A member of the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) caused a stir when he appeared at Tredgold Magistrates Court in Bulawayo wearing a replica of prison garb, as a sign of protest against harsh sentencing by state authorities.
Parton Xaba (44) was in court to answer charges of participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaching peace or bigotry, as defined in Section 37 (1)a of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:12.
This case emanated from an incident that occurred on March 8, 2021, at Chiefs Lodge in Ntabazinduna, where Xaba together with MRP leader, Mqondisi Moyo and 30 others, who are still at large, are accused of unlawfully and intentionally breaking in the premises belonging to Floyd Ambrose, assaulting a security guard and throwing their household property outside while disturbing the peace, security and order of the public.
However, as soon as Xaba appeared in the court’s vicinity, prison guards assumed he was a ‘real prisoner’ who had run away and attempted to apprehend him.
Xaba’s reason for the homemade prison clothing was the other time he was in custody, prison guards gave him torn pants, which exposed his buttocks.
But the prison guards were not swayed and swooped in on Court 1 with handcuffs, saying he would stay in cells until his case was heard by the magistrate.
Xaba directed them to his lawyer, Dumisani Dube of Mathonsi Law Chambers, who told them his client had a constitutional right to wear what he felt like as he had a valid reason.
Dube said Xaba had not committed a crime, otherwise, he would have been arrested by police, who were also in court.
The prison guards insisted it was not practical for Xaba to walk around in prison garb and suggested that if he were to move like that on the streets, armed security may view him as a threat and shoot him.
Nevertheless, the prison guards backed down when his court hearing started.
The magistrate, Tawengwa Sengester, also asked Xaba why he was in prison garb when he was out of custody.
“Unless you love our uniform so much that you prepared it yourself,” he said.
Xaba responded that he came prepared for any outcome and besides, he too wanted to support the nine MRP members who were incarcerated for storming the Bulawayo Central Police Station.
The magistrate chided Xaba for seeking attention, noting that previously he once came to court dressed in traditional Ndebele attire but excused that as he argued he was promoting his cultural identity.
“Suddenly you have changed and are not interested in tradition. It’s not good,” Sengester said.
In presiding over Xaba’s case, the magistrate noted Xaba denied the allegations levelled by the State as he insisted, he had gone to Chiefs Lodge in Ntabazinduna to hold a peaceful lawful demonstration against Ambrose who had violated the property rights of the Davies family, the previous owners who had been unlawfully evicted despite numerous court orders.
“You don’t deny being at the scene with the said people or participating in a demonstration. The issue now was whether the demonstration was lawful, peaceful and did not disturb the security, peace and order of the public,” Sengester said, adding that during that incident Ambrose was forced to flee and fire two warning shots as he felt threatened by the group.
Sengester added the 10 police officers who came to check the situation, also had to go back and bring more reinforcements from Fairbridge.
“The question of violence is a starting point and the said group said the demonstration was peaceful but did not show any police clearance. It means there was never such. From the above the courts find there was violence and the next question is whether you partook in it,” he said.
“It should have been reasonably foreseeable that it would turn violent, if you were going to challenge an individual who believed was at his premises.”
The magistrate said Xaba was seen by the complainant and witnesses wearing a headgear and yellow t-shirt at the premises.
“The court finds you guilty as charged and the crime warrants a fine of a level 10 sentence or five years in jail,” Sengester ruled.
In Xaba’s defence, his lawyer said his client was a first offender, had three minor children and was married.
“He is also a member of the MRP party, and was exercising his political right who did not foresee their demonstration would be violent,” Dube said, as he asked for the court’s leniency.
Prosecutor, Milton Moyo, argued the State had shown that Xaba’s morale was questionable so he deserved to be sentenced to five years in prison.
The sentence will be delivered on Wednesday and Xaba was remanded in custody.