BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
THIRTY-NINE war veterans charged with participating in an illegal demonstration have applied for exception to the charges arguing that singing Chimurenga songs was not an offence.
They were arrested in October last year and charged with gathering with intent to cause public violence.
They appeared before magistrate Barbara Mateko.
“The gravamen of the charge against the accused persons is that they gathered at Africa Unity Square and started singing Chimurenga songs. It is not clear from the charge what is meant by the phrase ‘Chimurenga song’? Does it refer to the music coined and played by the musician Thomas Mapfumo or to the songs played during the war of liberation?” they submitted.
“More crucially, however, 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. The accused persons urge this honourable court to take judicial notice of the fact that Chimurenga songs, in one form or another, are routinely played at national events and during national holidays while people are gathered. That, on its own, does and cannot constitute an offence.”
The war veterans said the charge was incompetent, and defective for want of sufficient particularity, to inform them of the charges that they are facing.
“The charge also does not specify the particular Chimurenga songs or their lyrics which signified the accused persons intent to disturb public peace, security and order. The accused persons and, indeed, this honourable court are left to speculate what it is exactly that they allegedly sang which gave rise to the charge. Therefore, the accused persons will be embarrassed and prejudiced in the conduct of their defence to the charge as currently framed.”
The State, represented by Moses Mapanga, said it would respond to the application in writing on February 16.
Magistrate Mateko will deliver the ruling on February 23. The war veterans were represented by Tinashe Chinopfukutwa and Paidamoyo Saurombe from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
Allegations are that on October 13 last year, the ex-combatants notified the police of their intention to hold a peaceful march in Harare, but their application was turned down.
The State alleges that on October 26 at around 10am, they gathered at Africa Unity Square and started singing liberation songs in preparation for their march against poor living conditions.
They were later arrested.