Land & Custom

Customary law is an established system of immemorial rules [...] evolved from the way of life and natural wants of the people, the general context of which was a matter of common knowledge, coupled with precedents applying to special cases, which were retained in the memories of the chief and his councilors, their sons and their sons' sons until forgotten, or until they became part of the immemorial rules. [Bekker, 1989] 

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Citing outdated colonial attitudes, Zambia's Con Court dumps laws on chiefs

Contemporary Zambian laws allowing the President to regulate traditional chiefly appointments have been declared unconstitutional. The laws, based on colonial-era ordinances, were tested when a prominent traditional leader disputed the President’s power to legitimise a chief’s appointment through ‘recognition’. The court found that these presidential powers infringed the amended constitution saying ‘no law’ could allow anyone the right to ‘recognise or withdraw the recognition of a chief’.

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Is it possible for the institution of chieftaincy and its associated traditions to fit comfortably under a system of democratic constitutionalism? Many African countries are working out how the two can coexist. One of the most recent examples comes from Zambia where three judges of the constitutional court have just had to resolve something of a conundrum.

Recognition of customary Marriages Amendment Bill, 2019

The South African government is amending the law concerning customary marriages to bring it in line with constitutional jurisprudence. On 24 July 2019, Cabinet approved the submission of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Amendment Bill of 2019 to Parliament.  The Bill is currently under consideration by the National Assembly. Fasken candidate attorney Mr. Selby Mathebula writes about these changes.

On 24 July 2019, Cabinet approved the submission of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Amendment Bill of 2019 to Parliament.  The Bill is currently under consideration by the National Assembly.

Husband's right to ‘rule over his wife’ – it's gone!

Women’s month may be over for 2019, but there is one new judgment that cannot be left out of consideration. It comes from Eswatini where a full bench of the high court - Principal Judge Qinqisele Mabuza with Judges Titus Mlangeni and N J Hlophe – has handed down a hugely significant decision: it delivers women from the power a husband has had to ‘rule over his wife’.

 

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This is a case with enormous implications for Eswatini women: three judges have spelled out the implications of the constitutional guarantee to equal treatment before the law. And they have definitively ruled that the common law doctrine of marital power discriminates against married women.

Among others, the now discredited marital regime offended the right of married women to dignity and to equality.

Withdrew

Tiny, remote Namibian clan claims world renowed Etosha National Park as ancestral land

Perhaps they didn’t realise it, but when eight members of Namibia’s Hai||om people went to court for what they claimed was their traditional land, they raised a number of other burning socio-political issues as well. The Hai||om live in a remote northern area of Namibia, overlapping the pristine Etosha National Park, environmentally sensitive and a major world tourist attraction for the country. Could the eight litigants claim the entire park as ancestral land, acting in a representative capacity for all the Hai||om people?

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The eight applicants wanted the court to agree that they could represent the minority Hai||om people. That established, they wanted to claim the entire world-famous Etosha National Park – all 23,150 sq kms of it – together with other significant tracts of land. They said this was their ancestral land, and they were being prevented from using it. Failing return of the land, they wanted compensation in land or money.

Uganda’s courts ‘too westernized to handle cultural, customary issues’ – high court judge

Prominent Ugandan high court judge Ssekaana Musa has told litigants in dispute over traditional leadership that they should ‘always’ refer such quarrels ‘to the King or traditional or cultural leaders’. Judge Musa was considering two disputes about traditional leadership positions. He said that courts should discourage ‘petty issues’ like who was the rightful heir, family head or chief prince, from being ‘dragged to court’. These matters would be better dealt with by the established mechanism of a particular community, he said.

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Judge Ssekaana Musa heard two related applications involving the Kabaka (King) of Buganda and dismissed them both earlier this month.

Wife "charged" 15 cows by traditional court after husband commits suicide

A woman whose husband committed suicide after he assaulted her and she laid a complaint with the police, has been “charged” by a traditional court in Namibia for causing her husband’s death. The woman, Kathova Shiputa, was told she should not have gone to their joint home where she had found her husband in bed with another woman, and that she should not have complained to the police after her husband threatened her with a knife.

Kathova Shiputa can’t afford to lose 15 cows. Her husband, Mukwangu Haingura Mikwangu recently committed suicide and now she is the sole parent of their four-year-old child and a second child due in October. But she has been “sentenced” by a Namibian traditional court to hand over those precious cattle as punishment for the “crime” of causing her husband to kill himself.

Eviction from communal land only by chief or traditional authority - court

A small-scale farmer in the far north of Namibia wanted to evict his cousin from the same piece of land because the cousin was ignoring conditions aimed at protecting the highly-sensitive veld. But Judge Shafimana Ueitele found that the land occupation right did not give exclusivity – or the right to evict anyone from the land. Instead, that right belongs to the local chief or traditional authority.  

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When part-time farmer, Matti Toivo Ndevahoma, allowed his counsin, Vilho Shimwooshili, to occupy customary land in the northern Namibia area of Eengolo-Ondjiina, he set what may seem to readers like perfectly reasonably conditions, particularly in such an ecologically sensitive area.

Ghana’s Supreme Court orders chief’s name reinstated in national register of traditional leaders

With Ghana’s constitution limiting the role of the courts in certain matters related to traditional leadership, judges are not always sure of when they may intervene to right wrongs. But in the case of Nana Abor Yamoah II, and a dispute about his name being removed from the register of chiefs, the supreme court has made something very clear: there has to be justification for action like expunging names, the process has to be fair and involve a hearing, or else the courts would be entitled to intervene and impose their “supervisory authority”. 

Read judgment on GhaLII here

FOR commoners among readers, this is a particularly interesting decision. It trawls the arcane administrative processes required before a chief in Ghana is either “enstooled” or on the other hand, removed, “destooled or deskinned”.

Major precedent set for communities affected by mining

Constitutional Court judge quotes Fanon: to “strip someone of their source of livelihood, then you strip them of their dignity too”

On Thursday, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled in favour of communities arguing for a bigger say in mining decisions.

Members of the Lesetlheng community in North West were granted an appeal to an eviction notice that was previously approved by the North West High Court in 2017. It would have seen 13 families evicted from their farmland to make way for a mining project of Bakgatla Mineral Resources and Pilanesburg Platinum Mine (PPM).

Essentials of Akamba customary marriage

Customary Law – Akamba customary law – Akamba customary marriages – existence of Akamba customary marriages – when was Akamba customary law marriages deemed to be in existence – ntheo ceremony - whether a woman whose ntheo had not been paid could receive ntheo for her daughter

Jurisdiction - jurisdiction of Magistrates Court - burial disputes - whether the magistrate Courts had the jurisdiction to hear and determine burial disputes - Magistrate’s Court Act No. 26 of 2015 Section 7(3)(b)

Munyao Ndolo & 3 others v Mary Nduku Mutisya [2018] eKLR
HCCA No 134 of 2017
High Court at Makueni
C Kariuki, J
July 31, 2018
Reported by Safiya Awil Ibrahim

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