BY TANAKA MREWA AND LULU BRENDA HARRIS
A Bulawayo court has freed veteran journalist and director of Center for Innovation and Technology (CITE) director Zenzele Ndebele who was arrested, Thursday, on allegations of possessing dangerous weapons at the Bulawayo State House.
Ndebele was attending a civic society interface with President Mnangagwa when he was allegedly found in possession of empty tear smoke cannisters in his vehicle.
He was arrested and detained overnight at Bulawayo Central Police Station.
Appearing in court Friday, Ndebele was charged with possession of offensive weapons at a public gathering as defined in Section 43 (2) of the criminal law and codification reform act.
The state also preferred an alternative charge of criminal nuisance as defined in section 46(2) (v) of the criminal law and codification reform act.
According to the state outline, on March 21, at 10am Ndebele (41) arrived at a security check point to attend a meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“Accused was driving a navy blue Toyota Prado and the security personnel manning entrance requested to search his car. The security officers then recovered a used CS Gren hand irritant canister and serial number M6524 and half inch T792 cartridge wrapped in a black t-shirt in the boot of his car”, read the state outline.
Ndebele through his lawyer, James Sithole raised complaints against the police who arrested him, citing that they detained him for at least five hours without a formal charge.
“My client had his phone confiscated by the security agents. He was deprived of his right to access legal help neither could he for, his family he had been arrested. His wife only got to know about the arrest seven hours later on twitter,” said Sithole.
“This conduct by the State is retrogressive and a direct attack to the constitutional right of the accused person.”
Sithole said the charges leveled against Ndebele were unfounded and prayed the court to grant their application for refusal of placement on remand.
“This equates to a fishing expedition. The only problem is genuinely nothing would come out from trying to fish in a desert. Used cartridges and canisters cannot result in public nuisance. For the court to have a case it has to have substantive evidence on its table.
“Only that can justify an accused person to be placed on remand. Charges raised are unsubstantiated by the evidence before it. The State House is no public place nor are used cartridges nor empty canisters offensive weaponry.”
In his ruling after adjournment, Magistrate Franklin Mkhwananzi said: The state alleged the accused person unlawfully and intentionally possessed offensive weapons.
However, according to the defense counsel, the alleged recovered weaponry do not constitute to offensive weaponry according to the criminal law and codification act.
“The second ground is about whether there were people at the gate of which there were no people at the gate hence the gate, which is where the alleged weaponry was discovered was not a public gathering.
“The third ground alluded to the state house gate not being a public place, however on the said date according to the state, there were people who had been invited thereby making it a public place on the day of questions.
“Yes the state house is a private residence of a head of state but in this case the dimension changed as there was an invitation to people.
“The accused person was stopped and searched at the gate, which was the entry point to a public place where he was allegedly found in possession of the said weaponry in an attempt to get in with the weaponry.
“In the case of the used canister and cartridge being described as offensive weaponry, the state also failed to define what category they fall under. According to my reading these do not fall under this category.
“By virtue that they were empty it nullifies them being a danger had this been a loaded or unused cartridge and canister, this court will not be entertaining this application as it would have totally been a different story,”said Mkhwananzi.
” Moving on to the alternative charge of criminal nuisance, the charge clearly states that one has to be proactive in an activity that is read as what is defined by the particular law.
“Accused person in this matter adhered to the search, he obliged when the police and security wanted to search his car leading to the recovery of the alleged weaponry. It hence beats logic as how it concluded that he be charged with criminal nuisance since he did not anyway act in what can be descried as nuisance.
“Therefore the application for placement for refusal of placement on remand is granted,” he ruled.
Speaking to the media after the court session Sithole said the state had wasted his client’s time by dragging him to court.
“I can’t say I am happy, in fact I am frustrated that Ndebele was arrested in first place. It was clear this did not need a rocket scientist that a cartridge is not a bullet.
“The person who arrested his was overzealous, unfortunately that overzealousness cost a man in day in prison”.