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CRIME AND COURTS

Coltart urges Law Society to condemn Nduna ruling on Mtetwa

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Senator David Coltart who is a human rights lawyer and former Zimbabwean Minister of Education, Sport, Arts & Culture has urged the Law Society of Zimbabwe to condemn a ruling made by Harare Magistrate Ngoni Nduna who directed that lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa be struck off the Law Society register as he ruled that she stands down from representing journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

Coltart who is one of the senior lawyers in the country condemned the judgement issued by Nduna against Mtetwa.

“As a senior legal practitioner of the High Court of Zimbabwe, and as senior partner of one of Zimbabwe’s oldest law firms, I expect our own Law Society the @lawsocietyofzim to be as forthright and quick in its condemnation of this ruling.” he said.

Coltart also urged all lawyers across Zimbabwe to publicly voice against the decision made by Nduna which he referred to as unconstitutional action.

“I also urge fellow senior lawyers across #Zimbabwe to speak out against this plainly unconstitutional action which constitutes a grave threat against the legal profession. Now is the time to speak out – silence amounts to condonation.” Senator Coltart said.

Coltart also praised the Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA) for speaking against Magistrate Nduna’s ruling.

“The Johannesburg Bar has issued an excellent statement regarding the unconstitutional action of Magistrate Nduna in barring Beatrice Mtetwa from defending Hopewell Chin’ono .”

Below is the full statement by the Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA)

One week ago, the Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA) publicly disapproved of the conduct of the Zimbabwean Government’s crackdown on dissent and arrest over of over 60 opposition politicians, activists and journalists and a number of lawyers on a variety of nebulous charges.

Yesterday, Magistrate Ngoni Nduna of the Harare Magistrates’ Court granted an order “disqualifying” Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client Mr Hopewell Chin’ono in his bail rehearing and directing the Prosecutor General to consider prosecuting her for contempt of court. A careful reading of the Magistrate’s ruling suggests that this was an instance of judicial overreach.

Beatrice Mtetwa is a leading Human Rights lawyer in Zimbabwe and is a longstanding friend of the Johannesburg Bar. She is highly regarded all over the world for her determined and ethical commitment to the protection of the rule of law.

In 2009, the General Council of the Bar in South Africa awarded her its Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award for Service to Law in Southern Africa.?

In June 2020, Mr Chin’ono, a journalist, exposed a $60 million Personal Protective Equipment procurement scandal that led to the arrest and dismissal of Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health, Mr. Obadiah Moyo.

Mr Chin’ono was himself subsequently arrested and charged with incitement to commit public violence, having called for peaceful, socially-distanced protests in small groups against the Government.

Magistrate Nduna refused an earlier application for bail on 24 July 2020 and an appeal against that decision was unsuccessful.

After reports emerged that Mr Chin’ono was being held in inhumane conditions and had not been allowed to consult in private (even in court) with his legal representatives including Mrs. Mtetwa without police officials listening in, the High Court of Harare granted an order allowing him to consult privately and to receive warm clothing and food that meets his dietary requirements.

In making the disqualification ruling, Magistrate Nduna was at pains to note that the application was not one seeking to hold Mrs. Mtetwa in contempt of court, and the ruling makes no order that Mrs Mtetwa is in contempt.

Instead, the ruling relies upon an earlier case (Smyth v Ushewokunze 1997 (2) ZLR 544 (S)) dealing with a legal principle empowering a court to disqualify a prosecutor who has failed to comply with the unique and specific duties of impartiality and detachment that apply to legal practitioners exercising that office. The same duties do not apply to ordinary legal representatives, especially those representing accused persons.

The basis of the ruling is the Facebook page of a US-based film-maker Lorie Conway entitled “Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law” which takes its name from a documentary Conway made about Mrs Mtetwa. Posts on the page state:

“Where is the outrage from the International Community that Hopewell Chin’ono is being held as a political prisoner? His life is in serious peril. Raise awareness about his unlawful imprisonment. Do not let him be forgotten. You or someone you love could be the next one abducted from your home and put in leg irons. SPEAK OUT”

Despite Mrs. Mtetwa’s confirmation that she does not operate the Facebook page and has nothing to do with the comments on it, the court found that the page relates to Conway’s documentary which “was profiling [Mtetwa] and her alleged prowess in court in human rights-related cases. In a nutshell [Mtetwa) is aware of the existence of the page and approved its coming into being”. The court further found that Mtetwa therefore “[o]bviously … authorised and approved (the Facebook page’s] coming into existence.

