HARARE – Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala and his Chitungwiza North counterpart Godfrey Karakadzai Sithole were to spend a third night in police custody on Thursday after their remand hearing was rolled over to Friday.
Sikhala and Sithole were charged with incitement to commit public violence when they appeared before deputy chief magistrate Gibson Mandaza.
Their arrest on Tuesday came after violent clashes between Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and Zanu PF supporters at a funeral wake of the slain CCC activist Moreblessing Ali in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza.
Prosecutor Michael Reza assisted by Chris Mutangadura and Lovemore Masuku alleged that Sikhala recorded a video “urging people to commit public violence in what he termed to liberate the area (sic).”
Sithole, according to Reza, supplied vehicles that were seen “transporting some of the accused persons to the scenes” of Tuesday’s violence.
Sikhala allegedly said on the video: “So that area has now been turned into a terror zone and it is up to the citizens of this country to make sure that it is liberated. But this death of Moreblessing Ali let me tell them and also everybody in Zimbabwe that the whole family shall perish (of Ali’s killer). We are going to revenge, whichever way we are going to do, the family shall suffer. You might not hear about this family again, it will be wiped from the face of the earth if they are not going to apologise as soon as possible. There are many people who have volunteered to do the business; to make sure that the spirit of Moreblessing Ali will not rest and avenge her death and truly the avenging shall be done.”
Both men denied the charges.
Their lawyers Jeremiah Bamu and Alec Muchadehama first raised objections to the convening of the hearing in a Harare court, arguing that a court in Chitungwiza or Mashonaland East – under which Nyatsime falls – should be hearing the matter.
They also raised objections against the hearing proceeding in what is designated an “anti-corruption court.”
Bamu argued: “It deals with matters like bribery and corruption. It is not designed and has not been granted jurisdiction to deal with other criminal matters.
“Jurisdiction must be restricted to those particular cases, thus this case ought to be in the ordinary magistrate court. For the NPA to place this case in anti-corruption court without explaining why it shouldn’t be in the normal court gives the accused persons the right to object.”
Bamu said the allegations accused Sikhala and Sithole arose in Nyatsime, which is in a different province to the court in Harare.
“Nyatsime is in Mashonaland East and there are various magistrate courts nearby, including Chitungwiza, Marondera, Goromonzi and others. There is no special reason why the accused were made to appear in Harare,” said Bamu.
Bamu said the decision of the NPA was akin to “forum-shopping”.
“The impression that the prosecution is forum-shopping undermines our justice delivery system. The public cannot be given a perception that the State can choose a judiciary of their choice and don’t get to be challenged,” the lawyer added.
Reza, for the NPA, maintained that any regional court could handle a initial remand case, regardless of where the alleged crime was committed.
Magistrate Mandaza, after a brief adjournment, dismissed the defence objections and the matter resumed with the defence raising complaints against the police.
Said Bamu: “There is no obligation for the police to arrest and detain. They should show discretion guided by specific criteria. In this particular matter, those principles were never considered at all. The police just arrested and detained them.
“I have already stated the status of the accused and their relationship with the police. They are people who would present themselves to the police after a single phone call. They have done it before and many times their lawyers have written to the police asking if they wanted to arrest them.”
Bamu said detaining an accused before finalising an investigation puts a stain on the justice delivery.
“The arresting details, we are not aware if they are from law and order or another section. Over 100 police officers circled Sikhala’s house, even as he went out to engage with them upon realising that they were police officers. At least 30 polices officers armed with baton sticks forcefully entered his home,” Bamu said.
“He told them that he wanted to wear warmer clothes and come out but before he even dressed up the police has already broken down his door. This is not consistent with arresting procedure which provides that once an accused agrees and intends to open the door, the police should not break their doors.”
Bamu said the police made a dramatic arrest as if they were dealing with common criminals or dangerous people.
“There was no need to waste taxpayer funds fuelling vehicles to go to Sikhala and Sithole’s homes when they could have simply handed themselves to the police,” he added.
The lawyer also revealed that Sikhala and Sithole’s legal teams had been repeatedly denied access to them.
“They (police) chased me away on at least three occasions,” he told the court.
He said he was eventually allowed to see the two lawmakers but other lawyers who wanted to assist were denied access. These included Harrison Nkomo, Paida Saurombe and Tino Chinopfukutwa.
“And to this day they have not been able to access their clients. The right to a legal practitioner of choice is one of the sacred rights in our justice system. Each of them had a right to a lawyer of their choice and who they want to be a lead counsel in their case,” Bamu protested.
Bamu charged that Sikhala and Sithole were not taken through vetting by the NPA where their case is considered and a decision made whether to pursue the charges.
“The vetting process was done without their participation. Reza was simply given an instruction to place the accused on remand by one J Uladi. A decision had already been made without allowing the accused to participate,” the lawyer added.
He also revealed that initially, police had charged Sikhala on three counts and Sithole two – only to reduce the charge to one.
The hearing continues on Friday when defence lawyers are expected to challenge the two MPs’ placement on remand.