It had been clear to Lucas Mndandwe and the other Tribal Elders from the very outset that the District Commissioner had not fully comprehended all the implications and complications that surrounded the legal matter concerning Themba Chivuli's goats.
When the D.C. had first instructed the Elders that they must deliberate and reach a verdict (upon the matter of the goats) in the Traditional Court, they had graciously accepted the file of evidence.
They had studied it briefly, and then set it aside and quietly made their own enquiries.
And it had soon become apparent to them that in this particular case, confrontation with the secular authorities was to be expected, if not, indeed, inevitable.
As always in these tribal matters, the judgment of the Traditional Court would be submitted to the District Commissioner, who would review it before either accepting the verdict, or overriding it and re-submitting the case through more formal legal channels.
With quiet resignation, Lucas Mndandwe had sat with the other Elders while the D.C., speaking very slowly in the Shona dialect -- as if the Elders might experience some difficulty in grasping the significance of the details -- had laboriously listed the facts, which were as follows:
- Chunu Mudzi had reported the theft of nine goats from the dam where they were being tended by Mudzi's nephew, Siphas Jongwe.
- The young herd boy had told his uncle that the goats had been driven away by Themba Chivuli and two of his brothers, who had also administered a beating upon the unfortunate Siphas Jongwe when the youth had attempted to protect the goats. (There could be no separate prosecution for the assault upon Siphas Jongwe, the District Commissioner informed the Tribal Elders, because the extent of the beating and the degree of injuries sustained therefrom could not accurately be established. This, the D.C. explained, was due to a subsequent beating suffered by Siphas Jongwe at the hands of his uncle for having failed to protect the goats.)
- Seven of the goats -- still bearing the brand mark of Chunu Mudzi -- had been discovered at Themba Chivuli's hunting camp in the thick bushveld at the base of the Mavuradona Mountains, where Themba Chivuli's own nephew, Lovemore Ndindi, was guarding them.
- The skins of the other two goats (also bearing the brand mark of Chunu Mudzi) were found at Themba Chivuli's kraal, where they had been treated with coarse salt, and were drying in the sun.
- Themba Chivuli had made no attempt to establish that he had either bought the goats from, or been given them by, Chunu Mudzi, or any other person. This was so during the initial investigation by the young District Assistant (when Themba Chivuli and the D.A. had sat eating curried goat in Themba Chivuli's kraal) -- or during any subsequent interrogation.
"The facts ... " -- the District Commissioner had concluded -- " ... are plain and simple. You must consider them and make your recommendations in terms of the Tribal Authority vested in you by the Government of Rhodesia, in order that a verdict may be pronounced and sentence confirmed by the relevant competent court, in due course."
After two days of deliberations, and further inquiries and discussions, Lucas Mndandwe and the Elders had made an appointment to relay their verdict to the District Commissioner. After pleasantries demanded by custom and good manners, Lucas Mndandwe had delivered the findings of the Tribal Court.
"Themba Chivuli was not guilty of theft, but that he should return the remaining seven goats to Chunu Mudzi."
As Lucas Mndandwe had predicted, the D.C.'s reaction had been somewhat less than favourable. The white man's normally placid features had contorted, glowing suddenly much redder than was demanded even by recent exposure to the scorching African sun.
The verdict, he had announced angrily, was: "Inconsistent and contradictory."
The D.C. had again laboriously listed the facts of the case, and demanded that the Elders reconsider their verdict before " ... arriving at a decision that would not make a mockery of the Tribal Courts, which authority was bestowed upon them by Government of Rhodesia."
Lucas Mndandwe and the other Elders had retired with quiet dignity, and arranged to meet at Lucas Mndandwe's kraal the following afternoon.
They had taken a further five days to complete their renewed deliberations, although this extended period was not entirely necessary to consider the case in question.
After a very short discussion amongst themselves, it was decided that before any further deliberations would commence, four days should first be set aside, mutely to express the degree of their own dissatisfaction concerning the high-handed attitude of the District Commissioner.
A goat was slaughtered, and beer brewed. Much local business was conducted and satisfactorily concluded. In addition, details were finalised concerning the forthcoming marriage between Lucas Mndandwe's granddaughter and the youngest son of fellow Elder, Thomas Chikweta. Yes, the extra time had been put to good use, and the duly extended Government Daily Retainer Allowance would certainly go some way to relieve their general financial discomfort.
In the shade of a thorn tree outside the District Commissioner's offices in Mount Darwin, they sat smoking their pipes in silent contentment before the meeting at which they would convey their revised decision.
Lucas Mndandwe slowly surveyed each of the wise old faces of the Elders around him. He felt a deep contentment as he contemplated the ultimate justice of their amended verdict in the case of Themba Chivuli's goats.
The smoke from his own clay pipe was restful. The gently smouldering bowl contained a mixture of Drum tobacco purchased from the general store in Mount Darwin's dusty main street, with a few pinches of the sweetly pungent dagga leaves that had been cultivated at his kraal under the careful, but illegal, supervision of his senior wife, Tandile.
Lucas Mndandwe took another sip from the communal gourd of corn beer, and passed it on. The combination of alcohol and dagga had washed away his initial unease about the reception that their revised verdict would elicit from the District Commissioner.
In his heart he felt content that the final judgment reached by the Elders was the most equitable that had been available considering the constraints by which they had been bound.
Certainly, the nine goats in question had borne the brand of Chunu Mudzi. This fact had never been in question. Neither had it been contested that the missing goats had been discovered upon Themba Chivuli's land and in the care of Themba Chivuli's nephew. Nor, indeed, that the nephew was acting directly upon Themba Chivuli's instructions.
Further, it was common cause that Themba Chivuli had neither bought the goats from his accuser, nor offered him any compensation for their loss (even though two of them had been slaughtered at Themba Chivuli's kraal in order to placate the restless spirits).
Themba Chivuli had simply answered all questions with quietly dignified conviction.
"The goats are mine."
Lucas Mndandwe knew that the District Commissioner would again be angry when he heard the revised verdict and recommendations of the Elders. However, there were no longer any inconsistencies or contradictions with which the District Commissioner need concern himself.
Because it had now been decided by the Elders that Themba Chivuli was not guilty of theft, and he should KEEP the remaining seven goats.
For the Elders had made their own enquiries, and they knew what the District Commissioner did not know.
They knew that Chunu Mudzi had violated the third wife of Themba Chivuli. And she was a plumply pretty young woman.
Seven live goats were, after all, not too high a price to pay for such treachery. Not with a couple of extra sun-drying skins thrown in, as well, even, and the remainder of a goat curry in the cast iron pot outside Themba Chivuli's cooking hut.
KK Brown is a semi-retired businessman who enjoys writing, and has completed a series of humorous short stories set in Africa, as well as a full-length novel about the life of farmers during the liberation war that transformed Rhodesia into Zimbabwe.