'Women can be chiefs'

Publication Type:

Newspaper Article


Eric Naki


Sowetan (2008)




chieftancy, Constitutional Court, Customary Law, Limpopo, Patriarchy, tradition


In a judgment hailed as a victory for gender equality and recognition of women in traditional leadership, a Limpopo woman has won the right to succeed her late father as Hosi (chief).<br /><br />The Constitutional Court yesterday ruled that Tinyiko Nwamitwa- Shilubana’s appointment to succeed her father as Hosi of the Valoyi tribe near Tzaneen is legal.<br /><br />Her father, Hosi Fofoza Nwamitwa, died in 1968 without a male heir. At the time, the customary law did not permit a woman to become a Hosi.<br /><br />Instead, her place was taken by her uncle, the late chief’s brother, Richard Nwamitwa.<br /><br />Between 1996 and 1997, the tribe reversed the arrangement and passed progressive resolutions to restore the chieftaincy to Hosi Fofoza Nwamitwa’s house and decided Nwamitwa-Shilubana should take over from Richard.<br /><br />The succession was approved by the Limpopo provincial government. But matters came to a head when he died in 2001.<br /><br />Richard’s son, Sidwell Nwamitwa, successfully sought an interdict to stop Nwamitwa-Shilubana being installed as a successor.<br /><br />The Pretoria high court, together with the Appeal Court, ruled in his favour.<br /><br />In a ground-breaking decision, Judge Johann van der Westhuizen said both the high and Appeal courts failed to acknowledge the power of the traditional authorities to develop customary law.<br /><br />Van der Westhuizen said the Constitution required courts to respect this.<br /><br />Nwamitwa, through his adviser Ishmael Risiva, described the judgment as a disaster to African culture and traditions.<br /><br />“It means we will have to vote for a Hosi. We don’t know how this will be done – whether traditionally or democratically.”<br /><br />Nwamitwa-Shilubana was not in court to hear the judgment.