Ondonga royal squabbles: Betrayal or autocracy?

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Ongwediva-based journalist Nuusita Ashipala yesterday sat down with Acting Secretary of the Ondonga Traditional Authority (OTA) Nepando Amupanda to discuss divisions within the authority.

Nuusita Ashipala (NA): When did King Immanuel Kauluma Elifas become king and how did it come about?

Nepando Amupanda (NA): King Immanuel Kaluma Elifas was designated on September 28, 1975 after the death of his brother Fillemon Shuumbwa Elifas who was assassinated at Onamagongwa Business Complex near Onethindi. The afternoon King Fillemon was assassinated all Aandonga people, including the elders in the royal family, rushed to the old Onamungudo to commence with mourning as per the Aandonga people’s custom.
During the reign of King Fillemon, there was nobody appointed as a successor because Ondonga custom does not allow that for many reasons. It was thus during the second day of mourning when the successor was announced after consultations between the royal family elders.
The current king did not know that he will be the king. The discussion of succession was going on in his absence as is the practice.
Aandonga custom does not allow a king-designate, it is very dangerous for security reasons and that is why it brings about all these kinds of things because the customary law has been twisted and taken out of proportion.

NA: In Ondonga tradition, who qualifies to become king, or how does one become eligible for that position?
NA: Succession is defined by the elders of the royal family only. It is not like today where the young people are getting their fingers in succession things, no. Succession is confined to structures in the royal family. The only eligible persons that can succeed the king at the moment is the second generation from the king. The royal family usually meet and discuss in confidence who should take over amongst those who are eligible. But the person is not told until the reigning king passes on and this is done for security reasons.

NA: What’s your comment on talks that King Elifas is frail and therefore cannot continue to be king?
NA: Is Robert Mugabe frail? If Robert Mugabe is frail and is still in office why not King Kauluma? The king rules until his death, whether he is blind or disabled or whatever, he is still the king. The tenure of office of King Kauluma is only terminated by death. The question of frailness is not an issue. His frailness cannot justify his removal by these rebellious councillors, no. if the king is frail is it right to be taken to court or to be removed from power?

NA: What led to the suspension of traditional and senior traditional councillors recently?
NA: First of all the suspension is to pave way for investigation of their conduct. Conduct of insubordination, bringing the traditional authority into dispute, misrepresentation, unauthorised and reckless expenditure of council funds towards legal costs for the launch of the urgent court application to remove the king and promoting disunity in Ondonga. It is all these things amongst others.The outcome of the investigation will pave the way forward.
There is also a letter circulating that the suspended councillors have been replaced with acting councillors. That is not true – those who authored that letter want to cause confusion in the community.
Those are propaganda aimed at tarnishing the unity of the royal family hence they came up with those cooked stories. They want to strengthen their presumptions that the Queen and her children have the power.

NA: It is alleged that the suspensions were not procedural. What’s your response to that?
NA: Who appointed them in terms of the [Traditional Authorities] Act? The Act does not give the power to the chief’s council, it gives power to the king. They should go back to the Act. The chief’s council exists because of the presence of the king. The problem with the Ondonga Traditional Authority (OTA) colleagues is that they started with the project to dislocate all executive power from the king and palace and place them in the king’s council and transfer that to their king-designate (Fillemon Shuumbwa Nangolo). Some councillors have even been appointing headmen without bringing him to the palace and instead show him at the OTA office.
To their understanding they are not wrong, because their king is in their midst but their king is here. They are confused because they think Shuumbwa is their king. As far as they are concerned King Kauluma is non-existent.

NA: Is there a king-designate as is alleged?
NA: In 2012, there was a forged succession letter. It is not our custom for the king to designate a king. No king in his right mind would have done that. There was a unification meeting between the two royal dynasties (Epale and Onethika) and that is where the squabbles started because they do not have the two dynasties united. The succession follows customary law. And our custom does not allow a sitting king to designate a king, it is an abomination because it brings insecurity. Had it not been their agenda all these problems would not have occurred. There is a customary rationale why a sitting king should not appoint a successor and that is to maintain peace and stability because if you appoint one in the past he was likely to be killed and it equally diminishes the power of the sitting king because you will be overthrown. In the mind of the king and his advisors there is no king-designate.

