Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
GOVERNMENT has come up with a training programme for traditional leaders aimed at equipping them with knowledge on the country’s laws as part of measures to help stem the prevalence of cases where magistrate’s courts overrule their judgments.
The issue of traditional leaders’ judgments being “undermined” by magistrate courts was one of the topical issues during the ongoing 2023 National Chiefs Council Conference in Bulawayo yesterday.
President Mnangagwa is today expected to address traditional leaders comprising chiefs and headmen.
Over 800 delegates are participating in the conference which seeks to address some of the challenges affecting the operations of traditional leaders. Members of the Provincial Chiefs Council took turns to present some of the challenges affecting their areas of jurisdiction with the issue of improving conditions of service for traditional leaders taking centre stage.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Ms Virginia Mabiza said Government has introduced training for chiefs so that they are able to understand the country’s laws.
This follows a series of cases where chiefs’ judgments have been overturned by the magistrate courts on appeal.
“To address this problem, we need to comply with the country’s laws. If a magistrate quashes a chief’s judgment, most of the times they will be saying there is something that would have gone wrong in that particular ruling by the chief,” said Mrs Mabiza.
“It can be a small matter, but our courts are guided by the law. To address this problem, we think it is important for chiefs to get training on legal matters.”
Mrs Mabiza said there is a programme in the judicial system to train traditional leaders about aspects of various laws that affect their operations.
“As I wrap up this issue relating to quashing of chiefs’ judgments, I want to make it clear that there are some magistrates who sometimes wrongly quash judgments made by the chiefs. This training does not cover chiefs only, but magistrates as well,” she said.
Mrs Mabiza said magistrates’ courts reserve the right to assess judgments made by chiefs when an appeal has been made as it is part of the hierarchical nature of the country’s courts.
“The Constitution recognises traditional chiefs as part of the judiciary system. Our courts are hierarchical in nature starting with the highest Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, High Court, Administrative Court, Magistrate Court, and the Customary Law and Primary Court which is manned by our traditional leaders,” she said.
“So, this allows for checks and balances within the judiciary system where decisions that are made in one court can be taken to another court. I’m trying to respond to the question that decisions made in chiefs’ courts are quashed by magistrates if there is an appeal.”
Mrs Mabiza she said it is important for chiefs to understand the law and singled out the Marriages Act which now incorporates chiefs as marriage officers.
She said failure to understand the law is likely to render marriages solemnised by chiefs null and void.
National Chief’s Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira said the traditional leaders are concerned with the issue of courts overriding their decisions.
He said in some instances, chiefs are criminally charged for the decisions they would have made in the customary courts.
“We have always had discussions on how courts are handling chiefs’ judgments. I have engaged previous chief magistrates on the matter, but it seems the magistrates do not seem to understand,” said Chief Charumbira.
“We have incidents where chiefs are being brought before the courts for judgments that they would have made. In some instances, after presiding over a case, chiefs are summoned to become witnesses in cases.”
Chief Charumbira said last year, he quizzed the Judiciary Service Commission when it appeared before Parliament on why it did not budget for the training of chiefs.
“In the entire budget, there is zero budget for that. So how are you going to fund the process since this is not budgeted for,” he quizzed.
Meanwhile, Chief Charumbira said traditional leaders are grateful to the Second Republic under the stewardship of President Mnangagwa for providing medical aid cover for chiefs.
He commended the Government for also ensuring the successful hosting of the Annual National Chiefs Council conference.
“It costs millions of dollars for us to meet here and we must make sure that we produce tangible things during this meeting,” said Chief Charumbira.
Chiefs also spoke about the need for the provision of drugs in local clinics and the rehabilitation of roads among other social amenities.
They also appealed to Government to provide them with cars as well as increase their allowances including introducing bonuses. – @nqotshili