Riots cases clog Bulawayo courts
By Jeffrey Muvundusi
The recent fuel riots have left the justice delivery system in Bulawayo creaking under a deluge of cases which have forced the government to dispatch additional magistrates and prosecutors to the City of Kings in a bid to relieve pressure on the courts there.
So serious is the issue that the government has even been forced to turn some offices into temporary, makeshift court rooms.
This comes after Zimbabwe was last month thrown into a fresh political crisis when thousands of angry protesters flooded the streets of Harare, Bulawayo and several other towns to protest a sharp fuel price hike — clashing with security forces in the process in confrontations which left an estimated 20 people dead and hundreds others seriously injured.
Police subsequently arrested over 800 people in Bulawayo alone, following the violent disturbances which were sparked by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s announcement of steep increases in the prices of petrol and diesel.
Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) acting secretary, Walter Chikwanha, told the Daily News yesterday that while the riot cases would not be fast-tracked to clear the backlog, he was hopeful that his teams would deal with them in a “reasonable” period of time.
“I haven’t received statistics for this week, but I am aware that we are managing to deal with the cases.
“There is also no deadline as such, because if you do that you will be compromising the justice delivery system.
“The issue is to make sure that matters are dealt with expeditiously without infringing upon the rights of the accused and the complainants,” Chikwanha said.
According to latest figures, the magistrates courts in Bulawayo have so far finalised 117 cases of the riot cases, secured 180 convictions and delivered 114 acquittals.
Well-placed sources told the Daily News yesterday that the JSC had deployed six additional magistrates and 10 prosecutors to Bulawayo recently, in a bid to ease the pressure on Tredgold magistrates — who have taken over riot cases from Western Commonage Courts.
Western Commonage Courts, which operate from the city’s high density suburbs, had apparently transferred about 300 such cases to Tredgold, due to capacity constraints.
The Daily News was also told that court officials dealing with the protest cases had had their working days extended to include Saturdays.
Property worth millions of dollars was destroyed and looted in the mayhem which ensued, after thousands of workers heeded a three-day strike call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
At the same time, security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown against the protesters, the opposition and civil society leaders — in a move which received wide condemnation in the country and around the world.
At least 20 people are now said to have died, while nearly 100 others have been treated for serious gunshot wounds, according to rights groups and medical doctors.
Rights groups also continue to report human rights abuses by security forces — including galling allegations that soldiers had raped women and girls during their much-condemned crackdown against innocent civilians.
Last weekend, Mnangagwa warned the opposition and pro-democracy groups against organising fresh protests which he said would be dealt with by security forces.
“They (MDC) are planning violence but we would like to say to everyone in the country that … stay at home so that we deal with those that want violence.
“We will deal with them. If you are invited to the demonstrations don’t join them,” Mnangagwa warned during an address to Zanu PF supporters in Mwenezi District on Saturday. DailyNews