State embarrassed as court exonerates trio charged for violating national lockdown regulations

HARARE Magistrate Barbara Mateko this week exonerated
three acquaintances of Zengeza West constituency legislator Hon. Job
Sikhala by quashing charges of breaching national lockdown regulations
pressed against them last year.

The three namely Terrence Manjengwa, Blessed Changara and Barnabas
Gura, who all reside in Harare were arrested on 3 September 2020
outside Harare Magistrates Court while following proceedings for Hon.
Sikhala, who had been arrested and detained on charges of inciting
public violence by urging people to participate during the 31 July
2020 protests.

The trio was charged with unnecessary movement during the national
lockdown as defined in section 4(1)(a) of the Public Health (COVID-19
Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order
Statutory Instrument 77/2020.

Prosecutors claimed that Manjengwa aged 26 years, Gura aged 32 years
and Changara aged 22 years unlawfully and unnecessarily moved from
their places of residence during the national lockdown imposed by
government in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus by gathering
at Harare Magistrates Court without exemption letters.

But on Wednesday 2 June 2021, Magistrate Mateko upheld the trio’s
application for exception and quashed the charge of violating national
lockdown regulations.

Magistrate Mateko’s decision came after Manjengwa, Gura and Changara’s
lawyer Kossam Ncube of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights had objected
to the charge of unnecessary movement during the national lockdown on
the basis that it does not exist at law under the cited section.

Ncube had also argued that proceeding to trial with the charges as
framed would amount to a violation of section 70(1)(b) of the
Constitution as it abrogates the right to a fair trial and hence the
trio must not plead to a nullity.

While Manjengwa, Gura and Changara have been set free on charges of
contravening national lockdown regulations, their application
excepting to charges of possession of offensive weapons at a public
gathering as defined in section 43(1)(a) of the Criminal Law
(Codification and Reform) Act was dismissed by Magistrate Mateko, who
ordered the State to amend the charge of possession of weapons as
prosecutors had cited a wrong section.

In their application for exception, Manjengwa, Gura and Changara had
argued that the purported offence cited in the State papers is not
established under the particular sub-section cited by prosecutors,
hence no cause of action arises.

The trio had also argued that the failure by the State to cite the
correct provision is so glaring that it cannot be condoned or be said
to be inconsequential and to seek to commence a prosecution on
non-existent charges is a grave anomaly and irregularity which will
unduly prejudice and embarrass the accused persons.

Manjengwa, Gura and Changara return to court on 25 June 2021, where
their trial on charges of possession of offensive weapons is scheduled
to commence.