Thirty-nine veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war on Friday 4 February 2022 pleaded not guilty to charges of promoting public violence as their trial for allegedly singing “Chimurenga” songs commenced before Harare Magistrate Barbra Mateko. The liberation war veterans are on trial after they were arrested by Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers on 26 October 2021 in central Harare and charged with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of peace or bigotry as defined in Section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Prosecutors claim that the war veterans gathered at Africa Unity Square singing “Chimurenga songs” with the intention to promote pubic violence or breaches of peace or realising that there was a real risk or possibility of forcibly disturbing the peace, security or order of the public.
The war veterans, prosecutors charged, intended to handover a petition to Parliament and at Munhumutapa Building, which houses President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s offices outlining their grievances but were told to only allow five people to do so but reportedly refused and insisted that they all wanted to present as a group. The prosecutors claimed that the war veterans refused to heed an order issued by ZRP officers to disperse and started singing “revolutionary songs” and thereby disturbing the peace and movement of pedestrians and some vehicles.
After pleading not guilty at the commencement of their trial, the war veterans filed an application excepting to the charges. In the application, the war veterans’ lawyers Paidamoyo Saurombe, Idirashe Chikomba and Tinashe Chinopfukutwa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, asked Magistrate Mateko to uphold their application for exception and acquit the former liberation war fighters.
Saurombe, Chikomba and Chinopfukutwa argued that the charge as set out in the charge sheet and State outline is defective as it does not disclose an offence and also lacks sufficient detail and particularity to inform the war veterans of the case they have to meet.
They also argued that it is not clear from the charge what is meant by the phrase “Chimurenga song” as to whether it refers to the music coined and played by the musician Thomas Mapfumo or to the songs played during the war of liberation.
The human rights lawyers stated that whatever the phrase “Chimurenga songs” means does not suffice to disclose an offence in terms of Section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and that Chimurenga songs, in one form or another, are routinely sung and played at national events and during national holidays while people are gathered hence that on its own does and cannot constitute an offence.
In addition, the lawyers stated that the charge and State outline did not specify the nature and particular lyrics of the Chimurenga songs which the war veterans were allegedly singing which would have created an intention on their part to forcibly disturb the peace, security or order of the public hence gathering and singing Chimurenga songs on its own does not constitute an offence.
The war veterans return to court on 28 February 2022 when Magistrate Mateko will hand down her ruling on the application for exception.
Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights