Lusaka chief resident magistrate Joshua Banda has sentenced seven Mongu youths to four years imprisonment with hard labour after finding them guilty of having been involved in the Barotseland Agreement-related Mongu riot of January 14, 2011.
This was despite the defence lawyers’ appeal that the court impose a suspended sentence because the case upon which the seven had been convicted had political undertones.
Delivering his judgment, magistrate Banda said it was not in dispute that a riot took place in Mongu on January 14, 2011 where property was damaged and some people injured.
This is in a case where Vindongwe Chipango and six others were charged with the offence of rioting said to have occurred between January 1, 2010 and January 13, 2011 in Winela area of Mongu.
Magistrate Banda said he was satisfied that the state had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence given by three Mongu-based police officers.
He said after considering the evidence of the accused persons in their defence, he had found that there were inconsistencies, concoctions and contradictions in their testimonies.
“PW 3 Mr Kayumba Kaibala , I must state as far as the evidence is concerned was categorical. He was right in the middle of the mob,” magistrate Banda said. “I must indicate here that I can’t fathom why PW2 Detective Pamela Kalasa would want to implicate falsely A1 Vindongwe Chipango. It was in the morning, broad daylight, when all this was happening and the question of mistaken identity is remote.”
Magistrate Banda said the evidence of most of the accused persons was clearly an afterthought.
He said the evidence on record was very clear because Kalasa and Kaibala were at the scene of the riot and did not find the reason why the police officers could single out the accused persons if they had not participated in the riots.
In this case, the accused persons were charged with the offence of having taken part in the Mongu riots on January 14, 2011.
Magistrate Banda said Kaibala was able to identify all the accused persons and that he apprehended all of them at the scene of the riot.
He said the issue of mistaken identity could therefore not arise.
“I find each one of you guilty and I accordingly convict you,” magistrate Banda said.
In mitigation, defence lawyer Muleya Kashewe implored the court to consider a suspended sentence for all the seven.
“The persons who have today been convicted were by the time they were apprehended in Mongu up to the time they were brought to Lusaka, subjected to untold brutalities. To impose a sentence of imprisonment will in my humble opinion be punishing them several times,” Kashewe said. “I wish without appearing to submit but really to mitigate, to the attention of this honourable court that the case of the seven convicted and the rest of the other has political undertones.”
However, the state objected the line of mitigation on grounds that there was no evidence to show that there were political undertones.
But Kashewe maintained that the case had political undertones because it arises from issues surrounding the Barotse Agreement of 1964.
“Denying this will be closing our eyes to reality which is as clear as sunshine,” Kashewe said.
Magistrate Banda guided Kashewe to move away from this line of mitigation because he was not comfortable with him bringing the political aspect in connection with the case.
He told Kashewe to mitigate within the basic confines of mitigation as it was known.
In response, Kashewe said he wanted to draw to the attention of the court the case of Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia trial where due to political underpinnings, the trial judge imposed a life sentence instead of the prescribed death penalty.
“For this reason, I am imploring the honourable court to be lenient by imposing a sentence that will not be seen to add more suffering over and above what these people suffered in Mongu, what they have suffered in Mumbwa,” Kashewe said. “This honourable court should be alive to the fact that because of the bringing of this case to Mumbwa, it has been very difficult to find witnesses who should have testified in favour of these people.”
In passing sentence, magistrate Banda said the offence of rioting was a serious one, which explained why the law prescribed up to seven years in prison with hard labour for anyone convicted.
“The court, in my view, has a duty to bring to stop this growing trend in our country of violence and riots that endanger people’s lives and property,” he said.
Magistrate Banda said although citizens in a democracy were entitled to pursue their civil rights in their pursuit for socio-economic development, that must be done within the parameters of the law.
He said if this trend was allowed to continue, peace and order would be substituted with anarchy and chaos, saying this was unacceptable.
Magistrate Banda sentenced six of the accused persons to 48 months imprisonment with hard labour with effect from the date of arrest. Magistrate Banda said as for accused number five, who is a juvenile, he ordered that he go to Katombora Reformatory School for appropriate re-correction.