Drama, tears, joy in courts

HARARE - Tears and joy can best describe the year 2016 as the country’s judicial system became flooded with more dramatic and captivating cases, making it one of the busiest in years.

From the dramatic arrest and trial of demonstrators demanding the end to President Robert Mugabe’s rule to the jailing of former Zanu PF Bikita West MP Munyaradzi Kereke, the courts became “battle fields” for justice.

The year opened on a high note following the arrest of suspended prosecutor general Johannes Tomana on charges of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer or alternatively defeating or obstructing the course of justice after he allegedly illegally released two suspects accused of attempting to bomb Gushungo Dairy, which is owned by the first family.

Tomana’s woes continued to mount throughout the year, resulting in another arrest while leaving court on criminal abuse of office charges, following a raft of decisions that he made dating back to the 2008 which included the decision to drop charges against senior Zupco officials in 2008, who included the then chief executive officer Bright Matonga and the former board chair Charles Nherera.

The year was a political sunset for Kereke, who was initially jailed for 14 years before four years were suspended leaving him with an effective 10-year prison term in July after being convicted for raping his then 11-year old niece at gun point.

The former advisor to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, was jailed following a protracted court case that resulted in him being tried through private prosecution.

His tale became that of a hero, who turned villain, his glory to gory and fall from grace to grass story is nothing short of how life changes in the blink of an eye.

While the rape allegations against the politician emerged in 2010 following claims that he raped the 11-year old niece, justice was only to be served six years later.

During his trial, the court learnt the extent of Kereke’s wealth, which by default was also made public.

Information that was presented before the court during trial showed that the businessman owns four houses in Harare’s leafy northern suburbs, two state-of-the-art hospitals, a farm in Chinhoyi and held a substantial shareholding in a funeral services company.

The businessman, who told the court that he is married to three wives and is a father to several children and was a powerful person who led a colourful life.

Leading such a life of flamboyance, mainly during a time that the central bank was at the centre of all economic and political activities in the country, Kereke was all powerful.

His influence was by any standard massive, but he will live to forget that day he forced himself on the 11-year old niece at gunpoint.

After several years of going back and forth, as the prosecutor general, said he was convinced that Kereke did not commit the offence, the politician remained untouchable.

Kereke is now fighting for his freedom, after he recently applied for bail pending the hearing of his appeal.

Despite Kereke’s captivating trial, the courts were yet to witness more drama, as the political space was boiling with pressure from civil society organisations and individuals who demanded Mugabe’s resignation for failing to turn around the country’s economic fortunes.

As the temperatures kept rising, several people besieged the streets of Harare leading to a successful shutdown demonstration across the country led by self-exiled pastor Evan Mawarire.

Mawarire, became an overnight sensation following a series of his videos posted on various social media platforms calling for the people to confront the government over its failure to meet its obligations.

Following several videos that he published, Mawarire was eventually arrested on allegations of inciting public violence, but the State later tried to change the charge to that of attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government.

During the court hearing several citizens gathered outside the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, singing and praying for Mawarire’s release.

Mawarire was later released later in the evening after the court dropped the charges, leading to wild cheers.

After his release, Mawarire left for South Africa and eventually settled in the United States.

His arrest also saw several other protesters being arrested on public violence charges.

Among the protesters is Sten Zvorwadza, whose resilience saw him being brutalised by police on countless occasions.

At one time he appeared in three different court rooms in a single day to answer to different allegations.

He later bought a helmet to shield his head from continued police attacks and is famed for offering the police flowers as a way of seeking a “ceasefire” following a spat of violent encounters.

The demonstration euphoria swept across the country, leading to several protests that resulted in the burning down of cars belonging to the Zimbabwe Republic police and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.

During the year, the police went on to issue a Statutory Instrument banning demonstrations in central Harare, leading to protesters approaching the High Court.

High Court judge Priscillah Chigumba went on to give an order allowing the people to freely demonstrate, stating that it is their constitutional right to do so. The ruling became famous, and was largely perceived as rebellious by the State. 

During the same month of July, Viva Zimbabwe leader Acie Lumumba, who had previously grabbed the headlines for insulting Mugabe with obscenities was arrested.

The former Zanu PF youth leader had been on the Zimbabwe Republic Police wanted list after uttering the sensational F-word utterances at the launch of his party in June.

As the year progressed, more captivating cases were still to come to the courts.

In August, popular Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries leader Walter Magaya was arraigned before the Harare Magistrates’ Courts on allegations of raping one of his congregants.

Magaya has since successfully applied for the matter to be referred to the Constitutional Court after the State vowed to proceed with the trial despite the complainant in the matter having withdrawn the case.

Allegations against the man of cloth arose in June 2015, when he allegedly invited the complainant, to his Mt Pleasant residence.

The court heard she was shown around the house, before the preacher allegedly left her in one of the rooms and later returned naked.

The State claims that Magaya proceeded to force himself on her once, and allegedly doing so without using protection.

It is also the State’s case that after raping her, Magaya gave her $200 after which she later reported the matter to her boyfriend, Elliot Kudakwashe, in July 2015.

While these cases are some of the high-profile matters that were heard in the courts, several others were also brought including a challenge against the government’s national pledge, a curriculum which compels children to salute the national flag and recite a pledge of patriotism.

Several demonstrations and a court challenge was brought before the High Court, in protest against the controversial pledge.

As 2016, drew towards an end, another high profile case was brought before the courts, challenging the holding of interviews for a new chief justice, ahead of the retirement of Godfrey Chidyausiku early this year.

The application was filed by University of Zimbabwe student Romeo Zibani, seeking to stop the interviews, where judge president George Mutandwa Chiweshe, Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judge Paddington Shadreck Garwe, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and JSC secretary Rita Tambudzai Makarau and deputy chief justice Luke Malaba, were shortlisted for the interviews.

Zibani wanted an order barring the holding of the interviews and allow Mugabe to nominate his preferred candidate.

However, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) filed an appeal, which resulted in the public interviews going ahead in the absence of Chiweshe, who pulled out of the process.

During the year, the Constitutional Court also threw out MDC MP Jessie Majome’s application in which she challenged the compulsory payment of ZBC radio and television licences.

The court ruled that the licences were compulsory. 

It was also a sad year for the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC party after three of its supporters were sentenced to 20 years in jail each by Supreme Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu for murdering police inspector Petros Mutedza in May 2011.

The three, Tungamirai Madzokere, 41, Yvonne Musarurwa, 29 and Last Maengahama, 40, were part of 29 others who were initially brought before the court facing similar charges.

The three were convicted of murder with actual intent, while their co-accused, Phineas Nhatarikwa was convicted for being an accessory to the crime.

Nhatarikwa was fined $500 in addition to a wholly suspended three-year jail term.

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