Zim court fines activists for anti-Mugabe plot

Six Zimbabwean activists convicted of airing Arab Spring videos as part of a plot against President Robert Mugabe were fined and sentenced to community service on Wednesday, a milder punishment than the 10 years jail that could have been handed down.

The group, led by Munyaradzi Gwisai, a former opposition lawmaker in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, was found guilty on Monday of “conspiracy to commit acts of public violence” against Mugabe.

Magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini said the activists had conspired to commit a serious crime, but fined them $500 each and ordered them to perform 420 hours of community service as they had not carried out their plans.

“The court has taken cognisance of the fact that the accused didn’t get to the full commission of the crime,” Jarabini said. “The court has chosen a more compassionate approach to the accused,” he said, as sighs of relief were heard in the packed courtroom.

All defendants have denied the charges. Defence lawyers said they would appeal against both the conviction and sentence.

A small group of students aligned to Gwisai’s radical International Socialist Organisation clashed with police outside the courtroom as they sang revolutionary songs denouncing Mugabe and the police.

A Reuters witness saw four students being led away by the police as the rest of the group fled.

“This is a people’s victory,” one student shouted.

‘Laughable’ conviction
State prosecutors had pushed for the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail, saying this would deter anyone who wanted to commit a similar crime against Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African state since independence from Britain in 1980.

In another sign of tensions within an uneasy government coalition, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson criticised the conviction as “laughable”.

“The prime minister remains deeply disturbed by this,” his spokesperson said.

Human rights groups also slammed the ruling, saying Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party were embarking on a fresh crackdown on dissent ahead of elections that he wants to call this year.

Prosecutors alleged Gwisai had aired videos of revolts against autocratic rule in Egypt and Tunisia in order to incite a copycat uprising in Zimbabwe. Defence lawyers said the meeting was merely an academic debate.

Despite public disenchantment with Mugabe’s 32-year rule, public protests against him are rare, mainly due to tough security laws.

Critics say Mugabe has used draconian security laws and tough policing to keep a grip on power, after years of human rights abuses and economic mismanagement.

The veteran ruler was forced into a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai three years ago after a disputed 2008 election.

Mugabe wants elections to be held this year, although Tsvangirai says he will boycott any poll called before political reforms, including the promulgation of a new Constitution. — Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Remembering Patson Dzamara

Remembering Patson Dzamara, the Zimbabwean activist who never stopped searching for his brother

Why do presidents cling to power?

Four former heads of state speak about what being president is actually like

What is happening in Mali is a coup. We must call it that

Zimbabwe called its coup a military-assisted transition to sidestep sanctions. Mali is doing the same. But failing to call power grabs by their name makes it harder to defend democracy

State of democracy in Africa: Changing leaders doesn’t change politics

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index Africa Report 2020, A Changing of the Guards or A Change of Systems?, suggests that we should be cautious about the prospects for rapid political improvements

Lies, damn lies and WhatsApp: Why it pays to listen to political rumours in Zim

The rumour mill can shape politics — and reveal uncomfortable truths

Hope is locked away in Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Air pollution link in 15% of global Covid-19 deaths

Researchers have found that, because ambient fine particulate air pollution aggravates comorbidities, it could play a factor in coronavirus fatalities

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

BMW X3 thrives in the M stable

The compact SUV is so at home with its new badge that’s it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday