The fundamental principle underlying the right to a fair trial is that every individual is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Hence no one individual should be treated like a criminal until a court of law has passed a decision declaring them so. Even if the circumstantial evidence points to the guilt of the individual, they must still be given the opportunity to go through all the motions of a trial to present their case, present mitigating circumstances – if they are there – and receive a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of their crime. Amongst the motions of a fair trial should be the ability of an accused to be granted bail. This is dependent on the state giving sufficient evidence to prove that the accused is not a fit and proper person to grant bail. Of course, there is need to balance the interests of justice in granting bail: for instance, whether the accused will interfere with witnesses, tamper with evidence, or attempt to flee (among such other issues) must be taken into account.
My problem with the justice system in Zimbabwe is that the application of these factors is always unpredictable, and their fair application seems to depend on the social status and political affiliation of both the victim and accused.
In May 2011, a policeman was killed in Glenview, a densely populated suburb in the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe. His name was Inspector Petros Mutedza. 29 MDC-T members were rounded as suspects. They are still languishing in prison. They have been detained in remand for nearly a year. They are being held in unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, receiving inadequate food, and constantly denied bail. The High Court of Zimbabwe keeps postponing the bail hearing indefinitely since the arrest and imprisonment of the accused, stating that they are a flight risk. Given this standpoint and the Court’s assertions, should they therefore not proceed to hear the matter on the merits and give the accused the chance to prove their innocence? One wonders, is the incarceration of these people serving justice and is it in line with the principle of a fair trial, or their continued detention is vindictive, serving a political agenda?
On 17 March 2012, police in the mining town of Shamva, in the Mashonaland Central Province of Zimbabwe, killed a man. His name was Luxmore Chivambo. His crime was apparently related tothe disappearance of a purse (containing some money and a cell phone) of the wife of the officer in charge at Shamva Police Station. Residents at Ashley Mining compound, including Luxmore, were savagely attacked by police officers as the officers tried to recover the stolen ‘goods’.
Why am I raising these two stories?
Oh well, the people who are alleged to have killed the police officer in Glenview are still rotting in prison. The police officers who were seen killing Luxmore, namely; Motion Jakopo (41), Simon Mafunda (32), Michael Makwalo (30), Lee Makope (23), Benedict Tapfuma (22) and Blessing Saidi (26) and injuring 11 other people have been released on $50 bail. Where is the justice in that? Are police officers more important than ordinary civilians, hence making their murder more critical and their alleged criminals guiltier than those who kill ordinary people? Is the known crime of police officers, who clearly ill-treated citizens to whom they owe a constitutional mandate to protect, a less serious offence than that of rowdy citizens who allegedly attacked a police officer?
We stand on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence day commemoration and I cannot bring myself to embrace the celebratory mood that others seem to have. After all what is there to celebrate when the oppressed (under colonial rule) have become the oppressors (black Zimbabweans suppressing black Zimbabweans). Such freedom where others are more índependent’ than others leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.