Williams and Mahlangu on trial today, 22 January, in Bulawayo

WOZA leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, appeared in Bulawayo Magistrate’s Court this morning on trial for two charges, one relating to an arrest in October 2008 and the other to an arrest in June 2004.

The 2008 charge is C/S 37 (1) (a) (i) of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act Chapter 9:23: “Acting together with one or more other persons with him/her in any place realizing that there is a real risk or possibility of disturbing peace, security or order of the public”. The 2004 charge is under C/S 7(c) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act chapter 9:15 “acting in a manner which is likely to lead to a breach of the peace or to create a nuisance or obstruction”.

The State was represented by Lovemore Chifamba with a senior magistrate, Msipa, presiding.

When the proceedings finally started after several delays, the defence lawyer, Kossam Ncube, applied for the charges to be dismissed on the basis of a Supreme Court precedent (Munhumeso and others 1994 (1) – Zimbabwe Law Reports (Supreme Court) p49) that ruled that by their nature, demonstrations are public and are held in public places and therefore will cause some form of public disturbance. It cannot be called a demonstration if the activity is held in private. The ruling decreed that as peaceful demonstrations are allowed under the Constitution, those participating in peaceful demonstrations cannot be charged with disturbing the peace.

Prosecutor Chifamba tried to argue that charges against Williams and Mahlangu were correct as by demonstrating they intended to disturb the peace. Magistrate Msipa will give her ruling at 8.30am on Tuesday 27th January as to whether to proceed with the trial under the current charges or to dismiss charges.

In the most recent case, Williams and Mahlangu were arrested on 16th October 2008 at Mhlahlandlela Government Complex and were held in custody for three weeks; first at Bulawayo Central Police Station, then at Bulawayo Remand Prison before spending the remainder of the time at Mlondolozi Prison. The protest was to demand that the food situation in Zimbabwe be declared a national disaster and all Zimbabweans be able to access food aid whilst protracted political negotiations are more speedily concluded.

Their trial was due to start on 2nd December 2008, but the state, represented by Mr. Shawarira, was not ready for trial and so Magistrate Msipa postponed the trial until 22 January 2009. All bail conditions, which included reporting to police twice a week and not being allowed to travel outside a 40-kilometer radius of Bulawayo without written permission, were lifted.

Their arrest, detention and trial is in continuing violation of the 15th September 2008 Global Political Agreement between Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change parties.