Judge raps State over murder

A High Court judge has blasted the police, the State and the trial magistrate for failing to deal effectively with political violence involving Zanu PF members, saying this amounted to gross dereliction of duty.

In a hard-hitting review of a case where Zanu PF supporters brutally killed two supporters of the then united MDC in Gokwe in 2001 but were charged with culpable homicide instead of murder, Justice Nicholas Mathonsi accused the law enforcement agencies of being disinterested in their duties when they are sworn to protect citizens without fear or favour.

Justice Mathonsi on Wednesday refused to confirm the six-year prison sentence imposed on James Muromo in May for the murder of Rambisai Nyikadzinashe and Sherpard Tigere in December 2001.

The judge said the trial was not in compliance with real and substantial justice.

The impunity of a cabal of 13 political zealots, the complicity of law enforcement agents, the lamentable misuse of the prosecutorial authority bestowed on public prosecutors and the disinterest of the trial court all rolled together is the epitome of all that should not happen in our criminal justice system, Justice Mathonsi said.

The matter is a living example of an injustice allowed to take root because of a serious dereliction of duty by those tasked with the protection of law-abiding citizens of this country and punishment of offenders without
fear or favour.

Despite the murder of the two MDC supporters being committed in broad daylight by 13 known assailants, Justice Mathonsi lamented that only two of them had been brought before the courts. The other 11 are still at large, without a satisfactory reason from the police.

The case had been sent to the High Court for review after the ruling by a Gokwe regional magistrate. The murder was committed in 2001, but the matter only went for trial two months ago, an anomaly that the judge also slammed.

Justice Mathonsis hard-hitting comments will add weight to accusations that there is selective application of the law in Zimbabwe.

According to the court record, Muromo was part of a group of 13 suspected Zanu PF supporters who were camped at a secondary school in rural Gokwe. The group conducted pungwes (all-night political rallies) and would target perceived political opponents whom they tortured.

On December 23, 2001, Muromo, in the company of other suspects who are still at large, went to Nyikadzinashes homestead and force-marched her to their base.

They accused her of supporting the MDC before fatally assaulting her. They pulled her legs apart and assaulted her with logs, sticks, knives, chains and whips, all over including on her private parts.

They stripped her naked and also uprooted her braids from the scalp. During the assault, Nyikadzinashe asked for drinking water and one of the suspects urinated in her mouth. She fell unconscious and was dumped in the kitchen hut at her homestead.

The following morning, the group sent two women, Chiedza Zungunde and Chiedza Chigombwe, to check whether Nyakadzinashe was still alive. She was found dead and the matter was reported to the police.

In the second incident, on the same day the group forced passengers on a Mavesere bus to disembark at Manoti business centre. Muromo and his group accused Tigere, the bus conductor, of being in love with Nyikadzinashe.

He was force-marched to the base where the group took turns to assault him with the same weapons until he became unconscious.

They then ordered the bus driver to take him to Kana Mission Hospital from where he was rushed to Gokwe District Hospital and subsequently Chitungwiza Central Hospital where he died on January 3, 2002. Police arrived while the two were being assaulted but failed to stop the torture.

Muromo was charged together with Zebron Matarirano on two counts of culpable homicide. He was sentenced to nine years in prison, three of which were suspended. Charges against Matarirano were withdrawn by the State after plea.

Justice Mathonsi said the charges should have clearly been murder which the magistrate had no jurisdiction over and should have, therefore, referred the matter to the higher court.

He said although Muromos co-accused were mentioned by name and police officers witnessed the assault, the assailants had not been brought to justice 10 years after the offence was committed.

How can they be at large when the police officers witnessed the assault? Justice Mathonsi questioned. Why did it take such a long time to even commence this excuse of a trial?

It really leaves a sour taste in the mouth, as it suggests that the police just stood akimbo as innocent victims were bludgeoned to death in their full view. In my view, the police should do a lot of soul-searching if they are to sustain any credibility in the eyes of those whose safety and well-being they are sworn to safeguard.

The judge also took a swipe at the prosecution and the magistrate for failing to appreciate the gravity of the offence by choosing to prefer the lesser charge of culpable homicide instead of murder.

That outcome cries out to the sky for intervention because it is a glaring absurdity. The magistrate does not have jurisdiction to try murder cases. I am now faced with a record where the offences committed were trivialised and the result offends all sense of justice, he said.

The judge said of the prosecution: . . . one would not be judging them harshly at all by saying that they not only trivialised the offence, but at times appeared to protect accused persons showing no respect whatsoever for the sanctity of human life.

Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri have often dismissed accusations that their institutions are biased against Zanu PF opponents.

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