When Judge Charles Hungwe from Zimbabwe arrived in Lesotho earlier this year to start work on a series of controversial trials, he was given a warm reception in the local media. But matters have changed since then with the accused in some of the cases over which he was due to preside proving rather less than welcoming. In fact, 16 accused due to stand trial before him have brought an application for his appointment – and the appointment of all other foreign judges who might hear the pending cases – to be declared unconstitutional. The 16 accused were led by Lesotho’s former defence minister, Tseliso Mokhosi. Their ultimately unsuccessful application was based on the argument that the foreign judges had been appointed with the connivance of the executive, to ensure the conviction of the accused and their harshest possible punishment, even the possible death penalty. The court however dismissed these allegations as “scurrilous” and “deplorable”, and found that the executive had not acted improperly.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
S v Nyamayevhu
High Court, Masvingo, Zimbabwe
Judge Garainesu Mawadze
In this case of wife-murder, the accused had been in custody for six months as he was refused bail, the judge said. He added:
While in custody, the now-deceased’s relatives caused the accused’s relatives to surrender some of the accused’s assets as compensation. These included nine cattle, twelve goats, four bales of cotton, two tonnes of maize and R5 000. While this can never be compared to the loss of life we cannot close our eyes to the fact that accused has somehow atoned for his criminal conduct.
The couple in this case were separating after 31 years in an unregistered customary law union, and could not agree how to divide their assets.
At a pre-trial conference, Judge Garainesu Mawadze of the high court in Harare, Zimbabwe, helped the separating couple – both school-teachers, though the man had progressed to the post of headmaster – to deal with most of their disputed assets. Later, during a full trial lasting two days, Judge Martin Mafusire had to decide on division of the remaining items. He began his decision by noting what had been agreed up to that point via the pre-trial conference.
In the midst of bad stories about the quality of justice being experienced in Zimbabwe’s courts comes a high court judgment that sees the accused as an individual – and that sets aside his trial sentence in the lower court as a shocking expression of the magistrate’s whims about burglars at Christmas.
The judiciary in Zimbabwe is not enjoying a particularly good international reputation at the moment. News of bail applications routinely refused, of mass trials and sham prosecutions – all have raised questions about the quality of justice being dispensed in that country during the current crackdown on opposition activists.
In this case, Judge Owen Tagu of the high court in Harare was faced with a situation where two members of the United Family International Church wanted to sue the couple running the church, Emmanuel and Ruth Makandiwas (prophet and prophetess respectively).
The two members of the church, Upenyu and Blessing Mashangwa, told the court of a promise allegedly made by the Makandiwas: if congregants handed over a lot of money to the prophets, their debts would “disappear” as this was “the season of miraculous cancellation of debts”. The Mashangwa couple – whose debts did not disappear but who lost a good deal of money when the bank repossessed their property – claimed US$6 535 000 from the church and its leaders for fraud and misrepresentation.