Bertha Sibanda (55), a Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) member, who is on trial charged under the Public Indecency and Public Exposure Act, appeared on trial in Tredgold Magistrate Court, Bulawayo. She appeared before Magistrate Ms Charity Maphosa on Monday 30th September 2013 for continuation of trial and was defended by Kossam Ncube. A ruling is expected on 9th October 2013.
On the same day, Magodonga Mahlangu also appeared on trial in court one before Magistrate C. J. Mberewere, charged with making offensive calls without reasonable cause. Defense lawyer, Nontokozo Tachiona applied for Mahlangu’s discharge when the stated closed its case. The complainant, MDC T ward chair for Matshobana in Bulawayo, and the two state witnesses contradicted their own evidence and disassociated themselves with their statements prepared by the law and order department of the police who insisted the matter be prosecuted. The Magistrate will rule on if Mahlangu must take the stand in her own defense and present witnesses for the defense on 8th October 2013. (For more info see this link http://wozazimbabwe.org/?p=1463)
Bertha Sibanda was amongst 180 WOZA members who were arrested during the Valentine’s Day protest on the 14th of February 2013. She was detained after the rest of members were released as she had removed her outer garments whilst in the Bulawayo Police station courtyard.
Mr. Shepherd Nhamburo prosecuted for the State, leading evidence that on Sibanda removed her skirt and blouse in public in full view of the police who were arresting the protesting group of WOZA women.
The business before the court on 30 September was for the accused person and defense witnesses to take the stand. Ms Sibanda told the court that she stripped following an instruction from the arresting police officers who shouted bvisa (a Shona language word meaning remove your clothes).
She said, “Police officers shouted ‘bvisa’ to the group and I asked them if we should removed our clothes and they responded with same word ‘bvisa’. I asked them about three times if I should go ahead and they still maintained that we should strip.”
According to Sibanda, there was nothing wrong with her stripping since she only stripped after enquiring if she should do it and got an affirmative response from the police officers. “I thought they wanted me to strip following the arrest. I have information from other people’s narrations that women are required to remove their clothes when they are arrested,” explained Sibanda.
Two witnesses, both members of WOZA arrested on the day in question, Hlalaphi Ndlovu and Joyce Ndebele took the stand and both maintained that the instruction to remove clothes came from the police officers. The members felt that the command shouted to the group of arrested women, misled them to think that they were under arrest and expected to remove their clothes in the courtyard. The two said that they did not strip as WOZA leader Magodonga Mahlangu stopped them told them to sit down and await for formal procedures after a telephone conversation with WOZA leader Jennifer Williams.
Ms Mahlangu took the stand on 1st October 2013 when the trial resumed. She testified that she had stopped the mass undressing after calling Jennifer Williams to advise her that over 180 members had been arrested. Williams had been part of the protest and Officer Commanding Bulawayo District Chief Inspector Maninge had asked her to come upstairs to his office so as to discussing the cause of the protest. When Mahlangu called Williams to advise of the arrests, Williams was in the office of the chief Inspector and she immediately advised him of the news and announced to him and to Mahlangu on the phone that she was walking out of the meeting as the police boss had obviously not negotiating in good faith by arresting members.
Williams duly arrived at Bulawayo Central police station with the police boss. He had addressed the protest promising that no one would be arrested whilst Williams meet with him and his police staff. Williams and members seated in the courtyard refused to leave pending the release of Bertha and 8 male members but Chief Inspector Maninge ordered the Police Reactions group to beat anyone who refused to leave the police station despite them having been brought there under arrest by the same Police Reaction group.
Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) would like to thank Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights for their continued support in deploying their members to defend WOZA human rights defenders as they face persecution by prosecution by a police force selectively applying the law.