People queue for justice

HARARE - Zimbabweans wait in queues for some of the most basic of commodities but who would have guessed that on August 29, they would be queuing to enter a court building to witness the prosecution of their relatives.

Well, welcome to Zimbabwe where impossible is just another meaningless word.

It’s a little over lunch time last Monday afternoon and three long winding queues stretch from the entrance of the Harare Magistrates’ Courts.

Sixty-eight people, among them senior citizens, three minors, a freelance journalist and an expecting mother are behind bars facing charges of committing public violence.

Allegations are that the accused persons teamed up and held a public gathering at the open space near Rainbow Towers where they had a public hearing before conspiring to proceed into the Central Business District to cause public violence a fortnight ago.

On another day they could easily get off the hook with a slap on the wrist $50 bail but their situation is a little more complicated.

The State has responded ruthlessly to protests that has been sweeping across the country as fed up citizens protest President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

There is no one that appreciates this reality more than the family members of the suspected protesters who have been teeming to the courts to offer support to their loved ones.

With the public anger rising government is not taking any chances and has wheeled out dozens of anti-riot police details to maintain a heavy presence at the court.

True to the wave of defiance the police are immediately put to the test when a small group of activists — Pride Mkono, Makomborero Haruzivishe and Mehluli Dube — emerge with placards demanding the release of the accused persons.

Their protest is a drop in the ocean and they are soon arrested and will now face the same charges they were lobbying against. 

The baton-wielding police, reinforced by three armoured trucks, soon turn back to conducting traffic inside and out of the court.

Many of the family members of protestors are frustrated that they are being barred from entering the court room as it is too small to accommodate the accused and their relatives.

“I came to see my uncle who was arrested but we have been waiting outside since morning and we don’t know what time he will appear in court,” said a man only identified as Simba.

Simba’s uncle is one of the suspected protestors who limped into the court room carrying the weight of their bruises from the clashes with police clashes.

“We are in solidarity with the police who are angry and hungry. We have their concerns on our placards,” says a member of pressure group Tajamuka, addressing families of the accused before the court session last week.

The bail hearing of the alleged protestors, which drags on for a week, is not without its own drama, on Tuesday suspects collapsed in court because of hunger.

This was after the inmates refused to eat food provided by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) with prosecutor Michael Reza, telling the court that the prisoners demanded Nando’s chicken.

However, family members of the accused persons who tried to give their imprisoned relatives food were denied access.

But the biggest shock of the bail application was the cluelessness of the investigating officer Raphael Chakama who on Wednesday told the court that he was unaware that the demonstration that led to their arrest had been sanctioned by the High Court.

Despite having had close to a week investigating the case, the State’s star witness continuously insisted he was at home on the day in question, adding that he could not confirm or deny the innocence of the suspects.

“I cannot comment much because I was not present on the day in question,” Chakama said.

Magistrate Tendai Mahwe did not mince his words in blasting Chakama during his bail ruling, saying the investigating officer offered “useless” evidence while testifying against the granting of bail to the suspected protesters.

Mahwe, however, on Friday surprisingly ruled in favour of the State and declined the majority of the alleged protestors bail, insisting that the case’s Investigating Officer Chakama needed them all in one place while he finalises his investigations.

He remanded 10 out of custody on $50 bail.

Defence counsel Musindo Hungwe described the granting of bail to the 10 as a “victory difficult to celebrate,” considering that the rest of the suspected protestors were still languishing in remand prison.

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