Victory for eight Pumula members and Trial starts for another six

Eight members Grace Moyo, Stella Chivunge, Sikhangezile Sibanda, and Simangaliphi Msimanga, 16yr old Cecelia Ncube, Siboniso Siziba, Miriam Moyo, and Memory Matandare arrested on 24 May 2011 appeared in Western Commonage Magistrate Court on the 15th of August 2011. The Magistrate Themba Chimiso ruled that the state must withdraw the charges before plea. This followed an application by the defence team from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights challenging the charges.

The accused were charged with two counts: 1. Intentional engaging in a disorderly or riotous conduct as defined in section 41(a) of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act 9:23. Alternatively Encumbering or obstructing the free passage along any street, road, throughfare, sidewalk or pavements as defined in section 46(2)(f) of the Criminal law codification and Reform act.

Lawyers Lizwe Jamela and Nosimilo Chanayiwa cited a Supreme Court ruling obtained by WOZA leaders Williams and Mahlangu for a 2008 protest related arrest. Lawyers argued that the charges were similar to the section 37 (1) a (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the subject of the Supreme Court ruling. As a result of this ruling, it followed that WOZA members should not be arrested under similar conditions as they infringe on their constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, section 20(1) and 21(1) of the Constitution. This argument rendered the Prosecutor D. Ndebele dumb and he had no option but to withdraw the charges before plea and record this in the docket. The members, including a 3 month old baby Rejoice had spent a night in custody. They were arrested during a peaceful protest in the Pumula suburb of Bulawayo at their local Electricity supply office demanding a decent electricity service. WOZA members were conducting a ‘power to poor people’ campaign targeting the Zimbabwe Electricity company which has a monopoly and overcharges its service.

Six members accused of writing messages about the poor electricity service appeared in Tredgold Magistrates Court, Bulawayo on 18th of August 2011. The six members, Janet Dube and 5 others were in the dock for most of the morning facing Trial. The Trial is being heard by Magistrate Roselyn Dube and the state prosecutor is Jeremiah Mutsindikwa. They are defended by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Lizwe Jamela and Nosimilo Chanayiwa. They are charged with contravening section 140 of Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) Chapter 9:23, malicious damage to property. The property being the tar road connecting the Pelandaba to the City centre. Malicious damage to property reads: Any person who, knowing that another person is entitled to own, possess or control any property or realising that there is a real risk or possibility that another person may be so entitled, damages or destroys the property. (a) intending to cause such damage or destruction; or (b) realising that there is a real risk or possibility that such damage or destruction may result from his or her act or omission; shall be guilty of malicious damage to property, and liable to. (i) a fine not exceeding level fourteen or not exceeding twice the value of the property damaged as a result of the crime, whichever is the greater; or (ii) imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty-five years; Two police officers who arrested the accused gave evidence. Shepherd Sipili and Lawrence Chademana’s evidence seemed to contradict their own written statements. They admitted arresting Sibekezele and Therezia, saying the other accused could have been arrested by other officers who were not in court. The trial will continue on the 1st of September where the Engineer Lengama Douglas Ncube from City Council must explain how he calculated the USD 349 damage apparently caused by the women’s graffiti. The six women were arrested on Wednesday 18 May 2011 by armed police officers. During their detention they were denied access to food and lawyers, split up and help in inhumane conditions in suburban police stations and held for longer that the 48 hours allowed by law. WOZA would like to thank Jamela and Nosimilo Chanayiwa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human rights for delivering a legal victory for the Pumula members and look forward to another victory for the six accused of writing ‘power to poor people’.