The true Vhavenda king or queen is yet to be born, royal house says

The Mphephu Ramabulana Royal House has confirmed that it is toying with the notion of finding a “candle wife” to bear their next king for the Vhavenda nation.

This comes in the midst of the legal battle between the ousted king, Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, and his niece, the pretender to the throne, Masindi Clementine Mphephu Ramabulana. The legal tussle has left the Vhavenda nation without a king since Toni was dethroned about six years ago.

In Venda culture, a king or queen cannot be borne by a musiwana (a commoner), effectively barring Toni and Masindi from ascending the throne. With no suitable candidate to lead the nation, the royal council is now contemplating finding the candle wife to birth a legitimate traditional leader for the Vhavenda nation.

Known as “mufumakadzi wa dzekiso” in Tshivenda, the candle wife is an old practice in many cultures in Africa. It’s when a nation selects a woman with the sole purpose of producing an heir, a male in most cultures.But the debate on who should be the candle wife and the prince who should sire a king or queen in Venda was deferred as the legal battles resumed in the Limpopo high court sitting in Polokwane earlier this week.

Ntsieni Ramabulana, the spokesperson for the royal house, said that in light of the absence of a legitimate heir to the throne, the traditional council will eventually debate and choose the candle wife who will bear the legitimate heir.

Speaking to Sunday World this week, Ntsieni said the pursuit of a candle wife is now inevitable: “We are faced with a dilemma here. We are at a crossroads where it is difficult to choose the legitimate heir.

“Our throne has been vacant for quite some time, and we need to fill that vacancy. It is not going to be an easy route to traverse, but we will have to find the perfect solution, and that solution is the candle wife. We don’t have the identity of the woman as yet, but we have particular clans with whom we share our royal blood. Once that woman is identified, we will, from our side, select the right person to sire the next ruler of our kingdom,” Ntsieni said.

Masindi’s legal counsel, Advocate Alon Dodson said if the courts cannot decide on the legitimacy of the king, customary law should shed some light.

“The idea of selecting a candle wife could be a proper way to settle this long-standing dispute.

This could take many years, but at the moment, a leader is urgently needed to lead all the traditional councils within the villages that fall under the Vhavenda kingship,” he said.

Meanwhile, a faction of the Ravhura royal family, made a last-minute application in the same court on Monday, claiming to be the legitimate family to rule the Vhavenda nation.

During their brief application, they did not divulge the identity of their candidate.

However, Judge President George Phatudi dismissed their application with costs. Phatudi denounced the ill-preparedness of the legal counsel representing the Ravhura faction, citing that their case had no legal standing.

Ntsieni said the royal house did not recognise the Ravhura family and that their intentions to cause further tensions were unacceptable. “From the outset, it was clear that their intentions were frivolous and time wasting. It was a half-baked story that no one could listen to.”

The Vhavenda kingship squabbles started in 2012, just after the decision by former President Jacob Zuma to recognise Toni as the new king.

The same year, Masindi launched a review application in the high court in Limpopo.

When Masindi first approached the court in 2012, her application was dismissed, prompting her legal team to take the matter on appeal.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein overturned the Limpopo high court’s decision and emphasised that the royal family had an obligation to reform traditional practices that promoted gender discrimination.

The matter was referred back to the high court and the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders was ordered to provide input to the court.

Masindi also wanted the SCA to declare invalid the customary law rule of male primogeniture in traditional leadership. The case then made its way to the Constitutional Court, where Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana, again suffered a devastating defeat. The apex court not only ruled against him but also entertained an application to strip him of all his powers, benefits and salary, believed to be in the region of R1.2-million per year.

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