It is indeed a curious paradox that while Zimbabwe grapples with ballooning cases of sexual abuse, especially of minors — a concern aggravated by the ravages of HIV and Aids — our laws continue to stand more firmly in protection of animals rather than humans.
Our legislators have over the years amended the two laws dealing with rape and stocktheft in such a way that a cattle thief goes to prison, with no option of a fine, for a period no less than nine years for stealing one beast, while rape has no mandatory sentence and a rapist can escape with a suspended sentence.
Media reports from the courts continue to spark outrage because of the absurdity of disparities between judgments where babies are sexually molested and the rapists literally go scot-free while cattle thieves are invariably locked up.
In the case of stock theft, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 114 Section 1 (e) states that any person who “takes possession of stolen livestock or its produce” shall be guilty of stocktheft and liable to imprisonment “for a period of not less than nine years or more than 25 years”.
In the case of rape, while the maximum sentence prescribed may be life imprisonment, there is no mandatory jail sentence and the period one could be incarcerated is described in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 65 Section (1) as “imprisonment for life or any shorter period”.
Could it, therefore, be because of the nature of our statutes that we read last week about four cattle rustlers who were jailed 54 years each for stealing eight head of cattle in Guruve, while somewhere across the country, in Filabusi, a 20-year-old married man from the Nkankezi area, got away with a wholly suspended sentence for impregnating a 15-year-old Grade 7 pupil.
Tinei Chiriseri (25), Simon Takura Musakwa (32), Dickson Sapangwa (31) and Francis Mupanda (28) were caught after a high-speed chase by police who found them with 373kg of beef and 5kg liver.
They all pleaded guilty to stealing eight head of cattle when they appeared before Guruve provincial magistrate Augustine Borerwe.
The magistrate suspended six years of the sentence for each of them leaving them to serve an effective 46 years each.
“Cattle are a symbol of wealth and to steal and slaughter people’s cattle in the manner described is unforgivable,” the magistrate said in passing sentence.
In the Filabusi rape case, Fanuel Dube pleaded guilty of having sexual intercourse and impregnating a Grade Seven pupil and was slapped with a 20-month jail term by Filabusi magistrate Shillah Nazombe.
The magistrate suspended six months of the sentence for five years on condition of good behaviour and further suspended the remaining 14 months on condition Dube performed 490 hours of community service at Sebhatha Primary School.
A day earlier, this time in Binga, 22-year-old Ignatius Muleya pleaded guilty to sodomising a 16-year-old boy for the period between 2008 and July this year.
Muleya told the court in mitigation that a ghost forced him to sexually molest the boy who was then 13! Binga resident magistrate Stephen Ndlovu sentenced him to 12 months in jail and suspended two months of the sentence for five years on condition of good behaviour.
Meanwhile, two cattle rustlers, Shadreck Maluleko (23) and Cannais Muhlanhlayazi Gonya (39), who went on a stocktheft spree in Chipinge, stealing 28 beasts worth about $4 000, were early this month sentenced to a total 180 years in jail.
Chipinge magistrate Chrispen Ngweshiwa sentenced them to 90 years’ imprisonment each, but suspended 65 years, leaving them to serve an effective 25-year jail term each.
But the record-breaking stocktheft sentence was made earlier this year when a cattle thief was sentenced to 189 years for stealing 22 head of cattle in Mashonaland East between 2009 and 2010.
Fabion Nyamayedenga was arrested in Buhera where magistrate Henry Sande passed the unprecedented sentence.
Meanwhile, last week, a Chimanimani man and his sister were convicted of rape of a Grade 6 girl whom the sister literally abducted from her home and delivered to her brother who lived several rivers and mountains away.
The hapless juvenile was raped for several days before she was rescued, but the rapist, Blessing Matonhore, and his sister Sengeni escaped with an outrageously lenient sentence.
Blessing told the court that he had raped the girl because all the mature girls in his area were infected with STIs!
Mutare regional magistrate Livingstone Chipadze sentenced him to 15 years and suspended five on condition of good behaviour. His sister Sengeni walked free after getting a wholly suspended nine-year sentence.
These are not the most outrageous of cases or judgments. They are just a sample of recent cases of sexual assault and stocktheft and the judgments which Zimbabweans need to reflect upon and perhaps find a way forward as a nation.