Tendai Chara
\nHordes of people could be seen milling around Zihute Hall, an old but well-maintained white building at Murehwa Centre in Mashonaland East province. Among those present were people of all ages and mothers with babies strapped on their backs. Sitting in groups, both the young and the old chatted and joked whilst others sat silently, deeply absorbed in thought.

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A newcomer would be forgiven for concluding that the hall is a venue for either a major registration exercise, a church gathering or a political rally.

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One-by-one, those in attendance were politely ushered into a small, well-lit room by a smartly dressed man. Inside the room, five elderly men and two women sat imposingly behind a huge, well-decorated table. The occupants of the “high table” were clearly excited and looking forward to the day’s proceedings.

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Welcome to Chief Zihute’s traditional court, where a mixed bag of civil problems are solved in a modern, dignified and amicable way.
\nUnlike other traditional court hearings that are held under the shade of trees or in makeshift shelters, Chief Zihute’s court resembles a modern courtroom.

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A tall, imposing man with grey hair, Chief Zihute (Mr Innocent Mangwende) serves as the presiding officer. Working closely with a panel of four elderly assessors, a clerk of court, a messenger and a security detail, the panel collectively hears, deliberates and comes up with solutions to the diverse problems that are brought before the court.

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Family disputes, misunderstandings between neighbours, marital problems and at times bizarre cases are brought before this court. Like an oasis, people from as far afield as Harare, Shamva and Mutoko, among other areas, troop to Chief Zihute’s court either as complainants, defendants or as witnesses.

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In most of the cases, sentences will involve defendants making restitution whilst in some instances, the feuding parties end up apologising and shaking hands. However, this does not mean that only “soft” cases are brought before the Chief Zihute’s court.

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Bizarre cases, such as that of a Murehwa man who was caught red-handed in a lewd sexual act at a neighbour’s house in a suspected case of juju, are occasionally brought before this court.

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Once the panel concludes that a particular case has some criminal elements, suspects may end up at the nearby Murehwa police station.
\nLast week, The Sunday Mail Extra travelled to Murehwa Centre and spent the whole day observing the court’s proceedings.

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By 8 am, a huge crowd had gathered and everything was set. Kicking off, Mr George Matongorere, the messenger of court, ushered a youthful couple into the tiny courtroom, facing the presiding officer and his panel of assessors.

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After “greeting” the chief by paying $5, the clerk of court, who was conducting his duties as if he was an experienced state prosecutor, read out the case’s outline.

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In this case, a Mr Zinyuke had brought his son-in law before the courts, demanding that he pay lobola after divorcing his daughter.
\nWhat followed were deliberations that were pregnant with bouts of laughter as the divorced couple described in detail how they met, became intimate for the first time and the events leading to their divorce.

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Intelligently analysing every detail and further probing, the panel managed to dissect the issues at hand.
\nCourtesy of the panel’s wisdom, experience and impartiality, the divorced couple ironed out their differences and reconciled before the court, much to the joy of those present.

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Next on the clerk’s list was a land boundary dispute involving members of the Bute family, which was again resolved amicably.
\nCourt proceedings came to a standstill when the strange case that is related to juju was introduced. When Mr John Madzima’s name was called, almost everyone present jumped to their feet as they wanted to get a glimpse of the man who had admitted to performing juju on a neighbour’s wife.

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Having been caught performing a juju act called “gondwe”, in which a man supposedly performs sexual acts with a woman without the her knowledge, Madzima had pleaded guilty during the previous court appearance.

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This time Madzima had brought the cow that he had been ordered by the same court to give to the husband of the wife that he had “abused”.
\nMr Mutandiri was not happy with his former in-laws, who were demanding more than $10 000 for lobola despite the fact that the couple are no longer staying together as husband and wife.

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“These people think that I am a bank. All they want is my money. My former wife left me in a financial mess after she borrowed a lot of money without my consent. She even went to stay with a boyfriend in Mutare for three weeks and you want to force me to pay lobola for such a person,” a furious Mr Mutandiri bellowed.

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Chief Zihute was not amused.
\n“This is not a kangaroo court. You cannot just shout what you want. Who gave you the permission to speak?”, an infuriated Chief Zihute asked.
\nA defiant Mr Mutandiri refused to apologise to the chief for the outburst, resulting in the chief instructing his security details to accompany Mr Mutandiri to the local police station where he wanted him to face a contempt of court charge.

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But the drama did not end there, the warring parties were referred by the police back to the chief’s court.
\nIn the end, the chief asked Mr Mutandiri to come back to the court on October 2 and pay an amount that he can afford.
\nBy the time the court made its ruling, it was almost 6pm, bringing to an end another eventful day at Chief Zihute’s court.