In the heart of Manzini, nestled within the Ntondozi Inkhundla, lies the community of Gebeni----a once thriving chiefdom now mired in a protracted dispute over its rightful leadership.

 For over a decade, the absence of a recognized Chief has left the community in a state of uncertainty and stagnation, depriving it of the essential services and stability that a functioning chiefdom provides. The roots of the conflict can be traced back to 2010, when the community, having been without a living chief since the passing of Chief Nkosini Dlamini in 1984, was on the cusp of submitting a successor to the Ingwenyama for his blessing.

This is a normal cultural practice in eSwatini where once a substantive Chief dies the family or lusentfo decides who must succeed the throne.  Once the family is decided who will be the new Chief the elders in the community take the Chief to the King for blessing. The new Chief is ultimately introduced to the community and nation.

In the case of Gebeni, Prince Hynd Dlamini, the Chief of neighbouring Ndlinilembi he advanced a claim that Gebeni fell under his authority. This unexpected assertion, coupled with a perplexing communique from Liqoqo announcing Chief Hynd Dlamini as the rightful chief, threw the community into disarray.

The inner council sought an audience with Liqoqo to clarify the matter, but their pleas went unanswered, leaving them in a state of limbo. The consequences of this unresolved dispute have been far-reaching.

In 2012, members of the Gebeni community were forced to seek legal recourse, obtaining a court order from Judge MCB Maphalala to restrain Chief Hynd Dlamini from harassing and threatening to demolish their homesteads. Yet, the turmoil persists.

Gebeni Umphakatsi

The community now finds itself hounded by police, who routinely break up meetings under the alleged instruction of the Regional Administrator in Manzini. Violence erupted in March 2024 when the Indvuna was brutally assaulted with a bush knife while intervening in a dispute over a boundary fence.

The suspected assailant, believed to be operating under the protection of Chief Hynd Dlamini, remains at large in the community. The chieftaincy dispute has also disrupted the democratic process. During recent elections, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) failed to conduct civic and voter education exercises in Gebeni.

Gebeni is a microcosm of a bigger problem in the country where Chieftancy disputes often end in death, long protracted litigation or in worse circumstances denial of burial rights ( as was the case for Chief Mzikayise Nthshangase of Mkhwakhweni) or evictions as was the case with Mliba Fakudze of Macetjeni.

Moreover, the community's inner council alleges that a certain chiefdom had preemptively submitted names of individuals to conduct voter registration, further undermining the community's autonomy. Amidst this turmoil, the people of Gebeni have turned to their faith, holding night vigil prayers to appeal to the Ingwenyama for intervention.

They seek an audience with the king to present the history of their area and assert their status as a chiefdom with a rich heritage. While the Ingwenyama has reportedly indicated that the Supreme Council should not interfere in the matter and has appointed Prince Hlangabeza as an envoy to engage with the community, the resolution remains elusive.

The protracted dispute continues to deprive the community of the essential services and stability that a recognized chief would provide.As the impasse drags on, the people of Gebeni find themselves caught in a chiefly ticking time bomb, their lives and livelihoods held hostage by a dispute that has gone unresolved for far too long.

The community's plight serves as a stark reminder of the critical role that traditional leadership plays in the lives of Eswatini's citizens and the urgent need for a swift and just resolution to this protracted crisis.

A visit to Gebeni done by the Swazi Bridge showed a community in deep turmoil. The community is now afraid to hold meeting at the Umphakatsi as they claim they have been barred and now the official stamp has been taken.

"They have taken the community stamp that allows us to exercise authority in the area. The community is now divided and is boiling over with tensions and anger as some are now paying allegiance to the wrong Chief and others insisting on the correct Chief. The police have been roped in and are taking one particular side and divising the community even more," said Kunene, a community elder who was part of the now disbanded umphakatsi.

Kunene centres Liqoqo as being at the centre of the chieftaincy disputes and accused the body of refusing them permission to appeal to the King and presenting their side of the story.

Liqoqo Secretary Mandla Dlamini was contacted for comments but his phone went unanswered when called by this publication.