Guilty Until Proven Innocent.

Now that the Deputy Minister of Youth empowerment and indigenization the Honourable MP for Nkulumane constituency Mr. Thamsanqa Mahlangu has been acquitted of having played any part in the disappearance of self-styled war veterans’ leader Joseph Chinotimba’s cellular phone, the police should surely continue with the investigations as to who deprived this businessman of his 19million plus American dollars within the two days that it was missing. It is the view of the National Youth Development Trust (NYDT) that the police violated honorable Mahlangu and co-accused’s rights and has thus brought the image of the youth into disrepute. Police officers have a case to answer or at least an apology to make for this ill-treatment and utter disregard for the laws that protect citizens’ rights.
It was unfair to the Deputy Minister and it would be unfair to all young people that he represents to have them accused of crimes they have not committed, have them go through the humiliating processes of exposing their private lives in courts and in the press only to be told that they were not guilty after all. Whatever happened to the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”. This model ensures that the police always investigate the case first, and only when they have reasonable suspicion to arrest some one would they arrest them. In all honesty this is not merely conceptual but is a constitutional provision which has over the years been, violated, manipulated or as some have put it, mutilated to end up with the status quo. Chapter 3 section 18 part 3 on the Provisions to Secure Protection of Law as appears in the Lancaster house constitution reads as follows:
3. Every person who is charged with a criminal offence-
a)Shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved or has pleaded guilty.
b)Shall be informed as soon as reasonable practicable, in a language that he understands and in detail, of the nature of the offence charged.
How often are the above provisions observed or shall I say violated by the law enforcement agents of the land. Lately justice is a system of “guilty until proven innocent” and young people are the biggest victims of this model. When one reports a case to the police they are asked who their first suspect is and more often than not the first suspect is the first one to be thrown into the cage and subjected to all the harsh treatment of a prison cell. For the days and weeks to follow the law will do its best to find the evidence to keep that suspect in prison and only when the prosecution fails to get substantiating evidence of the crime will they drop the case. That was the same in the Mahlangu-Chinotimba case, Mahlangu, the minister of youth, was labeled a petty thief who did not know the boundaries of his youthful antics, his morals were questioned when some gossip columnists wrote misleading articles about him spending nights at a Harare hotel with two women at the same time, only to turn around and say one of the women had been with a different MP. Insults later, he is found innocent.
The question is who will clean up Mahlangu’s tarnished image? He will be forever known as the Cell phone thief and this is the man who is the face of youths in Zimbabwe. Despite the fact that he has been declared innocent, his image has a blotch that will stick with him until he is no longer a young person, and this negativity will be passed on to all young people who will be labeled as thieves due to this misrepresentation. Many such stories can be told of youths that are detained without reasonable suspicion or evidence, are subjected to torturer and hunger in prisons for crimes they know nothing about. Some are serving their sentences as we speak while some are still languishing or have died in remand prison while their cases are supposedly still being investigated.
A lighter case in point is one of a young man who is now doing more than 300hrs of community service at a local primary school due to the fact that a rival of his in the neighborhood picked him out as one of a group of attackers that pounced on him. Instead of trying to get evidence to support the fact that he committed the crime, which is the prosecution’s duty, he was instead told to plead guilty and face a lesser punishment of community service or plead not guilty and face years is prison.
“Several times I was asked what I preferred, it felt like there was not choice of freedom. Each time I told them that I could not even choose community service they said I was stubborn and for that very reason I would languish in prison.” said the 24 year old Youngman.
He went for the bait and is waking up everyday to serve his sentence instead of completing his motor mechanics apprenticeship.
How long does the law say one should spend in remand prison before their case is finally tried and closed? I am sure the reason why Mahlangu’s case took a reasonably short time to be concluded is the fact that national leaders were involved. What about the unknown young person accused of assault, theft murder and so forth that is still in remand prison five years after his arrest. What do we say of this future that is rotting away in filthy prison cells? Will the organ of National Healing and reconciliation visit these people to find out how they feel about their lives being stolen from them and how they wish to be compensated for their lost youth? Is the parliamentary select committee on the constitution going to consult these young prisoners on how they wish the constitution to protect people like them who are wrongly accused and not given enough opportunity and resources to prove their innocence?
In the same breath, one will surely hope that Honorable Mahlangu will take this opportunity of freedom to make the most of his powers in government. As a youth Minister and MP, youths have been deprived of his undisturbed presence neither in Matabeleland nor in his constituency of Nkulumane. For that matter, more than a thousand of young people long for the opportunity to start income generating projects and small businesses but have no idea how to go about accessing the National Youth fund.
NYDT Information.


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