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Artists acquitted as State withdraws charges against WOZA and MEZA
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

May 11, 2011

Bulawayo Magistrate Thobekile Mkhosana on Wednesday 11 May 2011 acquitted prominent artist Styx Mhlanga, who had been on trial for allegedly suggesting to a budding poet Magura Charumbira that the list of national heroes would be incomplete without citing Joseph Msika, John Nkomo and Gibson Sibanda.

Magistrate Mkhosana acquitted Mhlanga, also a film director based at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo at the close of the State case after the artist's lawyers Lizwe Jamela and Nosimilo Chanayiwa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) applied for discharge.

In their application for discharge, Jamela and Chanayiwa argued that putting Mhlanga on his defence is not proper as the State had failed to prove its case beyond any reasonable doubt that the artist committed the offence.

The lawyers said since the State had already closed its case no other evidence would be brought forward and the evidence submitted in court falls by the wayside in establishing a "prima facie" case.

Jamela and Chanayiwa also argued that Mhlanga had in his defence outline denied the allegations and stated that Charumbira was the one who was the aggressor in the whole incident both verbally and physically after the artist had merely passed a constructive criticism of the budding poet's poem as he had come to the National Art Gallery seeking assistance.

Mhlanga had been on trial since last month after he was charged with contravening Section 89 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 for assault.

Prosecutors alleged that Mhlanga, a younger brother to prominent Zimbabwean playwright, actor and theatre director, Cont Mhlanga assaulted Charumbira after he rejected his suggestion of slotting in and applauding some heroes from Matabeleland, who had not been honoured by Charumbira during the citation of his poem.

Prosecutors alleged that Charumbira visited an office at the National Art Gallery to get inspiration and some advice from Mhlanga's colleague, Sithandazile Dube, who shares offices with Mhlanga on 7 March.

Mhlanga allegedly commented saying Charumbira was supposed to also include heroes like John Nkomo, Joseph Msika and Gibson Sibanda on his poem but this did not go down well with the complainant resulting in an argument with the accused exchanging harsh words.

The prosecutors alleged that Mhlanga, angered by Charumbira's refusal to take his advice, picked up a stone sculpture and tried to hit the novice poet but was restrained by Dube.

Meanwhile, State prosecutor Jeremiah Mutsindikwa on Wednesday 11 May 2011 withdrew charges before plea against seven Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) members Sitshiyiwe Ngwenya, Kholwani Ndlovu, Moreblessings Dube and Joyce Ndebele, Selina Dube, Eneles Dube and Janet Dube and three Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MEZA) members namely Gift Ndlovu, Proud Pandeya and Noah Mapfumo.

The withdrawal of the charges came after a series of meetings and representations made to the Attorney General's Office advising prosecutors about a recent Supreme Court ruling which declared as unlawful the imprisonment of some WOZA members who had participated in a demonstration in 2008.

The WOZA and MEZA members, who were arrested in February and March at a time of commemorations to mark International Women's Day were charged with contravening section 38 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly obstructing or endangering free movement of persons or traffic, contravening Section 37of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act for allegedly participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry.

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