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Army captain fights for justice

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A FORMER captain in the Zimbabwe National Army, Solomon Ndlovu, who was wrongfully convicted of car theft, resulting in his dismissal from work and loss of benefits, is struggling to regain his position, one year after acquittal. 

Dumisani Nyoni

After serving one year and eight months at Khami Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Bulawayo, Ndlovu, a father of four,  was hoping to regain his job and be able to fend for his family.

At the very least, he was hoping the acquittal would enable him to access his benefits from the ZNA, having served for 37 years.

“It’s so surprising because I should have been reinstated and compensated by now. They (the army) are quiet and adamant. I suffered a lot during my incarceration in prison and even now I am still suffering,” Ndlovu said.

“Firstly, I was arrested and imprisoned yet I was innocent. Secondly, the army is refusing to pay me my dues. My bank accounts are still frozen. It really pains me a lot. I am really suffering.”

Ndlovu, who was a chaplain at Mbalabala Barracks, was in January 2018 convicted of theft of a motor vehicle by Beitbridge regional magistrate Mark Dzira after a full trial.

He was sentenced to six years in jail, with two months suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour.

A further five months were suspended on condition he restituted businessman Osfael Mazibuko US$2 500, leaving him with an effective 65 months to serve.

Aggrieved by both conviction and sentence, Ndlovu, through his lawyer Abel Ndlovu of Dube and Associates, filed an appeal at the Bulawayo High Court citing the state as a respondent.

In his grounds of appeal, Ndlovu said Dzira erred and misdirected himself by attaching a criminal liability to him for violating terms of an agreement that allowed him to take lawful possession of the vehicle.

He argued that the agreement he had with Mazibuko was purely a civil matter.

The state did not oppose the application, saying both the conviction and sentence were improper.

As a result, two High Court judges, Justices Maxwell Takuva and Thompson Mabhikwa, on 16 September 2019, set aside both conviction and sentence, subsequently acquitting Ndlovu.

Ndlovu said he tried to engage his former employer over the issue to no avail.

“I sent my papers last year asking to be reinstated but I have not received any joy,” he said.

Contacted for comment, Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Elphios Makotore said he was not aware of the matter.

“He must go to the relevant office. I don’t know this issue. I’m hearing this story from you and I am out of the office today. It was going to be better to solve your case if I was in the office,” he said.

Labour expert Davies Sibanda, however, said Ndlovu had a strong case of claiming his pension and terminal benefits although reinstatement may be a tough task.

The Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, endorsed by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, require that victims of wrongful convictions be compensated.

A 2013 report titled: “Study of Victim Experiences of Wrongful Conviction”, notes that when wrongfully convicted cases are exonerated, sometimes decades after the crime has occurred, it could completely disrupt the lives of the victims, disrupt the healing process, and result in re-victimisation.

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