The Sunday Mail
Despite the fact that it was raining heavily, scores of people milled around a rusty, old shack.
A group of mostly elderly men occupied a bench at the front and chatted, joked and laughed. Others stood silently, seemingly absorbed in deep thought.
Welcome to Chief Chipuriro’s traditional courtroom where civil cases are dealt with.
A fortnight ago, The Sunday Mail Extra travelled to Museka Village, Guruve and observed the traditional court’s proceedings. This paper was particularly interested in a case involving the feuding Munyoro and Chokuinga families.
For more than 20 years, the families have been at loggerheads as they fought bitterly for ownership of cattle left by the late Kenny Magura Munyoro.
A soap opera of some sort, the case has had interesting twists and turn, keeping those that attend the traditional court captivated.
Two chiefs – Bepura and Chipuriro – have seemingly failed to find a solution to this case, which has many plots and sub-plots. Apart from the drama, the case also brings into perspective the relevance of sahwiras in modern society. Sahwira is a Shona word that translates to closest friend, or friend for life.
Since the case has an element of fraud, it also puts into the picture the debate on how customary laws can be best be aligned with English Law.
Traditionally, a family’s sahwira has the responsibility of helping out upon the death of one of their members. Sahwiras prepare the body for burial and take leading roles at funerals. A sahwira acts as a trusted counsellor and should be able to offer advice without fear or favour.
In the case which was heard by Chief Chipuriro, Clever Chokuinga – a sahwira of the Munyoro family – is accused of failing to return cattle he had been entrusted to keep by the late Kenny Magura Munyoro who died in 1996.
Before his death, Kenny Munyoro had reportedly entrusted Chokuinga with eight cattle and several other items, among them building materials.
Chokuinga allegedly did not declare and return the cattle upon Munyoro’s death. This has precipitated the grueling 20-year wrangle over the ownership of the cattle.
Although both parties agree that the deceased left the eight cattle in Chokuinga’s custody, they differ on the number of cattle that Chokuinga must get as payment for his custodianship.
Chokuinga is also accused of theft after he allegedly changed the ownership of the cattle into his name.
According to presentations made during court proceedings, Chokuinga initially refused to hand over the cattle and was violent each time he was approached by the Munyoro family.
In a ruling that puts into perspective the alignment of customary and English law, Chief Bepura ruled that Chokuinga had committed fraud and should have been arrested.
However, after considering the fact that the two families were at one time the closest of friends, the traditional leader elected to take the reconciliatory role and advised the warring parties to go for an out-of-court settlement.
As a result of the chief’s intervention, Chokuinga surrendered 15 cattle and everyone thought the case had finally come to an end.
However, in a sudden twist, Chokuinga then approached another traditional leader, Chief Chipuriro demanding that the Munyoro family pay him 12 cattle as payment for keeping their cattle.
The case was heard several times and in the recent proceedings, the parties were given a last opportunity to amicably solve the differences.
“This case has some elements of fraud. The accused illegally changed the ownership of the cattle and this is theft. However, since the families are not only neighbours but former close friends, this court will give them the last chance for them to sit down and iron out their differences,” ruled Chief Chipuriro.
Jonah Munyoro, son of the deceased, was happy with the ruling.
“Justice has been done. What is left is for Chokuinga to return the remaining cattle. I don’t want him to go to jail, all I need is the cattle,” Munyoro, who shed tears of joy in court, said.
The accused has, however, failed to come in the open and declare the number of cattle that belong to the Munyoro family. He claimed that the Munyoro family still owes him.
“Everyone knows that I looked after the cattle for 20 years. It will only be fair if I get my dues. I will, however, sit down with my family and see how best we can go about this case,” Chokuinga said.
Meanwhile, in another hearing, as Munyoro was rejoicing as a result of the ruling, Kezino Mutsauki, who was fined three beasts for adultery, was a bitter man.
“I never defended myself and the man who is accusing me is the chief’s relative. There was an element of bias in this case. I will definitely approach the civil courts,” a clearly dejected Mutsauki said.
Mutsauki and a number of the chiefs’ subjects who spoke on condition of anonymity accused the chief of taking bribes and intimidating his subjects.
“Most cases are decided in beerhalls and then rubberstamped at the courts. The chief intimidates his subjects by threatening them with unspecified actions,” Mutsauki boldly claimed.
When asked to comment on the allegations, Chief Chipuriro instead directed a tirade at this reporter.
“Who brought you here? This is my court and no-one can challenge my decisions,” a fuming Chief Chipuriro said.