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Chivero boat crew, owner to face murder charges

By Tendai Rupapa

The owner and crew members of the boat that capsized, killing 11 children at Lake Chivero on Christmas Day last year may face murder charges. The prosecution is likely to prefer a more serious charge after a survivor’s testimony suggested the suspects intended to kill them.

Chasura boat owner Latif Ameer (centre) flanked by his lawyer Mr Hamios Mukonoweshuro (left) and a relative arrive at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts yesterday
Chasura boat owner Latif Ameer (centre) flanked by his lawyer Mr Hamios Mukonoweshuro (left) and a relative arrive at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts yesterday

Latif Ameer (53) and crew members Fadil Ramon Weale (27), Enock Yolani Zulu (36) and Joseph Abrahams (37) are facing 11 counts of culpable homicide. Prosecutor Mr Michael Reza said he will evaluate the evidence of the second witness who testified yesterday.

If it corroborates that of the first witness, the charge will be altered to murder.

“Your worship I am of the firm opinion that the evidence led by this witness (first witness), if it is corroborated by the second witness then I intend referring this matter to the High Court so that the accused persons face 11 counts of murder,” he said.

This comes after the first witness, a 16-year-old survivor, during re-examination, narrated events that led to the death of the 11 children.

Through a CCTV, the girl narrated how 21 passengers were squashed in the boat with capacity to carry six passengers. She also explained how, Fadil Ramon Weale (27), who introduced himself as the boat captain, allegedly winked to the boat operator, Enock Yolani Zulu (36) who then switched off the engine.

Weale, she said, told them to “kiss their lives goodbye” as they were going to die. She said Zulu waved at them and said, “Save your lives” before the two jumped out as the boat started sinking.

Mr Reza asked her if the capsizing of the boat was an accident basing on her evidence and the girl said it wasn’t because the crew’s agenda was to drown them.

She said the winking sign could have been meant to indicate that the time was “now.”

“They overloaded us and did not give us life saving jackets. Accused two (Zulu) switched off the engine at the deepest point of the lake to drown us.”

However, Mr Jacob Jogee, who is appearing for Abrahams, objected to Mr Reza’s line of questioning and Mr Hamios Mukonoweshuro, who is representing Ameer and Weale, agreed with him.

Said Mr Mukonoweshuro: “I associate myself with what my colleague has said. If they wanted to charge the accused persons with murder, they should have done so earlier before charging them with culpable homicide.”

The presiding magistrate Mr Tendai Mahwe overruled the objection by the defence team.

“The re-examination by the prosecutor is within the rules and regulations and all the information being led is on record.

“In terms of Section 54 of the Magistrates Court Act, he is empowered to refer a matter to the High Court if he feels that the evidence led so far points to murder, not culpable homicide,” he said. After the re-examination, Mr Reza called in the second witness, a 15-year-old survivor to take the witness stand.

She told the court that she survived by clinging to a rope as she could not swim. Her testimony corroborated that of the first witness. She was asked by the prosecutor how she got into the boat and if ever they were made to pay a fee. The girl said they queued to get into the boat together with her sisters and cousins.

She said Abrahams, who was in charge of loading passengers, collected money and she gave him US$45. She also said that she was sitting between Zulu and Weale when she saw Zulu winking to Weale who winked back before the former switched off the engine.

When the two winked, said the girl, she did not know what they were trying to communicate. She said her cousin (who drowned) saw the two exchanging winks and jokingly said to her and another cousin, “vasikana munenge madiwa (girls it seems you have been loved) and we all laughed it out”.

She further said after being rescued, she saw Ameer, the owner of the boat at the shore. He was in the company of another man whom he instructed to “feed” them with information before the police arrive. During cross-examination, Mr Mukonoweshuro accused the girl of lying under oath.

The lawyer suggested to the witness that some of the things she was saying were different from the statement she gave to the police. While testifying through a CCTV camera, the girl said Weale introduced himself as the captain and later introduced Zulu as the driver.

Mr Mukonoweshuro referred her to a portion in her warned and cautioned statement, which indicated that Zulu, was the one who introduced himself as the driver and later introduced Weale as the captain. However, the girl said she could have made a mistake since she was traumatised at the time police recorded statements.

She said she recalled most of the events when she saw the boat crew at the courts. The trial continues today. Allegations are that on December 25 last year, Ameer asked Zulu to drive the boat and Weale to collect money from passengers. He allegedly failed to provide life jackets to passengers in the boat.

Abrahams, the State said, 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, it is alleged, did not have a licence to drive the boat, but drove it into Lake Chivero around 6:10pm.

As the boat was in the middle of the lake, water started getting in and passengers panicked and moved to one side. The overloaded boat capsized, resulting in the death of 11 passengers.