By Professor Matodzi
Beitbridge, July 3, 2016 – SEVENTEEN Beitbridge residents who were caught up in a police dragnet arrest following angry riots that rocked the border town on Friday, were taken to court on Sunday where they were remanded in custody to Tuesday.
They are being charged over the anti-government protest which was against some restrictions on importation of basic commodities from South Africa.
Court officials on Sunday held a court session to weigh up the release of the group after protesters in the Matabeleland South town forced the closure of the border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
A warehouse belonging to the state-run Zimbabwe Revenue Authority was also set on fire.
Police responded by launching a dragnet arrest in the border town and nabbed 17 residents whom they charged with public violence in contravention of Section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23.
In an unprecedented move, judicial officials, who hardly convene court sessions during weekends particularly on Sundays, held a court hearing for the 17 residents.
Police feared to be held accountable for breaching the residents’ constitutional rights if they failed to present them before the courts within 48 hours of their arrest.
Zimbabwean laws detect the automatic release of any accused person if, for whatever reasons, police were unable to send them to court.
Beitbridge Magistrate Gloria Takundwa, who presided over Sunday’s court hearing, remanded the 17, who include 16 men and one woman in custody to Tuesday.
Prosecutors are on Tuesday scheduled to respond to a bail application filed by their lawyer, Reason Mutimba of Mawadze and Simwango Legal Practitioners, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
According to a statement issued Sunday by ZLHR, Mutimba raised complaints against ZRP officers, whom he accused of assaulting 10 of the residents during the time when the law enforcement agents rounded them up in the border town.
Last week’s protest whose intensity appeared to have shaken President Robert Mugabe’s administration, coincided with several demonstrations that are being rolled out almost on a weekly basis by disgruntled citizens who are calling on Mugabe and his Zanu PF government to step down for mismanaging the troubled southern African country.
Last month, the government imposed an order suspending the importation of products including bottled water, furniture, building materials, steel products, cereals, potato crisps and dairy products, which mainly find their way into the country through Beitbridge border post.
Mugabe’s administration is adamant the embargo was necessary to protect the country’s struggling industries as some of them have in recent years ceased operations and laid off workers contributing to high unemployment levels.