Three members of the Zimbabwe National Army’s 2:1 Infantry Battalion in Rushinga have been arrested and charged with allegedly robbing gold panners at gunpoint on two occasions last month.
The soldiers were eventually waylaid by villagers who apprehended and severely assaulted them while they were on their way from another alleged robbery.
Chamunorwa Mushanga (23), Shingai Bhunga (23) and Godknows Katiyo (21) appeared before High Court judge Justice Yunus Omerjee last week after making an application for bail and the matter was deferred to today for further submissions by the defence lawyer.
According to principal law officer Ephraim Zinyandu, the three soldiers allegedly pounced on the panners on March 9 and 12, at Mukaradzi gold panning site armed with an AK-47 rifle and a pistol.
They allegedly demanded cash from several panners and made off with $141. But some of their victims positively identified them from the robbery.
In their bail application, the soldiers denied the allegations and submitted on the day in question, they were on their routine security patrol checks around Rushinga.
They said as they patrolled along Gwetera River, they were caught by surprise when they were pelted with stones from both sides of the river, but could not identify their assailants.
They submitted as they were investigating what was happening, their colleague Katiyo was suddenly struck on the back of his head with an axe and passed out.
This happened when the soldiers were armed with an AK-47 rifle and a pistol, according to court papers.
More than 100 villagers then allegedly mobbed and severely assaulted them before confiscating their cellphones.
Mushanga, Bhunga and Katiyo said they were taken to a nearby village where the headman held private discussions with the police before they were arrested.
They complained in their submissions that while at the headman’s village, the issue became politicised and they were taken to Mt Darwin Police Station where they were initially charged with criminal abuse of office, later changed to robbery and finally armed robbery.
However, Zinyandu opposed bail, saying the soldiers were facing a serious offence and the evidence against them was overwhelming.
Justice Omerjee ordered the defence lawyer to file affidavits of his clients’ claim that they were on duty on the day in question and advised him against leading evidence from the bar.