High Court Judge Justice Martin Makonese, Monday, granted political activist Josphat ‘Mzaca’ Ngulube ZWL$2000 bail pending appeal against his seven-year sentence for public violence during the January 2019 shutdown protests.
Mzaca and three other accomplices were convicted by Bulawayo Provincial magistrate Tinashe Tashaya in November 2019.
As part of the bail conditions, Justice Makonese ordered that Ngulube reports every fortnight at Tshabalala police station and he continues to stay at his place of residence in Tshabalala.
Ngulube (34), Fortune Masuku (29), Melusi Moyo (32) and Otilia Sibanda (34) were each given a seven-year custodial sentence with one year suspended on condition of good behaviour.
Magistrate Tashaya had found the four guilty of burning three cars, destroying a precast wall and breaking several windows of a house belonging to Zanu PF Bulawayo Provincial Women’s League Chairperson, Eva Bitu, during the January Shutdown protests.
Through his lawyer Nqobani Sithole of Ncube and Attorneys, Mzaca challenged both his conviction and sentence arguing that State evidence failed to sustain the allegations raised against him beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sithole stated that the evidence on record did not prove the allegations against his client.
He said due to the size of the crowd that was at Bitu’s house, most State witnesses could not identify the perpetrators of the criminal offence.
Sithole added that the evidence adduced in court and on record proved that there was a strong political rivalry between Ngulube and State witnesses thus compromising the veracity of their testimonies.
“One of the State witnesses, Eva Bitu, admitted during cross-examination that my client was disrespectful and that during the campaigns he insulted her and her political party leadership,” said Sithole.
The lawyer said a video produced in court during the trial indicated that on the day in question Ngulube was attending a funeral, but the evidence was dismissed by the magistrate.
“On that note, the trial court misdirected itself by reasoning that the applicant was supposed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, and alternatively, the applicant’s appeal against sentence enjoys prospects of success in that the trial court erred and improperly exercised its discretion in passing the sentence,” said Sithole.
He further argued that there was no evidence that his client pre-planned or acted in cahoots with his accomplices as indicated by the State.
“The applicant avers that his conviction and sentence was improper and his appeal enjoys prospects of success on appeal as the appeal court is likely to interfere and set aside his conviction and sentence by the trial court,” said Sithole.
State allegations Mzaca against Mzaca and his accomplices are that on January 14 around 7 AM, the four connived with 100 others and unlawfully blocked free movement of traffic at an intersection along Sizinda Road and Nketa Drive.
The crew, according to the State, accused Bitu of solely benefiting from taxpayers’ money and pushed her Ford Ranger out of the yard where they set it alight.
“Accused persons went back into the yard where they had left a Nissan NP300 and a Toyota Vitz. They set alight the Nissan whose flames destroyed part of the Vitz. The Ford Ranger and Nissan NP300 were burnt beyond repair. The cars were valued at ZWL$95 000,” read the State papers.