Inside Chief Seke’s court

The Sunday Mail

Sharon Munjenjema

Sitting in Chief Seke’s court room recently, one was compelled to empathise with the protagonist, Oliver Kaseke, as he narrated how his son-in-law unceremoniously “dumped” his sick daughter and took another wife.

“He took my daughter as wife in 2009 and had two children with her but did not give me my lobola. When she fell sick, he took off. Now he has taken another wife, no-one does that unless they have money so I want my lobola.,” Kaseke told the court.

Kaseke approached Chief Seke’s traditional court reporting his estranged son-in-law for the bride-price which is 10 years over-due.

As he recounted the events that led to this day, Kaseke was visibly dejected. His voice shook, pregnant with emotions of a father who feels for his child.

The court sat in silence listening to the man narrating how his daughter fell sick and was diagnosed with meningitis, at some point during the course of her marriage.

“She was bedridden and incapacitated, so when she was discharged she came back to her natal home. After that, her husband never visited or inquired about her.

“Instead he brought the remainder of her clothes and then declared he no longer loved my daughter. The way he treated my daughter pains me,” Kaseke told the court, amid murmurs of sympathy from the audience.

The story turned out to be not so black-and-white when Tafadzwa Sewa, the accused son-in-law, began giving his side of the story, much to the discomfit of the unofficial jury who had already passed a judgement against him.

Sewa did not dispute any of Kaseke’s allegations, but said he had “reasons”.

“I do not dispute that I never paid him lobola, I am a poor man and my father-in-law has always known.

“Last year, our youngest child fell sick, and had to be admitted so the hospital staff said my ex-wife had to stay with the child in hospital. While she was there for a few days, I was informed my wife had fallen sick too,” Sewa told the court.

He narrated how he spoke to his wife on the phone and she asked him to bring her “stuff” which was wrapped in a plastic bag and hidden in some corner of the wardrobe.

Sewa said he suspected it was “female things” and never bothered to check the contents of the plastic bag.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Sewa learnt, with shock, that the package he had brought contained anti-retroviral drugs.

“The nurses told me my wife had been on ARV’s since she was pregnant with our last child, but she never told me.

“I do not dispute that I did not pay lobola, but I don’t want her back. What she did to me is a criminal offence, she should actually be arrested,” Sewa told the court.

Tension lingered in the atmosphere, as the court awaited judgement, after witnessing a sudden twist of events no one had anticipated.

Chief Seke, born Stanely Chimanikire, concluded the matter ordering Sewa to come back to the court next month with $100 as initial payment of the three cows and three goats his ex-father-in-law had demanded as lobola.

The chief made no ruling on Sewa’s allegations against his former wife, but restricted his judgement to the case that had been reported and for which the court had convened.

Speaking after the court session, Chief Seke said his court only tries civil cases.

“We handle civil cases. I analyse the case during court proceedings and only then am I able to determine that this is now criminal. In some cases, we then perform what is called citizen arrest, we apprehend the perpetrators and take them to authorities,” he said.

He said people who have been wronged come directly to his court and report their matter to the court secretary. A summons is written and taken to the accused by the messenger of the court.

“They sign it to acknowledge receipt. If the accused does not show up, the law allows us to preside over that case in his/her absence. In those circumstances the accused is usually found guilty because he was not around to defend himself. But in my court I try to encourage the complainant to give the accused a second chance to come to court and defend themselves,” Chief Seke said.

Traditional courts are provided for under the Traditional Leaders’ Act as well as the Customary Law and Local Courts Act.

These Acts give chiefs and headmen the mandate to preside over traditional courts. Fines are charged in the form of livestock.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretary, Mr Walter Chikwana, said efforts are being made to strengthen traditional courts.

“We work with Legal Resources Foundation, a non-governmental organisation. It has come up with a training manual for traditional chiefs in consultation with the JSC. We go round the country to train presiding officers of traditional courts, imparting skills on how to preside over matters.

“We also hold meetings at resident magistrates’ level to assist chiefs where challenges have been cited in arbitrating cases. We have good relationships with the council of chiefs, we give them support even in terms of stationery,” he said.

In a separate interview, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Honourable Ziyambi Ziyambi said Government is committed to capacitating traditional courts as part of efforts to achieve a world class justice system by the year 2030.