Mohalenyane Phakela/Nat Molomo
THIRTEEN soldiers facing murder charges will soon be given the option of choosing new lawyers to represent them on a pro deo (free of charge) basis if their current legal representatives continue to absent themselves from court proceedings.
This was said by Zimbabwean High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, who was on Tuesday sworn in to preside over the politically sensitive criminal cases involving politicians and members of the security agencies.
Justice Hungwe said this on Tuesday while presiding over two murder cases involving 13 soldiers.
He said this in response to concerns that were raised by crown counsels, Advocate Shaun Abrahams SC and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, over the absence of defence lawyers, Motiea Teele KC and Zwelakhe Mda KC.
In the first case, eight soldiers are accused of murdering army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015.
The eight soldiers are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane; Captain Haleo Makara; Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi; Sergeant Motsamai Fako; Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli; Corporal Motšoane Machai; Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Lt-Gen Mahao was fatally shot by his erstwhile LDF colleagues on 25 June 2015 just outside Maseru. The LDF claimed at the time that Lt-Gen Mahao had resisted arrest for allegedly leading a mutiny when he was killed but that claim was dismissed as a hoax by a Southern African Development Commission inquiry into his death.
Lt-Gen Mahao’s family accused the army of killing him in cold blood basing on the account of his nephews who were with him during the incident.
In the second case, five soldiers, namely, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Khauhelo Makoae, Lance Corporal Sebilo Sebilo, Privates Tšepo Tlakeli and Thebe Tṧepe are alleged to have murdered Thabang Mosole, Monyane Matsie and Pakiso Ntala Letatabe in Ha Motanyane in Mafeteng in 2012.
Justice Hungwe on Tuesday said the 13 soldiers will be given the option to choose new lawyers should their current legal representatives fail to show up at the pre-trial conferences which will be held before the end of February.
During the Tuesday court sessions of the 13 soldiers which were held simultaneously, Advocate Lenka Malefane, told the court that he was representing the accused on behalf of the absent defence lawyers, King’s Counsels Teele and Mda.
However, crown counsel, Adv Abrahams SC, said that the continuous absence of King’s Counsels Teele and Mda was an insult to the court because they were aware that they had to be in court on 15 to 25 January 2019.
“The matter was set down for trial from today (15 January) to 25 January 2019 and it was agreed by both the crown and defence before the Acting Chief Justice (‘Maseforo Mahase) in our previous appearance,” Adv Abrahams told the court.
“The absence of Teele KC and Mda KC is a great disrespect to the court, their clients, the administration of justice and the rule of law. This case is of extreme significance to citizens of this country and the international community who want to see justice and the rule of law being applied.
“During the previous court appearance, it was agreed that 1 to 5 April would be alternative dates for the trial. I plead with the court that the matter be postponed to those dates irrespective of whether defence counsel is present or not. The accused have ample time to choose other legal representatives. We cannot continue in this fashion,” added Adv Abrahams.
Crown Counsel Adv Motinyane also complained to the court that King’s Counsels Teele and Mda had not attended the case of the five murder-accused soldiers. She requested the court to permit the accused to seek the services of pro deo lawyers who would represent them for free if the King’s Counsels Teele and Mda absented themselves from the next court session.
Justice Hungwe then postponed the Lt-Gen Mahao case to 1 April 2019, saying this would also give the accused time to replace their absent lawyers.
The Mafeteng murder case was postponed the case to 19 February 2019 for a pre-trial conference which will in turn determine the date for the commencement of the trial.
“There is enough time if the accused wish to change their legal representation. I have decided to postpone the case to 1 April on condition that both crown and defense undertake commencement of trial as agreed with the Acting Chief Justice.
“The High Court registrar is also directed to write to lawyers proposing three alternative dates for the pre-trial conference from the dates of today (15 January) and the end of February 2019. On the day of the pre-trial conference all issues regarding the trial such as the exchange of documents, including witness statements, shall be finalised,” Justice Hungwe ordered.