BY Desmond Chingarande/Xolisani Ncube
The number of soldiers at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has increased amid indications that civilian prosecutors are being relegated do to minor tasks, raising fears of the militarisation of the critical institution in the justice delivery system.
Since he took over as acting prosecutor-general last year, Kumbirai Hodzi allegedly embarked on a purge of civilian law officers with more than 80 of them having been relegated to the periphery and replaced them with soldiers.
Insiders said the changes had compromised the justice delivery system as shown by a recent controversial case involved security agents that the NPA was allegedly trying to sweep under the carpet.
Last week Hodzi allegedly refused to prosecute a team of security agents made up from the Military Intelligence, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the police’s internal security who were accused of robbing a shebeen in Harare’s Mbare suburb.
The 10-member team of the armed robbers were arrested on Monday and spent a night at Harare Central Police Station.
However, Hodzi allegedly refused to prosecute them on the basis that they were on a mission to deal with opposition supporters who were accused of orchestrating violence during the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions stay away.
Police documents from Harare Central and NPA indicate that the crew robbed Norah Kandawasvika a shebeen owner along Mangwende Street in Mbare on February 8 while armed with assault rifles.
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They took away $2 800 in bond notes and $100 hard currency before fleeing the crime scene using a Nissan NP 300 registration, AEA 4471 and a Datsun Go without registration numbers.
The vehicles were linked to the CIO and the police were ready to have the matter prosecuted.
But after Kandawasvika reported the matter to the police leading to the arrests, her husband who is believed to be a soldier was allegedly assaulted by suspected MI operatives and is believed to be detained at a military cell.
According to the documents, the gang included, Pride Ziwenga, Wilson Masvayamwando, and Admire Gasva (all MI operatives), Matthews Tshuma, Fidel Marume and Simbarashe Bwititi (CIO); Henry Banda (PISI) and Dennis Muroyiwa (ZRP Law and Order).
A police sergeant Wellington Mushosho who was accused of being part of the gang appeared before a Harare magistrate separately.
Sources said Hodzi indicated that the matter would proceed by way of summons as he was shielding the security agents from publicity and avoided exposing how the military abused civilians under the disguise of maintaining law and order.
“Senior prosecutors are now taking orders from the guys from the military. In fact, the trained lawyers are now concentrating on set down of cases and vetting them only. The real work at the courts is now being done by soldiers who do not know the law,” said a source within the NPA.
“Most prosecutors handling cases involving public violence at Harare magistrates courts are soldiers. All matters that are sensitive are held by this team hence the matter could not proceed.”
The NPA is a constitutional body which institutes criminal proceedings on behalf of the state and it must be manned by trained lawyers.
For years, it had relied on police and army members to act as prosecutors while trained law officers would focus on complicated matters mostly at the higher courts.
The militarisation of the NPA, has strained relations between the security personnel and civilians who are against the command-style administration now in place at the body.
Attempts to get a comment from Hodzi failed as he was not picking up calls and he did not respond to text message sent to him on Friday.
Justice ministry secretary Virginia Mabhiza said the government was in the process of removing soldiers from the NPA.
“The matter is still pending at the Constitutional Court but as government we would want the NPA to be manned by civilians,” she said. “We would want the NPA to be demilitarised and I understand the NPA has started doing that.”
Meanwhile, human rights lawyers have condemned the continued secondment of the members of the military to the NPA saying such actions destroy the administration of justice.
Prominent human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama said they had complained about the militarisation of state institutions and hiring of underqualified prosecutors from the military will not help the administration of justice.
“Some of the members of the security forces are not qualified,” he said.
“We have been complaining about the militarisation of state institutions and this is not good for our justice system because if we see them in courts we start thinking the courts are now being run from the barracks.
“The prosecutor must be independent, free from any influence. We have been complaining of selective application of law and prosecution. Military personnel who are seconded to the NPA are easy to be influenced.
“They cannot take orders from the NPA as opposed to their boss and this will create a conflict of interests.”
Politician and lawyer Job Sikhala said the influx of soldiers at the NPA was worrying as it compromised the justice delivery system.