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About Gomani V, Ngoni history, customs

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There must be many people in Malawi who have been surprised with the palace coup d’etat in the Maseko Ngoni paramount chiefdom. We are told Gomani V has not been respecting other royal members of the family and that is why they have removed him from the throne. At the time of writing this article, it is not quite clear yet whether this action is widely accepted by the people of Ntcheu — Gomani’s subjects.

I have been interested in the Gomani chieftaincy for many years both for historical and patriotic reasons. During schooldays I read that Gomani I had been murdered by a military detachment sent by the Governor in Zomba for refusing to surrender his chiefdom to the Nyasaland Protectorate. In the colonial history books written that time, it was said Gomani I was unpopular with his people and when commanded to travel to Zomba for trial he had refused and that is why the army shot him dead.

Gomani’s elder son, Philip Zintonga Maseko, took over the chieftaincy in 1921 as Inkosi Gomani II and was widely respected — not only by his own people — but other chiefs as well. Lord Hailey, author of the monumental volume ‘African Survey’ followed this book with a smaller volume that dealt with ‘African Native Authorities’ throughout Africa. In Nyasaland, Hailey credited Inkosi Gomani II as model of a competent native authority.

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The prestige and popularity of Chief Gomani II shot up in 1953 as a result of his patriotic gesture. It had been decided at a joint meeting of the Nyasaland African Congress and Nyasaland Chiefs Union to stage a countrywide satyagraha (defiance campaigns) against the impending federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Gomani II made the first move by sending circulars throughout the chiefdom ordering his people to stop paying taxes and ignore the oppressive agriculture and forestry rules.

The Governor sent soldiers to Lizulu, arrested Gomani and brought him to Zomba prison. Because he was in poor health, the Governor, on the advice of doctors, decided not to put him on trial. But he was detained in Blantyre and died there, exiled from Enkosini — his royal home.

Because of the high respect the people had for the Maseko paramount, on July 6, 1958 when Dr. Kamuzu Banda arrived from Britain, they chose the widow of Gomani II, Isika Gomani, to drape Dr. Banda with a leopard’s skin.

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In the early 1970’s, I decided to write a series of biographies under the common title of ‘Malawians to remember’. The first title to come out was that of Inkosi Gomani II followed by those of James Sangala, Dunduzu Chisiza and so on.

The Maseko Ngoni of Ntcheu, like the Mazongedaba Ngoni of Mzimba, are descended from the Swazi and Zulu people of South Africa. The common name of the Swazi and Zulu is Nguni from which the name Ngoni is derived. A Ngoni chief passes his throne to his son when he dies. Where the chief has many wives, one of them is appointed as an Inkosikazi and the mother of the crown prince or heir apparent. The crown prince’s succession is automatic unless not only his relatives but also Amakhosi’s abanumzana (nobles) declare him unfit for the high office.

A Ngoni paramount chief is highly dignified and powerful. It is not usual that a member of the royal family can remove him from office in the manner an employer can remove an unsatisfactory employee. It would require the concurrence of an indaba before the ruler of the tribe is deposed constitutionally.

Besides, during this dramatic era we would insist that rules of natural justice ought to be observed. One of these rules states in Latin ‘audi alteram partem’ (hear the other side). In other words the accused should be heard. The other rule says no one may be judge in his own cause. In other words the accuser, such as a policeman, cannot try the accused. The case must be heard by a third party — an impartial person.

In this case, the appearance of Gomani V and his aunt Mrs. Malinki before the royal family members would not satisfy the tenets of natural justice. It would be necessary to have an indaba, a meeting of tribal elders, before whom the royal family members would give their reasons for wishing to depose Gomani V and Gomani V would be given the chance to say something in self defence.

In olden days, the action taken by the royal family members would probably lead to a civil war. In 1892, Chief Kachindamoto refused to acknowledge the succession of Gomani I to the throne of Chief Kachindamoto Chikuse. Civil war broke up and lasted till 1894 when the government in Zomba intervened. By the time Kachindamoto had been driven off Dedza plateau. At the same time another member of the Maseko family, Bvumbwe, left with his people and settled in Thyolo District.

The Ministry of Local Government should see to it that the royal conflict in Ntcheu does not disrupt peace and development.

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