The trial of 18 female members of a cult believed to be a breakaway from the Seventh Day Adventist Church, who are facing charges of contravening the Miscellaneous Offences Act and Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, opened yesterday at the Bulawayo magistrates courts with three State witnesses testifying.
The three state witnesses are two bank employees and a police officer, who arrested them.
The 18 are facing charges of disrupting the normal business of a bank in the city, where they had been called by their leader, Patience Hama Ncube, who is also on trial and is in remand prison.
The cult members’ case, which had been postponed on Wednesday to 13 April, was later set down for a fasttrack trial, after senior court officials consulted the trial magistrate, Miss Prisca Dube.
All the three witnesses concurred with the State outline.
Yesterday the trial was held in camera with the cult members again continuing with their drama as they refused to get into the dock and sit down. They remained standing in the gallery.
They maintained their standing order of two rows forming a Tshape with their heads bowed and hands folded to the chest.
The 18, who were barefooted and clad in green prison garb and red and white jerseys, all strangely walked with a slight limp.
During crossexamination, the women remained mum with their heads bowed, as if in prayer, when they were asked to ask questions.
“This is your time to ask witnesses questions so that if there is anything which you don’t agree with, it can be clarified. If you remain silent the court will take your silence as a confirmation that what the witness has said is true,” said the court interpreter, Mr Afiq Sabwe, who spoke in both Shona and Ndebele for the benefit of the women translated what the magistrate had said.
“If there are no questions from the accused your Worship, the State has closed its case,” said the prosecutor, Miss Agnes Muzondo.
Miss Dube then immediately opened the defence case.
“It is now time for you to give your defence. It will be authentic if you give it under oath but you can as well testify without taking the oath. You will be given time to call your defence witnesses,” she said.
“But no defence witnesses will testify without the accused giving their defence,” interpreted Mr Sabwe, but he seemed to be speaking to himself as the women did not take heed.
“Defence case opened and closed. If you continue to remain silent, when you come next time, for mitigation I will just write no mitigation. Even if they (prisons) don’t bring you since they are facing a shortage of fuel, I will sentence you in absentia. Even Justice Paradza was sentenced in absentia,” said Miss Dube.
The women were remanded in custody to 3 April for judgment.
On Wednesday, Miss Dube nearly lost her temper, when the cult members arrived in court when it was in session and refused to obey her orders to sit down.
Miss Dube, who at first had wanted to recuse herself from dealing with the matter, since she is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist, later reversed her decision, probably bored by the women’s conduct. The cult members broke away from the SDA.
“I wanted to recuse myself from this case as I am also an SDA, but I would not do that. You have no respect for this court and the laws of the country,” she said.
On their initial appearance early this year when they came to court the cult members were 32.
Ten male members of the group, Jonathan Mkandla, Roderick Mbano, Thembelani Dube, Thabani Mguni, Theo Bekezela Mkandla, Darlington Ndaba Chimira, Hloniphani Sibanda, Antony Mkandla, Thabani Edgar Dube and Simiso Dube, whose ages and addresses were not given, have since been convicted on their own plea of guilty and sentenced by Bulawayo magistrate, Mr Lizwe Jamela.
They were each fined $500 000 (or two months in prison) on the first count of contravening the Miscellaneous Offences Act and $250 000 (or one month in prison) for contravening the Criminal Procedures and Evidence Act, when they refused to provide their names to the police on their arrest.
Four juveniles who were also part of the group have since been cautioned and discharged after they pleaded guilty.
The women who are in cuctody awaiting judgment, have vowed not to come out of prison as they said they were feeling good in prison and that God had a plan for their incarceration.