NA: The suspended councillors said they would not accept the suspension until they are furnished with reasons why this was done. Has the traditional authority done that yet?
NA: The letter was served by the sheriff. If they don’t accept it, it is their problem. They just want to fool the public that they do not know why they are suspended. The messenger of court was instructed by the king’s lawyers to serve the letters and it was indicated that they were able to serve them personally while those such as that of John Walenga were served through the OTA suspended spokesperson Joseph Asino because he does not live here. And even if notices were not served personally it is not a requirement – as long as it was communicated to them it is sufficient.

NA: Is it true that the suspended councillors had asked the courts to remove the king because of his alleged poor health? Was that the reason for their suspension?
NA: It is one among other reasons. It is very weird to want to remove the king because he is apparently frail. We all know that it is not about frailness, it is about early succession.

NA: What is the status of that court case? Has the court pronounced itself on the matter yet?
NA: The court case has been struck from the roll. We are told that they were advised to remove it because they had nothing to offer. There is no sufficient basis in what they want to do. Disappointingly enough is that thousands of dollars would now have to be spent on litigation costs of their first, second, the kings, queens, and two royal relatives of the lawyers. And all that is public funds. How do you take the owner of the house to court with his own money without consulting him?

NA: How would the suspension issue be resolved? Would there be hearings and how does it happen, procedurally?
NA: The resolution will be determined by the outcome of the investigations. If the suspended councillors have indicated that they would want to engage in negotiations as a vehicle to resolve these squabbles then that could be one of the options, it is not a problem. Fighting cannot only be resolved with a whip. Negotiations can be an option but that can only happen if people acknowledge their mistakes. Because these are the people who want to divide the royal family. The issue of succession will never be resolved by any court and no one will become a king because of court applications, it is a birth right. They should leave these things in the hands of the royal family. There are talks that some of the suspended councillors want to come back, they are welcome. But to the stubborn young ones who want to settle the matter by force or through their lawyers, they are also welcome. And nobody can extinguish fire with oil. Remember that the king is for everyone.

NA: How much do councillors get paid, and could you say such benefits sometimes contribute to these squabbles?
NA: The councillors get remunerated in line with the Traditional Authorities Act which is supplemented by the OTA. The fight here is not about money, the fight is about power to have Shuumbwa as their supreme leader while the king is still alive. They are breaking the tradition of the community.

NA: How much influence does the wife of the king have in the affairs of the royal house? We saw the king’s wife being accused of meddling.
NA: When they start accusing her of meddling in the affairs of the royal family, she requested the OTA to try her but they wrote her a letter saying they could not do it. Why are they refusing to try her? All those artificial councillors should tell us when the queen became a bad person. All of them were appointed when the queen was around, why did they not say she should not be around when they were appointed? The queen is the personal assistant of the king in the house not in the affairs of OTA. They call the queen when they want to seek audience with the king. They are contradicting themselves, the queen has never sat in any council meeting. They should tell us when she indicated wanting to sit in their meeting. She just became a bad person because she supported the unification meeting between the Epale and Onethika dynasties. They just don’t want unity in the royal family. Some of these people have even authored letters that were smuggled to the king to chase some traditional councillors including Eino Shoondili Johannes and John Walenga who were recently suspended.

NA: What assurances can you give to the people of Ondonga as far as their future under King Elifas is concerned?
NA: With a united royal family, the future is bright. Where King Elifas is going to be needing help, the family and the faithful advisors including religious leaders, businesses leaders and the elders in the community, the future is bright. The future of this kingdom does not revolve around the rebellious councillors – there were people before them. They are not the alpha and omega of the community. The Ondonga traditional community will be able to live without them. Even Jesus was undermined by his own disciples. And there is no kingdom that was ever destroyed without the involvement of inner circles, the traditional councillors.

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