EIGHT WOZA members arrested during a protest against the on the 24th of May 2011 appeared at Western Commonage Magistrate Court on 26th of May 2011. Those arrested were Grace Moyo, Stella Chivunge, Sikhangezile Sibanda, Simangaliphi Msimanga, 16yr old Cecelia Ncube, Siboniso Siziba, Miriam Moyo, and Memory Matandare with her 3month old baby Rejoice. The accused were represented by Human Rights Lawyer Kossam Ncube and appeared before Magistrate Shepherd Munjanja. The Public Prosecutor was Fiona Ncube-Dhenere represented the state.
They were formally charged with two counts the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act 9:23. Count 1 is Section 41(a) – Intentional engaging in a disorderly or riotous conduct and count 2 Section 46(2) (f) – Encumbering or obstructing the free passage along any street, road, thoroughfare, sidewalk or pavements.
As the state was opposing bail a hearing had to be conducted. The state called Investigating officer Detective Assistant Inspector Nhlanhla Ncube from Pumula Police station to give evidence. He argued that police are not done with the investigations as they want to arrest the organisers of the action. He told the court that since January police have been on the lookout for Woza organisers and they want those in custody to lead them to the organisers. Defence attorney argued that this matter was not to be put on the shoulders of the current accused who should not suffer as a result of police incompetence to do their work.
After an adjourned the Magistrate Shepherd Munjanja indicated that it is the duty of the police to investigate first before arresting and not to arrest and investigate. He reminded the police prison cells are not place to keep people who have not been proven to be guilty while police officers are doing their investigations. He granted them $100 bail each, and ordered them to report every Friday at Pumula police camp until the finalisation of the matter. The defence applied to challenge the charges on the next remand date which is the 9th June 2011. All the accused pleaded not guilty.
The charge and statement taking procedures were done 8 times with all statements being torn up and ‘they did not make sense’ so finding a charge was problematic and it is amazing with this background that the investigating team went further to want to refuse bail and indicated that they want to arrest the organisers since January. Noting the evidence made by the police officer under oath is a confirmation of the police harassment of WOZA Human rights Defenders and direct proof that there is no political will to implement respect for freedoms of assembly and expression and promises contained in the political agreement. It is also direct contempt for a Supreme Court ruling obtained by Williams and Mahlangu for a 2008 arrest. It is promising to note that the magistrate reminder to the police that they must investigate then arrest is a reprimand for the police force that prefer to employ persecution by prosecution as standard practice and it is hopeful that in the next sitting he will rule for these frivolous charges to be withdrawn.
It is sad to note that arresting officers initially asked for deport fines to be paid but members said they had not committed any offence and demanded their right to appear in court. The just action at that point was to release the eight but they could not be humble and proceeded to detain them. The whole afternoon on Tuesday, they could not find a police station to detain them and the law and order department also refused to receive the case saying that arresting officers were overzealous must finish their own dirty work and even questioned why they were even arrested in the first place. The arbitrary arrest of Human Rights defenders is an urgent call for security sector reform.