Even though the Supreme Court issued a judgment ordering that the late Victor Shabangu be buried at his father’s homestead and not the home he had built for himself, his mother does not believe he is resting. She says her son was emphatic that he wanted to be buried in the homestead he had built himself. However, the Supreme Court let patriarchy override the word of a woman desperate to fulfil the wishes of a son she had brought up on her own, writes NIMROD MABUZA.
All that Joyce Nsibandze wants is the body of her eldest child, whom she claims to have raised single-handedly, so he can be buried at the place he had chosen. Nsibandze is the mother of late sports administrator, Victor Musawenkhosi Shabangu, who collapsed and died in Manzini in June 2018. Burying her son in the right place, as per his wishes, would bring her the closure she so desperately needs.
“He deserves to rest in eternal peace in Paradise,” she said.
When the Supreme Court handed the burial rights over to Shabangu’s father, Pitoli, after his corpse had been lying in the morgue for 19 months, Shabangu’s mother was devastated. Shabangu was buried at Moneni in March last year following a court wrangle over his burial. His mother, joined by Shabangu’s disputed third wife, fought for his burial at Ngculwini where he had built his homestead. His father, joined by his estranged first wife, wanted to bury him at Moneni, Manzini his father’s home.
The dispute dragged for an entire 19 months. Because of the delays in the mearing of the matter, Nsibandze reported the dispute to the Human Rights Commission but that did not help. During that time, Nsibandze’s lawyer from Robinson Bertram law firm withdrew from the case.
In a letter dated December 17, 2019, the lawyer wrote: “It is with a heavy heart that I have taken the decision to withdraw from representing yourself from the matter. I have given a thought a number of times to this matter and I finally came up to a decision to withdraw not because of yourselves, but for personal reasons.”
Nsibandze feels hard-done by the justice system of this kingdom. A year after her son was buried, she is battling to come to terms with the fact that the courts decided not only against her wishes but also her son’s that he be buried at his home at Ngculwini outside Manzini.
“My wish right now is to have my son’s body exhumed to be buried at his home where he had wished to be buried. What’s sad is that I cannot even visit his grave whenever I choose to because it is situated at another man’s home,” she said.
Shabangu had khontaed in terms of Swazi law and custom at Ngculwini under Chief Mgebiseni Dlamini. He had aptly named his home Paradise. As he was sickly with a heart condition he, according to his ‘wife’ Xolile Zwane-Shabangu, and mother Joyce, had chosen a spot next to the main kraal where he wished to be buried. According to his mother, Shabangu had reiterated his wish to be buried at Paradise a few days before his death.
She said he had come to her home at ka-Khoza for a visit and did not find her but her cousin, Joyce Dlamini. Shabangu, according to Dlamini, had told her about his failing health and insisted on his wish to be buried at his home. Shabangu was born in Manzini in an out of marriage relationship to Nsibandze and Pitoli. He grew up in Manzini where he stayed with his mother at ka-Khoza.
“I brought him up single-handedly. When at primary school, I had secured a temporary job for him at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Land Development section which he performed on weekends and during the holidays.
“He later decided to go and stay with his father who was working for Swaziland Railway at Sidvokodvo,” she said.
“On his own, he later returned to me when he was doing Form III. He could not get his results because of unpaid fees. My relative and I settled the owed amount and he stayed with me until he finished schooling,” she said.
He later enrolled at the Swaziland College of Technology, as it then was, before moving to South Africa to pursue a course on sports administration. When he started working, he built himself a small one-room flat at his mother’s home. It was his mother who insisted that he should look for a place to outside ka-Khoza where he can set-up a proper home. He married his first wife, Nomvuyo Patience Kunene by Swazi law and custom. The event was held at ka-Khoza, his mother’s home.
The marriage later collapsed and Nomvuyo tried on about two occasions to have the marriage nullified, as it is so stated in the Supreme Court judgment. The courts refused to grant her wish. She tried the Swazi way and returned the cow Shabangu had paid for her hand in marriage.
Shabangu later married Khanyisile Mdluli. The event also took place at ka-Khoza. Again, that marriage collapsed and Shabangu moved on to marry his third wife, Xolile. This contentious marriage took place at his new home, Paradise in Ngculwini.
It was through an acquaintance that he got land at Ngculwini and he informed his mother about this development. This was around 2005. She offered to assist him pay the cow for kukhonta at the chiefdom.
Traditional protocols out of the way, Shabangu began building his home and soon moved in with his new wife. When he died in 2018, he was still developing his home. At the time of his death he was employed by the University of eSwatini and stayed at Paradise.
He could never have known that on his death, his homestead would be at the centre of a dispute of chaotic proportions. He would not have known too that his corpse would be at the centre of a dispute between his parents.
Finally, the courts granted burial rights to his father and Nomvuyo, his first wife. The Supreme Court held that there was inconclusive proof that Xolile was married to Shabangu.
Said the Supreme Court: “Therefore, it is my humble view that it was quite a jump by the High Court to go beyond finding that the Appellant has failed to advance adequate evidence that she was married to the deceased and conclude as a matter of fact that she was not married to the deceased.
“This, moreso because some of the issues in this regard related to siSwati Law and Custom that has to be proved by views of experts on such matters.
“Therefore, the appeal partially succeeds in this regard. Appellant merely failed to discharge the legal onus to prove that she was married to the deceased.”
In its finding on the status of Shabangu’s third wife, the High Court had dismissed the evidence of traditional authorities of Ngculwini and rejected a letter from the umphakatisi confirming the marriage.
It also rejected evidence of Mdluli’s uncle on the marriage.
The court had relied on the evidence of one Betty Maphalala, a member of the Ngculwini community police, who identified herself as the Chief Justice of the area because she claimed nothing takes place in the area without her knowledge.
In its judgment, the High Court described her as a community representative. Maphalala’s homestead at Ngculwini is situated at a hill overlooking the home of Shabangu.
She could be described as a neighbour to the Shabangu home but not the only one. There are other homesteads far nearer the Shabangu homestead.
Maphalala is from eKwendzeni in the Shiselweni region. And perhaps she fell in love with the idea that the kingdom’s CJ is a Maphalala as she prefers to be known as the chief justice of Ngculwini.
When confronted in an interview about the CJ tag, she just shrugged it off and said “oh that! It’s nothing.”
How did she become a witness in the case?
“I don’t know how Pitoli got to know about me. I received a call from him requesting to meet me. Don’t ask me how he got to know my number because I don’t know.
“Pitoli came here and took me and another community police woman to an office in Manzini where we signed papers. I was told I’ll be a witness in a case,” she said before turning hostile.
She was later to accompany Pitoli’s grandchildren, born from Nomvuyo and Victor, to the umphakatsi and met Chief Mgebiseni where they sought permission to evict their alleged father’s girlfriend.
They had travelled all the way from Maseyisini, Shiselweni region.
After winning burial rights, Pitoli wanted more. He invaded the Shabangu homestead and sought to evict Xolile, the third wife to his son.
He was stopped by police and the umphakatsi wrote a letter dissociating itself from the invasion.
A court order was later issued stopping the invasion.