Witnesses testifying in high profile cases are always under pressure as they become mini-celebrities or even the butt of jokes in depending on their evidence.
Some are even threatened with harm or death by accused parties or their relatives for simply giving evidence especially in cases involving busting of illegal drug syndicates or testifying against dangerous criminals who have loyal followers outside of prison.
In extreme cases the state has to provide ‘witness protection programmes’.
These are programmes whereby the vulnerable or threatened witnesses are taken into safe houses and given 24-hour protection by the state.
Sometimes they are given new identities and relocated to distant communities far away from their original homes.
In Zimbabwe this has been rare but the current trial of jailed cleric Robert Martin Gumbura and eight others on attempted jail break from Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in March 2015 has provided such an insight.
Gumbura is jointly charged with Blessing Chiduke, Luckmore Matambanadzo, Luck Mhungu, Taurai Dodzo, Thomas Chacha, Thulani Chizema, Jacob Sibanda and Elijah Vhumbunu for attempted jail break and vandalism of state property during the riots at the prison complex.
The State’s star witness in the trial is an inmate John Claudius Mutizwa. Mutizwa is a former police officer serving more than 16 years for theft of a motor vehicle and robbery. He used to share the same prison cell with Gumbura.
As soon as it surfaced that Mutizwa was going to testify against fellow inmates in the trial, his life at Chikurubi Security Maximum Prison was turned into hell on earth.
He has told the court of the threats against his life from fellow inmates which prompted prison authorities to urgently relocate him to Harare Prison.
The relocation was done to reassure their star witness of his safety so that he could go ahead and testify against Gumbura and company.
In his evidence Mutizwa told the court how he feared for his life after it became known that he was a witness.
He spoke about being dressed in clothes for condemned prisoners – those on the death roll.
Mutizwa this week spoke to The Standard in a rare chance outside the court and he raised his fears as the tribulations start taking a toll on him.
He spoke about his illness (he requires surgery for hernia) and the continued threats against his wife by unknown persons.
“I am fine but very apprehensive about my upcoming hernia operation at Parirenyatwa (Hospital). I have missed the last operation date and I’m now scheduled to go under the knife in two weeks’ time,” Mutizwa said.
His condition has delayed the trial as at times he has to rest between testifying as the pain becomes unbearable.
“My family, especially my wife is living in fear as she continuously receives threatening messages from a private number with the person instructing her to tell me to stop testifying in the trial,” Mutizwa said.
“I sometimes fear for my safety especially now that I am going for treatment at a public hospital.”
As the trial limps on, Mutizwa is beginning to exhibit signs of weariness as the tension between him and the accused gets charged.
On Thursday Mutizwa under cross examination by Matambanadzo took great exception on being asked if he was being used by the State to testify against the accused.
In response Mutizwa curtly said: “I only know one thing that can be used and it’s a condom.”
He said he believed the accused were of the opinion that he was selling out fellow inmates in exchange for better treatment in prison.
For now, Mutizwa remains a shaken witness with subconscious fear of what fellow prisoners or their friends outside will do to him or his family now or in the future.