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This woman chief's no ordinary ruler

By unknown | Oct 23, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

KwaZulu-Natal chief Thokozile Ndlovu is no ordinary ruler.

Apart from her picture, which is posted on a big board at the entrance of her massive house, nothing gives her away as the chief of more than 5000 people. Her simple and respectful appearance makes you feel welcome immediately.

When I arrived at her big but modest home I found her in the kitchen, sewing.

"I just wanted to finish this one item before I retire for the day," she tells me after exchanging greetings.

Earlier in the day Ndlovu had worked in her vegetable garden, watering the potatoes.

"I love spending time in my garden. It is where I relax when I'm at home," she says.

Born in Ifafa, south of Durban, the 50-year-old chief spent her childhood there before she moved to Vukani district to marry her late husband, chief Jerome Dingizwe Ndlovu.

She spent her married life supporting her husband, who ruled at the height of tribal violence when it was not safe to be a chief. Her husband died in 1991 when he was shot several times at Ixopo.

"Being a chief during that time was not safe," she recalls. "As the violence got worse the family and tribal authorities appointed the chief's brother to take over the reigns. They wanted a new chief to be appointed as soon as possible.

"After two years at the helm the community became dissatisfied with the chief's brother and demanded that the rightful heir take over.

"The elders and authorities decided that I should take over on behalf of my son, who is the rightful heir to the throne, until he is old enough to rule."

Her appointment in 1994 was no walk in the park.

"I took up the position at a time when people were not used to women chiefs," she explains. "It was difficult. I was discriminated against simply because I was a woman.

"Not being born to a royal family also had its drawbacks and I had my own fears. I did not believe I could rule but as time passed things improved. People started warming up to me and we worked together as a community."

Ndlovu says tribal laws have evolved over the years, though there is still some resistance to change in other communities.

"Some villages do not accept women chiefs but we don't have that problem in our area anymore," she points out.

"In fact, we have more women chiefs now. In our district alone, there are six women chiefs and we have the support of the male chiefs and izinduna."

Nothing happens in the community without Ndlovu's approval being sought.

"It's hectic," she says. "People wake me up in the middle of the night. With this type of calling one has to put the people's needs first.

"There is no time for moods. You have to be a people person and be prepared to cope with any situation."

As chief, Ndlovu also acts as a mediator when conflicts are brought to her attention.

"We can't take every single misunderstanding to the magistrate's courts. Some cases we deal with ourselves in the tribal court, which sits once a month.

"We hear many cases involving witchcraft and sometimes domestic violence cases, such as when a wife runs away from her abusive husband in the middle of the night.

"Sometimes these women spend the night at my home and we deal with the matter the next day."

She says she has also facilitated building developments in her village.

"We have built roads, a community hall, a creche and a development centre," she says.

She also started community development initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty in the area.

"We do beadwork, sew and grow vegetables. You will never find me idle.

"When I'm not in meetings or other engagements I'm busy with the work I do with the women," Ndlovu says.


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