Seven ZAPU members were detained overnight, Wednesday, by the police for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned demonstration at St Anne’s Mission Hospital.
They were part of a group comprising of ZAPU members and villagers who besieged the hospital on Tuesday to register their displeasure at the alleged recruitment of non-locals at the hospital`s nursing school.
The seven, four men and three women, were picked up by police on Wednesday afternoon and spent the night at Plumtree Police Station.
After detaining them without formal charges, it was only Thursday afternoon that police decided to charge one – Nelson Khupe as a suspect and turned the other six as witnesses against him.
The six are Karl-Max Nkombeledzi, Asanda Nkomo, Tapelo Ngwenya, Andrew Dube, Roger Moyo and Agnetta Sibanda.
In an interview with CITE at Plumtree Police Station, lawyer representing the seven, Prince Butshe Dube of Mathonsi Law Chambers said police alleged Khupe mobilised villagers to conduct an illegal demonstration at the hospital
“We have been here since 9 am and now its past 2 pm. Police have decided to charge Nelson Khupe. At this point they have however decided to use the other villagers as witnesses against Khupe,” he said.
Dube added the police asked Khupe to submit a warned and cautioned statement.
“The charges precisely relate to what they allege he did on the day in question (Tuesday). They are actually alleging that Khupe mobilised people without securing police consent or authority. Police are saying he went to St Anne’s with other villagers carrying placards some of them reading ‘Remove sanctions against Matabeleland’, ‘Local jobs for local people’ and ‘Devolution is the solution’,” he noted.
The lawyer highlighted his client denied the charge while they also took recorded statements from other villagers.
“The police said they will continue making further investigations and if they believe there is a case they will call us to court. The police now want to use those same villagers, initially taken as accused persons as state witnesses against Khupe, should they decided to charge him,” Dube said.
He noted that it was possible for police to turn the other six villagers as state witnesses if they believed those persons would assist them in proving a case against a particular targeted person.
“The police have every right to use those persons, we cannot object to that. They have every right but we will deal with the charges as and when police decide to take Khupe to court. But so far they have said when they are done, they will proceed by way of summons so we not going to court today,” Dube said.
“We indicated from the onset that our approach was to oppose remand because we do not believe even from the facts disclosed so far by the police that any offence was committed.”
Dube pointed out that citizens had a right to raise grievances, as similar concerns on discriminatory recruitment were raised at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo.
“We did not see anyone being charged after Mpilo, so we don’t believe this one is a special case that warrants criminal sanctions when people are raising grievances,” the lawyer said.
ZAPU Southern Region Communications Director, Patrick Ndlovu, described the police action as intimidation by the government.
“This displays a paranoia on the government that people simply expressing their displeasure of an unfair system would be subjected to this intimidation. But it has given us strength. We will fight on against the discrimination on our children. The police also have expressed interest in interviewing three members of our executive, who will return to Plumtree next week with our lawyer,” he said.
After the seven were released, Karl-max Nkombeledzi said they were picked up around 2 pm by police that was escorted by its support unit and police intelligence.
“We were bundled at the back of the truck yet it was raining. We drove to the border, dropped some police at Mphoengs Police Station. Afterwards, one soldier jumped in the vehicle plus members of the Criminal Investigation Department.
“Upon arrival at Plumtree Police Station, we were interrogated one by one. All of us slept in one room, without eating and mosquitoes bit us the whole night,” he said.
Nkombeledzi added that they stayed 111km from Plumtree and had not carried any money, which would now be an inconvenience.
The women confirmed they had to sleep in the same room with the men as they were afraid to be separated.
“There was no water and it’s only this morning where some friendly people gave us in small bottles, which we used to wipe ourselves,” said one of them.