By Innocent Ruwende
Three crew members of the overloaded boat which capsized, killing 11 children in Lake Chivero on Christmas Day last year, were yesterday each jailed for five years for culpable homicide, while the owner was acquitted on a technicality.
The driver was not licensed while all passengers had no life jackets when tragedy struck.
Boat driver Enock Yolani Zulu (36), and crew members Fadil Ramon Weale (27) and Joseph Abrahams (37) were convicted, despite having pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of culpable homicide when their trial opened before magistrate, Mr Tendai Mahwe.
The State, however, said it will contest the acquittal of the boat owner, Latif Ameer (53). The State argues that Zulu subverted justice by exonerating Ameer. Mr Mahwe convicted the boat crew on the strength of overwhelming evidence.
He, however, cleared Ameer of all the counts to the chagrin of parents and relatives of the children who perished in the disaster. Some of the parents wept and walked out of the courtroom when judgment was passed. The boat owner was acquitted on the basis of Zulu’s testimony that was riddled with inconsistencies.
Zulu said Ameer had authorised him to drive his boat, but later made a U-turn, saying the boat owner’s mechanic, who appeared to be drunk, had authorised him. Mr Mahwe said although he was convinced that Ameer authorised him to drive the boat, he had no choice, but to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He said it was bizarre for Zulu to make a U-turn and exonerate Ameer and questioned his mental capacity. In sentencing the trio, Mr Mahwe said the case deserved the severest of punishments and there was no need to suspend any portion.
“Circumstances of the case smack of a deliberate ploy although the evidence falls short of sustaining a murder charge. The sanctity of human life should be respected, a message should be sent to others of like mind,” he said.
Mr Mahwe said the fact that the crew told passengers that they would die after winking at each other showed a deliberate ploy. After the court had adjourned, parents and relatives of the deceased jeered the trio. “You will die in prison,” they shouted.
In mitigation, defence lawyers, Mr Hamios Mukonoweshuro and Jacob Jogee, had pleaded with the court for non-custodial sentence arguing that the Ministry of Transport, Communication and Infrastructural Development and the parents had played a part in causing the deaths.
Prosecutor Mr Michael Reza, however, urged the court to sentence them to life imprisonment and had no kind words for Zulu saying: “I would have said he is a walking disgrace, but because I am in court I am not going to say that.”
Mr Reza had also applied to have the boat in question forfeited to the State, but Mr Mahwe said there was no basis as Ameer was acquitted. Charges against the quartet arose on December 25 last year, when Ameer allegedly asked Zulu to drive the boat and Weale to collect money from passengers.
They failed to provide life jackets to passengers in the boat. Abrahams loaded 17 passengers in a boat with capacity to carry six passengers. Ameer allegedly instructed Zulu to drive the boat with passengers without life jackets. Zulu was not licensed, but drove the boat into Lake Chivero at around 6:10pm.
As the boat was in the middle of the lake, water started getting in whereupon passengers panicked and moved to one side. The overloaded boat then capsized, resulting in the death of 11 children.
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