In that breath, she acceded to posts being made on it which posts are relevant to herself. The Court observed that Mrs Mtetwa “cannot wash her hands like Pontius Pilate of the Bible”.

In addition to these findings, Magistrate Nduna considered that Mrs Mtetwa acted inappropriately in writing a letter to the court containing legal submissions, holding that “a lawyer who is professionally seized with a case does not conduct the case with such desperation.

This moment you are in court arguing the case, the next you are writing letters in bad taste and smuggling them into the record and the next you are posting on social media that the whole trial process is for political expediency and that an accused, your client, is a political prisoner and inviting the whole world to show its outrage”.

It is apparent that the Magistrate did not consider the evidence sufficient to reach the conclusion that Mrs Mtetwa was in contempt of court.

Nor is there any basis on the facts referred to in the ruling to make such a claim. The allegation that Mrs Mtetwa has committed unethical conduct should be properly investigated in accordance with fair procedures for dealing with allegations of misconduct by legal practitioners.

In view of the questionable legal and factual basis of the allegations, it is unbecoming of the prosecutors in this matter to have launched an application of this nature in circumstances where it was plainly intended to deprive an awaiting trial prisoner of legal representation by his chosen lead counsel.

Apart from the questionable factual and legal basis of the ruling, it is furthermore disappointing that concern for the rights of the accused does not appear to have featured in any way in the Magistrate’s consideration of the matter, let alone given pause for thought in extending the duties of the prosecutors to the defence counsel.

The JSA continues to stand in support of the lawyers, including Mrs Mtetwa, representing those seeking to exercise their democratic and constitutionally enshrined rights to express criticism of the Government in Zimbabwe.

It is crucial that courts and court officials should maintain their independence and impartiality in such matters and not abuse their positions or act outside of the bounds of their authority to trample on the human rights of litigants, especially arrestees.

These matters go to the heart of the rule of law and constitutional democracy.

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CRIME AND COURTS

Family Of Girl (14) Who Died During Childbirth “Offers” The Husband Her Sister (9) As A Replacement

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The family of a 14-year-old girl who recently lost her life during childbirth at an apostolic sect’s church gathering in Marange is reportedly planning to offer their nine-year-old daughter to their in-laws as her late sister’s replacement (chigadzamapfihwa).

Evans Momberume, the man who allegedly impregnated the girl, Memory Machaya, is still walking free, more than two weeks after the minor’s death.

Memory reportedly died around 9 AM on 15 July and was secretly buried two hours later.

The Manica Post has gathered that Memory was forced out of school while doing Form One in Mhondoro to get married to Momberume.

Memory, the last born child in a family of six, was having her first birth. She left behind a baby boy who is said to be in the custody of his father.

Efforts by The Manica Post to get in touch with Momberume were fruitless as no one had his contact details.

In a telephone interview with The Manica Post on Thursday, the Machaya spokesperson, a bitter Alice Mabika, confirmed her niece’s painful death.

Alice said she and Memory’s mother, Shy Mabika, were barred from entering the church shrine after their daughter’s burial.

The Mabika sisters said their daughter was denied medical attention at her hour of need.

Alice said from the information they obtained from Momberume’s sister (name not supplied), those who attended to Memory on the fateful day say she complained of a headache.

“Midwives” reportedly diagnosed that Memory had ulcers in the mouth and nose and went on to rub her mouth with salt while pouring paraffin into her nose. Said, Alice:

_We were told that five ‘midwives’ attended to Memory and rubbed salt in her mouth while pouring paraffin into her nose. We were told that she had a seizure and hit her head on the ground._

“She died soon after delivering her baby boy and the church members went on to bury her without involving us.”

After being notified about Memory’s death, her mother, a devotee of the church who had not attended the church gathering in question, went to the shrine in the company of her relatives.

The family spent the night waiting to be granted access but were barred from entering the shrine by the sect’s security team. Said, Alice:

“When we arrived at the shrine around 2 pm, we were told to wait until the prayers were done at 6 pm.”

“The security team checked us around 7 pm, but they became evasive. Our pleas to be attended to fell on deaf ears and we had to spend the night in the open.”

“We remained resolute in our quest to see our daughter’s body, but the security details would not budge.”

