Rights activists hail serial rapists sentences

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Harare West MP Jessie Majoma gives a speech at Warren Hills Cementary on December 9, at a memorial service honouring Charity Sabawu who was shot by her ex-husband Dickson Sabawu in the presence of police officers in 2008. The ceremony was in commemoration of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

THE recent conviction and subsequent imprisonment of RMG End Time Message Church rapist leader Robert Martin Gumbura and serial rapist Thomas Chirembwe have been welcomed as a step in the right direction, demonstrating that rape cases will be treated with the seriousness they deserve.

BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
SENIOR REPORTER

Gumbura was jailed for 40 years, while Chirembwe was slapped with an effective 290 years in jail in developments that the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) described as the right antidote to stop potential rapists in their tracks.

“ZWLA applauds the sentences of 40 years and 290 years in prison respectively, for this sends the right signal to would–be sexual offenders,” said the lawyers’ association in a statement. “We commend the judiciary for regarding rape as an evil act and treating rape matters with utmost gravity as demonstrated by the long sentences.”

There was, however, debate on social networks last week with some observers and women’s groups arguing that the 40–year sentence slapped on Gumbura did not tally with the gravity of his crime.

“The one thing I cannot bear above all else, whatever your cause, your politics, and however noble your politics or cause may be, is when people think in slogans,” wrote Harare lawyer and author Petina Gappah on her Facebook wall.

Gappah argued that given Gumbura’s age at 57, the sentence would suffice. She said she strongly opposed Harare West legislator Jessie Majome’s proposal for a minimum mandatory 30–year sentence for rape, a motion for which she has since been granted leave to introduce in Parliament.

ZWLA also welcomed this development, which they said was important against the backdrop of an increase in sexual abuse cases.

Majome argued that her calls were not slogans, but based on the provisions of Section 65 (1) of the Constitution in which “the legislature has long provided that rapists are liable to ‘life imprisonment or any shorter term’. It’s neither a slogan nor a campaign poster . . . It’s the law! The problem is it’s not being implemented”.

The association recommended that the police and judiciary treat all gender–based violence cases expeditiously and that current legislation be amended in line with the new Constitution’s provisions on violence against women.

Statistics from the National Anti-Domestic Violence Council show that reported domestic violence cases increased from 1 940 in 2008 to 2 655 between January and April 2013.