Vho Itani Elizabeth Ravele says she is the rightful heir to the Ravele title.
In yet another chieftainship battle, a woman is fighting against the system of male primogeniture, arguing that nothing in Vhavenda customs prohibits a girl from becoming a traditional leader.
Itani Elisabeth Ravele believes that she should have been installed in 2014 as headman in the Ravele Matsheketsheke clan. She argues that she should have stepped into the leadership role after the death of her brother, Nndwayamiomva II. Instead, Ramaano Roussou Ravele was installed on 30 September that year.
The history of the Ravele royal house dates back many centuries, and in the late 1800s, the clan lived in the “old” Mauluma area, currently called Levubu. The clan’s land was dispossessed and in 1947 they were moved to present-day Mauluma. During that time, Ndwakhulu Frank Ravele ruled. He passed away on 25 December 1999. The Raveles were then senior traditional men, with headmen paying allegiance to them.
According to Itani Ravele, her father, Chief Ndwakhulu Frank Ravele had four “love wives” and a dzekiso wife, Masindi Ravele (Mphephu). When Chief Ravele passed away, the Ravele Royal Family had the Mphephu Traditional Authority install his only son from the dzekiso wife, Nndwayamiomva II (Ifa Bele Oliver) Ravele.
When Nndwayamiomva Ravele died, a dispute developed over who his successor should be.
“The recognition and appointment of Ramaano Roussou Ravele as headman is wrongful,” Itani Ravele said. “They had called a meeting on 26 February 2012, where they excluded the dzekiso house and several other Ravele houses whom they knew would follow or side with the correct lineage of headmanship.”
She argued that the customary law was not followed and the procedure of installing a new traditional leader was also not followed. “The dzekiso house was ignored because of gender issues, where some people side-lined me because I am a woman,” she said. “There's nowhere in our history where it is stated that no woman can be a headman.”
She stated that, according to Venda custom, the previous khadzi and ndumi are the legitimate persons in the royal family to hand the baton to the new candidate of their choice. “This custom was not followed,” she said. She also argued that Ramaano Roussou Ravele was not in the right lineage for headmanship because he was not the child of a dzekiso wife. Not all the senior members of the Ravele clan had, according to her, been invited to participate in the process.
The “Ravele royal family”, comprising Itani Ravele and Nditsheni Wilson Ravele, took the matter to the Thohoyandou High Court on 13 October 2013, trying to get the decision to install Ramaano Roussou Ravele as headman to be reviewed, corrected or set aside. The respondents in the case are Ratshili Elias Ravele, Adolph Ravele, Bethuel Ravele and Dokotela Elias Ravele.
“The matter eventually served in the Thohoyandou High Court on 27 July 2017, where the case was postponed indefinitely due to a power outage in the court building,” Itani Ravele said. “Ever since then, we have been trying to have the court set another court date for this matter, but with no success. We contacted the offices of the Limpopo premier and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, but still nothing is forthcoming.”
In response to Limpopo Mirror's media inquiry, the chairperson of the Ravele royal family, Mr Dokotela Elias Ravele, stated that the Ravele customary law of succession was based on a system of male primogeniture. He agreed that Itani Elisabeth Ravele's mother was a dzekiso wife of the late Chief Frank Ravele, who was chosen by the royal family to bear the successor to his title. This heir became Ifa Bele Oliver Nndwayamiomva II Ravele.
“Chief Ifa Bele Ravele […] died without leaving any heir to the title,” Dokotela Ravele said. “It is important to mention that Itani’s brother, Chief Ifa Bele Ravele, was the last-born from his mother's house out of three females.”
He stated that at no stage had Itani Ravele, who was the second-born daughter, ever challenged the decision of the royal family to identify her younger brother as a “chief” because she was presumably aware that the practice of the Masingo a ha Ravele's customary law of succession was based on a system of male primogeniture.
“If one is to consider Itani's ill-conceived views about Masingo's customary law principle of male primogeniture, the first-born of her eldest sister from her mother's side (Mashudu Sitholimela), ought to have succeeded Chief Frank Ravele,” he said. “Alternatively, as Chief FN Ravele was the second-born from his mother's house, the daughter of the first-born (Muofhe Havhi), being Nyamukamadi Mashavhanduna, ought to have been the successor of Chief Nanga Ravele. The above is merely to illustrate that, from generation to generation, women were excluded from succession, based on the aforesaid customary law of succession.”
According to Dokotela Ravele, the Ravele royal family, composed of Dzikhadzi and Vhavenda (being the sisters and brothers of the late Chief FN Ravele) identified an eldest son, Chief Ramaano Roussou Ravele, from another Singo Senior House of Mphephu Ramabulana. “In terms of Masingo a ha Ravele, the meeting to identify a chief is attended by Dzikhadzi and Vhavenda who are the nucleus of the inner circle of the royal family,” he said. “Vhakololo (princes and princesses), including Itani, do not participate in such meetings as they are interested parties as the chiefs, deputy chief and khadzi will be selected from among them.”
Date:10 November 2018 - By: Tshifhiwa Mukwevho
Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho was born in 1984 in Madombidzha village, not far from Louis Trichardt in the Limpopo Province. After submitting articles for roughly a year for Limpopo Mirror's youth supplement, Makoya, he started writing for the main newspaper. He is a prolific writer who published his first book, titled A Traumatic Revenge in 2011. It focusses on life on the street and how to survive amidst poverty. His second book titled The Violent Gestures of Life was published in 2014.