draw fundamental principles from the provisions of Bogosi Act dealing with the appointment of a motshwarelela bogosi. The Act provides that where a person designated as Kgosi is for any reason unable to assume bogosi, or where a person recognized as a Kgosi is unable to take up the functions of that office, it shall be the duty of the tribe or the person so recognized as kgosi, to designate a motshwarelela bogosi of the tribe according to customary law, or the established norms and practices of such tribe.

Once a kgosi has been designated and recognized by the Minister in terms of the Act he occupies that office by legal right and he cannot be removed simply because a contender to the throne has emerged afterwards. When the seat of bogosi is lost by one royal house either by reason of absence of a natural successor or legal incapacity and it is passed on to another house, it can never revert to the earlier house. That can only happen if the individual was appointed a motshwarelela bogosi and not as a kgosi.
Kgosi Mmirwa Malema is not a motshwarelela bogosi ÔÇô he is a substantive kgosi of the Babirwa tribe. That being the case, it means he can anoint a successor to the throne during his lifetime according to the customary practices of the tribe. It’s then that he can present the name of the successor to the tribe and then to the Minister for official recognition. But, it’s most unlikely that he can appoint someone other than from his own chiefly house.

The Bobirwa tribal leaders should put aside their differences for the greater good of the community. Their primary focus in this day and age should thus be to revive, protect and defend the Mmamagwa heritage, because, only in that way would they enhance and preserve the stature and identity of their own people as a tribe. Self deprecation and loathing – like seeking legitimacy from another tribal authority – on the altar of sheer individual recognition and personal aggrandizement is a sure recipe for cultural disintegration. As a collective we stand a much better chance to protect our culture and heritage, and divided we will fall.

There is a much bigger problem that Babirwa should be concerned about. Under the leadership of Kgosi Malema‘s grandfather the tribe had occupied one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and fertile land in the country. That land is no longer theirs, it is now freehold land owned by absentee landlords and others. Their access to the ever perennial waters of the Limpopo has since been restricted because the river is now privately owned by a few private land owners.

This is so because the tribe was forcibly removed from their ancestral land in the 1920s and settled in a barren land belonging to the Bamangwato tribe. The place is prone to draught and deprivations, hardly suitable for pastoral or crop farming due to its extreme weather patterns. The feuding chiefs would in all honesty do well to redirect their energies towards assisting their communities to revive the Mmamagwa heritage. And, they should know, they can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs!

*Abel Modimo Mmapetla is a resident of Gobojango

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