Defamation case against Masunda, councillors moved to June


The criminal defamation trial of Harare mayor, Muchadeyi Masunda and eight councillors has again been moved to June 22 with the consent of both the state and defence teams.

The defence team also agreed with the state that the matter proceeds to trial even when the High Court has not responded to their application challenging the legality of the accused’s placement on remand.

The mayor and his team are on a $20 bail each.

Masunda and the eight councillors are being charged with criminal defamation following the exposure of improper land deals in The Standard newspaper whose source the state charges is a document that the council officials allegedly leaked to the newspaper.

The 54-page report named Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, flamboyant business magnate Philip Chiyangwa and other senior council officials as having illegally grabbed council land.

The case took a twist when Chiyangwa quickly reported the council probe team to the police after local and international media carried stories exposing the alleged unscrupulous deals.

Five journalists have been roped in the case after they were summoned to testify against the mayor.

Vincent Kahiya, the editor-in-chief of the Zimbabwe Independent Group of newspapers that publishes The Standard and Nevanji Madanhire, Editor of the Standard are, together with reporters Feluna Nleya, Jennifer Dube and freelance journalist Stanley Gama, expected in the dock in June.

Acting Mayor Charity Bango made a counter report to the police, asking them to investigate Chiyangwa and Chombo on the findings of the council probe team that found them guilty of massive land theft.

Up to now no investigations have commenced. A policeman tasked with investigating the case told NewsDay at the courthouse on Wednesday that police were finding it difficult to kick-start investigations because the council case appeared to be vague.

Detective Inspector Elliot Muchada said what made the issue more curious was the fact that although it is the mayor who appears to be the complainant, Mayor Masunda himself seemed detached from the case. Muchada said it appeared council wanted to push the case whenever Masunda was out of the country and growing cold feet upon his return.

The police officer also said the 54-page document provided as evidence by council was too broad and police need to have it trimmed and specific issues linking the accused persons brought to the fore.

The damning report compiled by the council team recommended that Chiyangwa and Chombo together with other implicated personnel be arrested and have the land confiscated.

The lackadaisical approach that the police were apparently treating the case has raised fears by the council and the MDC-T party that the report might be swept under the carpet.

Last month, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said he had taken the matter up with President Robert Mugabe – signalling how politically sensitive the case had become. The PM warned that heads would roll if anybody was found on the wrong side of the law.

But, given the apparent powerlessness that Tsvangirai has shown in the inclusive government, chances of him getting Chiyangwa (Mugabe’s nephew) and Chombo (Mugabe’s close confidante, friend and homeboy) nailed are very remote.