“We even tried to engage the service of our relative who is in the police force in Chinhoyi.”

“We phoned him and he tried to talk to the church’s security personnel, but they refused to entertain him over the phone.”

Alice said Memory’s mother is “devastated” by her daughter’s death and she is currently bedridden at her home in Kwekwe.

Meanwhile, pressure groups have demanded the arrest and prosecution of the church’s leaders and the man who impregnated Memory.

According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the legal age of consent for sexual activity is 16, while the minimum age for marriage is 18.

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CRIME AND COURTS

Businessman nabbed over 113 fraudulently obtained driver’s licences

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Police have arrested a Harare businessman and seized at least 113 driving licence discs that were due to be handed to aspiring drivers who paid US$250 each to be issued with the documents without undergoing the Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID) tests.

Detectives arrested businessman Tendekai Madongorere and Julius Punungwe before seizing a number of documents which included:

  • 113 fake driving licence discs and certificates of competence with names of aspiring drivers,
  • five fake defensive driving certificates,
  • five card printers used to produce the documents,
  • 400 fake blank national identity cards,
  • one fake Zimra tax clearance certificate,
  • one fake deed of grant in respect of a Mufakose house,
  • 29 copies of serialised birth record documents and nine copies of birth certificates.
  • A fake Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) identity card in the name of Madongorere
  • fake Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) identity cards bearing the names of Innocent Kayo, Edmund Mhere and Tichaona Chijwanha.
  • fake Covid-19 essential staff cards,
  • fake Cambridge O-Level and A-Level certificates,
  • a desktop computer,
  • three fake diploma certificates, and other dubious papers.

Three months ago, The Herald carried an investigative story in which fraudsters were advertising on social media that they can facilitate the issuance of driving licences within hours.

Madongorere (48) is a director of Impact Designs Private Limited which operates in Harare’s central business district while Punungwe (47) is unemployed.

Police established from interviewing the 113 people whose names appeared on the fraudulent driving licence documents that they had paid US$250 each for the discs.

The people in question, are expected to give evidence as State witnesses in the trial of the two suspects.

Detectives at Chitungwiza Police Station received information that some fraudsters were printing forged official documents selling them to people in Harare and Chitungwiza.

The police arrested Madongorere who then implicated Punungwe who was subsequently arrested.

The two are in custody, having lost two freedom bids at Chitungwiza Magistrates’ Court and the High Court.

They are now back at Chitungwiza Court with a fresh freedom bid dubbed “application for bail pending trial on changed circumstances”.

A magistrate is yet to determine the application.

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CRIME AND COURTS

Fraudster arrested after swipping for $390 000 groceries

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A fraudster has been arrested after he swiped for groceries worth more than $398 000 at OK Supermarket in Hwange using a bank card that had been tampered with.

The man, Brian Pedzisa of Chitungwiza, was arrested on Thursday and is suspected to be among a gang of people who have been using cloned cards and other bank card related tactics to con various retail shops across the country.

Detectives on Thursday pounced on Pedzisa at the supermarket, moments after he was about to get out after swiping for groceries worth $396 384.

Matabeleland North provincial police spokesperson Inspector Glory Banda confirmed the incident and said police were now looking for two other people linked to the sca

“On 10 June 2021 a gang of three fraudsters tried to defraud OK Hwange Supermarket of groceries worth $396 384.

One of the fraudsters successfully used an electronic Visa card to make purchases but before he could make off he was arrested by a team of watchful detectives who were working on a tip-off. Upon being interviewed the suspect revealed that he was working with two other accomplices who are still at large,” said Insp Banda.

He said the gang had used the same strategy to defraud OK Mart Victoria Falls of an undisclosed amount in groceries. He appealed to members of the public to assist with information leading to their arrest.

“The two accomplices are on the run anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of these two criminals can report at the nearest police station,” said Insp Banda.

He called on shop owners to enhance security to avoid such incidents which were on the rise in the country.

“As police we would like to implore shop owners to enhance security at their premises through use of alarm systems and Closed Circuit Television. Retailers should examine electronic cards and do necessary verifications before processing of electronic transactions. For the record some fraudsters misrepresent themselves as humanitarian workers.”

According to sources privy to the incident, the gang would approach the supermarkets seeking a quotation for groceries pretending that the transaction wanted would be effected from a nostro account. Later one of the gang members would return to make purchases using a Visa card whose microchip would have been tampered with. Sunday News

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