Swaziland
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MPHANDLANA’S TRIAL FAILS TO START 14 YEARS LATER

MBABANE – Political activist Mphandlana Shongwe’s trial for an offence he allegedly committed about 14 years ago, failed to take off at the High Court yesterday.

Shongwe is a member of the People’s Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), which is one of the proscribed political organisations in Eswatini. Shongwe is facing a charge under the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008, for which he was arrested on July 18, 2009 by Manzini police. He had been reporting at the police station over the years, as per his bail conditions, ever since his release on bail and he decided to approach the High Court in 2021 for his matter to be enrolled or he be acquitted and discharged. The matter was enrolled in early 2022.
Shongwe was supposed to appear before Judge Justice Mavuso for the trial yesterday. However, neither Shongwe nor his attorney, Leo Ndvuna Dlamini were present in court when the matter was called in yesterday morning. Shongwe’s name was called three times and there was no response. The matter was postponed indefinitely. Shongwe was later seen in the High Court building after the matter had already been postponed. He left disappointed. The charge he is facing has been hanging over his head for almost 14 years.

Refund

When he wanted the matter to be enrolled, Shongwe further sought an order directing the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to refund him a sum of E6 000 he paid as bail and the variation of his bail conditions. The DPP yesterday filed a notice of intention to oppose Shongwe’s application. The political activist further wants the court to compel the DPP and the national commissioner of police to issue a nolle prosequi certificate to him in terms Section 6 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. Nolle prosequi is a Latin word for ‘we shall no longer prosecute’, which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case (or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit) either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proved, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution’s claim or the district attorney has become convinced that the accused is innocent.

Acquittal

Section 6 provides that: The DPP may, at any time before conviction, stop any prosecution commenced by him or by any other person; but, in the event of the accused having already pleaded to any charge, shall be entitled to a verdict of acquittal in respect of such charge. In his application, Shongwe recounted that on July 18, 2009 he was arrested by members of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) while in Manzini. “I was subsequently charged with the offence of allegedly contravening Section 11 (1) of the Suppression of Terrorism Act No.3 of 2008,” submitted Shongwe. He told the court that he was then incarcerated and later granted bail. He brought it to the attention of the court that he had been subjected to reporting to the Manzini Police Station every last Friday of each month, which he has been doing to this day. “I verily believe that the criminal charges have been hanging over my head for the past 11 years and five months. I verily believe that this is a violation of my constitutional right and abuse of the country’s legal system,” contended the renowned political activist.